Masculinity: a Smelly Issue

In this post, the idea of masculinity as a social construct is discussed. A look into fragrance advertising reveals the mechanisms that are exploited for profit.

Many scholars agree on the fact that the idea of masculinity is purely a social construct. Easthope refers to this issue as “the Masculine Myth” a constructed idea that is repeatedly reinforced by all sorts of media, including popular songs and advertising.

A quick look into the history of advertising brings us right at the heart of the problem.


As if the word “macho” wasn’t enough this advert shows a clear opinion on what it took to be a man in the 70s. Bearded jawline, open denim shirt that reveals a metal chain over a hairy chest, power pose and strong hands holding a bottle firmly. This man doesn’t even need a face, or an identity, to be a real macho guy, since it is all in his body.

The myth around masculinity is exemplified in an enormous number of ads that speak to men and especially in the perfume department. The same idea applies on today’s communications, what changes are perhaps the beauty standards.


This fragrance ad shows no hair, except for the nicely trimmed beard. Instead, tattoos have made an appearance covering a perfectly sculpted body that reminisces that of a professional athlete, reinforced by the huge football trophy he is holding on his shoulder, which is also the same shape of the bottle. Tiny, fragile and all-white women caress the product at the feet of the man, towering behind them.

The message is exactly the same, if not more amplified. It seems as though men and women belong to two completely different universes, completely ignoring the natural world. As Butler argues, the only reason behind the division of “human bodies” into female and male sexes is a mere economic necessity for the institution and naturalisation of heterosexuality, which is vital, especially for the perfume market. 

There is no doubt that selling perfumes as magic potions that pave the way for heterosexual sex is in fact working very well. But what are the effects of this propaganda causing to actual men?

As Storey finds “[Easthope] argues that dominant masculinity operates as a gender norm, and that it is against this norm that the many other different types of ‘lived masculinities’ (including gay masculinities) are invited to measure themselves.” The constant exposure to the “Masculine Myth” is causing other, less masculine, men to compare themselves to these false representations, damaging their self-esteem and inducing sales tapping into their apparent lack of masculinity.

With the study of new gender theories and the progress of the queer world making its way into the public eye, there should be a more positive way to sell male beauty products, a way that actually reflects the changing perceptions around the male figure.

Lynx has done an excellent job in grabbing this thought and for the first time a spectrum of different types of masculinities has been explored.



This ad tells men to love those details that make them unique, pushing the boundaries of masculinity in literally every direction.

Watch the full commercial for Lynx – Find Your Magic here:


Storey, J., (2008), Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: an Introduction, Fifth Edition, Pearson Education

Easthope, A., (1986), What a Man’s Gotta Do: The Masculine Myth in Popular Culture, Psychology Press

Butler, J., (1999), Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Routledge


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