6 min

Beauty’s free samples

Cosmetic sales pitches play to our egos

IT'S A JOB. Beauty and unreal sexual ecstasy is hard work. Credit: Mia Hansen

Three weeks ago I went to New You 2002, Canada’s first Cosmetic Enhancement And Anti-aging Show.

Since then, I have only aged a week. I’m thankful that I’ve documented my visit with photographs taken through Vaseline-smeared lenses. I look at the photos: Because of what I have gleaned from the show, I have retained my glow – and not water or wrinkles – by drinking glasses of fish oil from deep-water fish.

I have kept it all together because I want to, and because I have learnt that my addictions to creams, vitamins and make-up is the price you have to pay for beauty.

The Metro Convention Centre is a beehive for New You 2002, with 150 booths featuring a mix of medical seminars, demonstrations, products and services for people who want to stay young, look young and be young. The crowd is predominately middle aged.

According to the show’s press kit, the number of people getting cosmetic procedures in the US increased 35 percent last year, with the number of men having cosmetic surgery increasing 80 percent. In particular, the industry has been trying to woo gay men – perhaps because of our famed vanity, perhaps to use as a vanguard to sell more pec implants to straight men. But, for all the talk of waist liposuction and new calves, cometicians are still directing a lion’s share of their attention to female lips, eyes and cheeks.

Regardless, the show claims North Americans are “embracing cosmetic surgery and the new wave of non-surgical anti-aging procedures.” I see a large number of women whose faces looked permanently startled. Indeed, cosmetic surgery has been embraced and wrestled to the ground.

All these people are here for answers and free samples. Give them free samples and next they will be buying $50 pots of vitamin cream. Free samples are the hook that gets you started. I got a few packets of neck and skin cream and it burns like hell when I put it on after shaving.

People check each other out to see what kind of haul they got. A woman leans into another woman, points and asks, “Where did you get that?” “Aisle seven, over there.” There is nothing sadder than the mix of anxiety and hope on the face of a free sample hunter as she rushes off in the direction of booty.

All around, stylists, doctors and other beauty professionals are moulding women into newer versions of themselves. An excited woman at one booth lays down as the doctor starts up the permanent make-up gun. Is this the best place to get your eyebrow line or lip line permanently tattooed to your face? Florescent lights and crowds filing by?

I imagine grandchildren years from now asking granny where she got the weird tattoo on her forehead. “A drunken Sunday afternoon with the girls at the convention centre, dear sweet child. Grampa got his mermaid the same way… sort of.”

As soon as I walk into the show, I see a large crowd circled around a latex-gloved specialist who is injecting a woman in a dentist-like chair with a needle and then working at making her lip bigger and sexier, “because the face is everything.”

The woman tells him that she only wants a little lip augmentation. The specialist in the business suit tells the nodding crowd that he respects her wish for a thinner lip.

“She’s happy with a thinner lip. She doesn’t want anything like Angelina Jolie.” He’s not going to force his idea of beauty on anyone. He tells the men not to look because they might faint seeing the needle go into the woman’s lip.

It’s obvious the three other men present are not gay or the fainting type. I wonder if they think their wives or girlfriends or daughters would look better with Angelina Jolie lips or a thin small upper lip like the middle-aged woman in the chair. My money’s on Angelina.

My lesbian companion notices a sign for Viacreme, a cream that “enhances sexual responsiveness in the areas that matters, and produces sexual arousal to increase and enhance the enjoyment of intercourse.”

My friend is excited. She’s read about it and heard that it’s amazing. Women, some matronly, some bombshells are standing around selling two little packettes of the cream for $40. The sales rep leans into my friend and confides, “I don’t do it without anymore.”

She’s wearing a short brown skirt a blouse and white sneakers. Her practicality appeals to me. I ask if there is an equivalent cream for men.

“Don’t worry,” she says, “you’ll get the benefits.” Nudge, nudge, wink wink. Surrounded by hairdressers and other men of the industry, can’t she tell I will never get the benefits of a vaginal pleasure cream.

“Ya,” says my friend. “It’s all about my needs, anyway.” The sales rep in her eastern European accent says, “Ya, that’s right.”

My companion tells me that I should say something about how dykes age well. I think about it. They do. But do gay men? There aren’t too many here to even ask. The few that I see are flirting with the middle-aged women to make sales.

One gay guy that we spot and consider approaching for research purposes looks mean as hell. We reconsider approaching him. Taking all that time every day to do the make-up, the hair and the clothes is no less obsessive than the guys that have their workouts down to a science. Some guys do their abs, some guys their eyebrows. Fear of aging is dealt with the same fierceness by both the gymbot and the beauty queen.

I worry about aging as much as the next guy. So I ask Andrea the rep to aim her high-tech camera at my worry lines. The camera zooms in and shows my skin close up on a monitor. I keep asking her to tell me about it and she keeps nodding. I worry more. When I ask them to explain what the computer does, it seems all it really does is take close ups of your skin. All they can tell me is that it is indeed my skin on the monitor. It’s a little dry. Drink water.

Then they add an attachment over the lenses and tell me I’m really going to like this. I am somewhat startled by the extreme close up of the bristles on my closely shaved head. Yikes, that’s close.

“Do you want to see a mole?” Andrea asks.

No, I don’t want to worry any more than I have to. The owners of the company come over and want us to move on. We’re having too much fun. Andrea tells me I might want to buy some multi-vitamin cream for my skin. Free samples? No. Later then.

Worried after seeing the extreme close-up of my sparse head of bristles, I go to a hair replacement booth. I can tell they don’t trust me from the very start.

“We’re suspicious of people that shave their heads,” the rep tells me.

I find out that I’m too far gone. My bald spot goes too far back. I’m a number seven on the scale. There is no way that they can take enough hair from the back of my neck and weave it to the top of my head. I start filling out the form because it says you can win a free treatment, but the woman at the booth pulls it out of my hand.

“You don’t want that!”

I’ll give it to a friend, I say. No, they have to have a consultation to qualify. I look up and see the photos of the CityTV weatherman happily getting hair placed on his head – happiness I’ll never know.

Forget about outer beauty. I need to increase my inner beauty. I need to love myself. I go to the New Age section and talk to a woman whose CD of recorded stories of love are meant to inspire.

Yes, she does have gay men and lesbians take her workshops. Some “homosexual people” really get something out of listening to her read the diverse stories of love she’s recorded. She tells us it’s about breaking the barriers that hold us back and that, “God knows, homosexual people break the barriers.”

She stands really close to me and tells me I have really nice glasses. She wants me to like her. We move on, trying not to look at each other for fear we will laugh like “homosexual people” do.

The weeks since New You 2002 have gone by I’m just Old Me. Gay men and their battle with aging will continue. But until businesses throw a few free samples that speak to my needs and other gay men, we’ll still look on the industry with skepticism.

And my companion hasn’t tried the cream yet. She’s coming down with a cold, her girlfriend is busy as hell and they don’t have the time to put it on for eight days straight first.

Beauty and unreal sexual ecstasy is hard work. She says they have good sex anyway.