The role played in contemporary fashion and image culture by David Beckham
The dawn of a new century has brought about the emergence of a new breed of man. A man who is unafraid of dressing in fashion; who does not shy from facials or nail polish and who is definitely in touch with his feminine side. The 21st century hails the arrival of the metrosexual. A term that was coined by journalist Mark Simpson, the metrosexual is a dandyish narcissist in love with not only himself, but also his urban lifestyle; a straight man who is in touch with his feminine side.
The typical metrosexual is a young man with money to spend, living in or within easy reach of a metropolis because that is where all the best shops, clubs, gyms and hairdressers are. He might be officially gay, straight or bisexual, but this is utterly immaterial because he has clearly taken himself as his own love object and pleasure as his sexual preference. The promotion of metrosexuality was left to the men’s style press, magazines such as The Face, GQ, Esquire, Arena and FHM. They filled their magazines with images of narcissistic young men sporting fashionable clothes and accessories.
And they persuaded other young men to study them with a mixture of envy and desire. Having read all of the above, who carries the ultimate manifestation of the metrosexual? Names like Robbie Williams and Ian Thorpe come to mind. However, it is David Beckham that is decidedly the ideal metrosexual. So who is David Beckham and what has he done to push his image towards this term? Well, he is a footballer; he is good looking; he has worn a sarong; he’s the face that’s launched a slew of improbable haircut trends and even more improbable children’s names. He is also a gay icon and wears nail polish.
The reason for Beckham’s fashion sense to be so highly critiqued is essentially due to the fact that he is a footballer. One of the ways that football players handle the pain and anxiety of their profession is by adopting exceedingly macho attitudes and behaviour. The language is strong and coarse; the subject matter is highly sexist and frequently relating to sexual conquests. Hard drinking bouts are boasted about and seen as part of the ‘normal’ relaxation. It is as if the macho activities are necessary to support them in their need to face up to the demands of the role. David Beckham, it seems, is different.
In the sporting prowess and fierce team loyalty stakes, he’s up with the best. He avoids all the other negative qualities too often associated with famous footballers – drunkenness, violence, homophobia, sexism David Beckham’s influence is further empowered due to the fact that he is but one of the greatest footballers of the new millennium. His footballing skill is without doubt a great example for all other footballers to follow. And with every game he plays, his reputation, for producing only the best football and the scoring of some spectacular goals, gathers greater foundation.
Beckham launched himself to stardom with a fifty yard goal in 1996 and set the foundations for others to emulate him both as a footballer and as a very good looking young man, sporting floppy blond dyed hair. Beckham was also made the unfortunate scapegoat for England’s loss to Argentina in the 1998 World Cup Finals as he was sent off for retaliation. These events made Beckham an instant household name as well as a hate symbol. It would therefore be unfair to pin point his celebrity status solely on his wife Victoria Adams, who was a Spice Girl back then.
Nevertheless, it has to be credited that Beckham’s celebrity status was raised by leaps and bounds during the courting of Victoria Adams and after their evident marriage in 1999. One of Beckham’s greatest influences into the fashion arena as an image of rebellion is through his ever changing hair style. With his radical changes, Beckham’s showed that a drift away from the norm would not only gather massive amounts of media attention, it also gained him a tremendous number of fans inclined to imitate his style. The obsession with Beckham’s hairstyles can be traced towards the obsession of football as a world game.
With millions of football fans vying to imitate their idols in terms of skill and look, Beckham’s hair obsession provided an easy path to being identified with him. The power of the identity of image comes into play as having unique good looks coupled with his trademark floppy blond hair style can really bring one’s popularity or at least image to light. The floppy blond cut probably reached its peak when Beckham won the Treble with Manchester United Football Club. As the winning of the three trophies was an unprecedented success, the image of Beckham with the blond cut also projected success.
The popularity for his look grew. Various Companies also profited from Beckham’s fashion image. In 1998, it was Brylcreem and Adidas that aided Beckham as a fashion icon on the field with his gelled hair and striking Adidas predator boots. Beckham’s meticulous nature to look good showed in his carefully styled hair even during the game and his red and black personalized boots of which carried his name and shirt number. Such focus on “fashion” was unique for a footballer as the obvious focus should be on the game itself.
Therefore, when Beckham introduced such ideas on to the pitch, it was lapped up by the media and fashion watch dogs. Through such subtle changes from the norm (most footballers wear black boots and don’t really pay any attention to their hair), Beckham set the platform for his intrusion into the fashion world. By then, Beckham’s popularity had grown to epic proportions; his unfortunate sending off against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup was all but forgotten. Such is Beckham’s fame that every facet of his life is studied by the tabloids, more interested in snippets of his everyday life than his exploits on the soccer fields.
After his highly publicized marriage to Victoria Adams of the Spice Girls, the media glare on him got worse and worse. Having reached the “peak” of footballing success and with an army of obsessive blond fans, David Beckham would seem to have reached his comfort zone in terms of popularity and fame. However, he shocked fans and media alike worldwide when he lopped off his trademark blond for a bald “skin-head” do.
