Toronto
2 min

From gal pal to beauty tyrant

Advertising puts gay men in charge of women's self-esteem

MARIO CANTONE'S BRAND OF HELP. Would you take advice from this man?

Capitalizing on gay men’s well-accepted role as the straight girl’s best friend and the more recent acceptability of homos on primetime television, companies selling everything from beauty products to breakfast cereal are enlisting homo spokesmodels to sway the Desperate Housewives set.

Shortly after the success of Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, the advisory reputation of the series’ stars was transferred to advertising, not products for straight guys, but predictably enough, those aimed at women. Between interior design expert Thom Filicia shilling for Pier 1 and fashion maven Carson Kressley crowing for Kellogg’s Special K, these campaigns are cashing in on the stereotype of gay men as style-savvy sidekicks.

Now it seems the role is morphing from informed outsider to overcritical authority. Was I the only one scared out of her wits at hearing the voice of Mario Cantone (Charlotte’s abrasive gay pal from Sex And The City) yelling at some poor woman in a new “hairapy” ad for Sunsilk haircare products? What kind of an ad campaign is this? Hairapy? I wouldn’t keep any therapist who talked to me like that.

Carson making quips about maintaining your ideal weight being as simple as no white after Labour Day is bad enough, but at least he isn’t haranguing a crowd of women, all of whom, apparently, have something very wrong with them that only a gay man armed with a Unilever product can fix.

Is this the best role the mainstream is willing to give gay men — badgering straight women over split ends?

Not that the women fare any better. Like many women’s magazines, the ad campaign portrays women’s concerns as a combination of grooming agonies, guy drama and shopping dilemmas.

(Needless to say although gay men inhabit this marketer’s imagining, lesbians remain invisible. Either queer women don’t have hair problems, or perhaps they simply have a separate set of problems, unsolvable by shampoo.)

The premise of Sunsilk’s new ad campaign is that we all need some “hairapy” for “hair, life and other dramas.” Its website, Get-hairapy.ca (which warns its content “may not be appropriate for those without a sense of humour/style”) is a combination of chick-lit flare and pop magazine format, including a true confessions section (the “Hairapy Hall Of Shame”) and the ever popular quiz (“What’s Your Hair Drama?”).

According to the site, a woman’s hair is much like a woman herself, prone to bloating and moodiness (poofy hair), breast envy (flat hair) and split personalities (damaged hair). And who can a clueless straight girl turn to in her time of confusion? Why, a gay man of course, presumably because a man always knows better than a woman, and a gay man has nothing better to do than advise women on which grooming products to use.