Touted as a major joke, The Face called him ‘the biggest woman in the entire history of sport. ‘ Perhaps the real man is his wife Victoria Beckham. “There were probably loads of people out there thinking what he is doing in a sarong. What’s going through his head? ” And here comes the punch line, “She’s wearing the trousers and she’s got him wearing a skirt. However, despite all this, sarongs were getting sold out at boutiques all over London. Such is a display of how strongly Beckham’s grasp is on his legions of fans and fashion slaves and his fearlessness of throwing down the fashion gauntlet. Perhaps the greatest outcry of Beckham’s entire fashion romp so far has to come from his donning of a Mohican cut or Mohawk while leading as the captain of the English soccer team. The Mohawk is of course not simply just a haircut, but a display of aggression and rebellion closely associated to the 70’s and 80’s punk fashion.
The traditional Mohawk was of the Mohican Indians which warriors wore to battle. It has both themes of savagery and bloodlust. The punks later took the Mohawk cut and made it their trademark in the 70s. It was seen as a cut which was most radical and “in your face” to represent rebellion and non-conformity. Beckham’s decision to have such a hair cut could have both implications of leading a team into a battle or war and a rebellion against his countless critiques that prefer to tear him down because of his fashion statements instead of focusing on his job, which is to bring pride to the nation through success in soccer.
Debates raged over the examples that Beckham was setting, being such a prominent public figure. The final straw came when an 18 year old was not allowed to attend school because he was sporting the Mohican cut. Beckham then incidentally shaved off his short but extremely controversial life of the Mohican look. Even with the outcry from the media against the Mohawk, Beckham and other celebrities have taken a once taboo form of hair style and made it “ok”. Again, Beckham pushes the notch up a bar in contemporary fashion.
Being the ultimate Metrosexual, Beckham has even been dubbed as the male Madonna. In British magazine, The Face, for July 2001 Beckham appeared as the blood-soaked victim of violence. In the interview with the British gay magazine, Attitude, this married father of two confirmed that he is straight, but as he admits, he’s quite happy to be a gay icon; he likes to be admired, he says, and doesn’t care whether the admiring is done by women or by men. In other major magazines, he has been the first male cover of Marie Claire and he appeared in GQ pumping iron in the gym – and wearing pink nail varnish.
With his new ridiculous statement, Beckham seems to be toying with the media and the public, knowing that whatever he does will be criticized and eventually lapped up. Beckham seems to deliberately lead his legions and the media around for a wild goose chase and confusing the public about his image. After going back to his bald look, he models for police sunglasses in a lucrative 1 million dollar deal. If one so analyses the advertisements for police, it is obvious that their image projected is of high masculinity and toughness with past models like Bruce Willis.
It therefore serves to be ironic that Beckham admits his taste for feminine fashion and pulls off pink nail polish. Playing with gender identities is clearly one of Beckham’s things: “I’m not scared of my feminine side and I think quite a lot of the things I do come from that side of my character”. His endorsements of other products also market him to a very wide range of audiences throughout the world. International brand names like Adidas, Pepsi, Police and Vodafone bring David Beckham into the eyes of the general western market.
Strategic endorsements such as Meiji Japanese biscuits, Tokyo Beauty Centre and Re-new Car projects Beckham into the ludicrous Japanese and Far-eastern market. In other worlds, Beckham has positioned himself into a global market of which he is able to influence easily. Even America with its low interest in soccer has been taken over by the Beckham tide, inviting the superstar couple to present an award at the 2003 MTV Movie Awards. So in conclusion, how does Beckham size up as a major influence in today’s contemporary fashion and image culture? He featured as one of the most talented soccer players of time.
He has played for one of the biggest soccer clubs in the world (Manchester United) and is now currently playing for an even bigger soccer club (Real Madrid). He’s been through the lows and the highs of the soccer stage and has showed that he is able to hold his character and millions admire him for that. More importantly, he is good looking has a pop star wife and is continually into the latest fashions if not ahead of it. A true gem as a fashion icon and as a metrosexual, he has showed that he is a trend setter and unafraid of taking bold steps such as painting his nails pink and loving the admiration of the gay community.
In the tough-nut world of British soccer he’s proved a player can openly love his family, be achingly hip, wear sarongs and sequined jackets and still lead and put away a few goals for his country. Already armed with an astronomical bank account, he has the means to lounge in suits of high fashion, making him an irresistible figure. Despite being a football player, and therefore occupying the space more clearly marked male than any other in British society, he is practically a woman, at least as far as his own declarations are concerned.
The successful contemporary football player’s public image is still coded for racism, sexism, homophobia, violence and drunkenness, same as it ever was, but something new may have started. A gender-bending, maternal gay icon is the best footballer in Britain. The ironic structure is there for everyone to see and envy. However, as long as he continues to do something outrageously unfashionable, he will always have his massive fan base to back him up and turn it into the next hottest thing.
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