In a country wracked by militancy and poverty, urban men are taking the time and spending the money to look good – although earrings are still taboo …
Metrosexual man is on the rise in Pakistan
LAHORE // In Pakistan, as militant Islamists wage war on anything smacking of western culture, metrosexual man is quietly on the rise.
Confounding expectations in a country where most street scenes are filled with men wearing the traditional shalwar kameez, up-market male grooming salons are springing up in the main cities.
Despite Pakistan's dire economy and widespread poverty, rich urbanites have more disposable cash than ever and are spending it on their image, said Hassan Kilde Bajwa, of the Synergy advertising agency.
Mr Bajwa said the rise of the metrosexual, a word coined in the West in the 1990s to describe heterosexual men who spend a lot of time on their appearance and like to shop, is a result of a liberalised banking sector and a massive explosion of media in a country that 15 years ago had just two television channels and no FM radio.
Mr Bajwa, 30, an associate creative director, said: "Now people have a much greater disposable income because of all the banking reforms we've had over the past 10, 15 years where all of a sudden we have people being able to take loans, which was not a possibility in Pakistan before.
"And the other major influence is the fact that we now have a flourishing media industry. When you're bombarded with all these new ideas, your consumption increases."
Mr Bajwa said advertising campaigns were pushing western beauty trends for men.
"Now you see more and more products, personal hygiene products, being targeted at men, which is something quite new. Metrosexuality is definitely on the up in Pakistan."
Hair transplants are one sign of the trend. In the eastern city of Lahore, Pakistan's cultural capital, surgeon Ahmad Chaudhry said his hair transplant business was booming, with clients up by a third last year.
In the past five years there has been a trebling of profits, Dr Chaudhry said, as he performed one of his daily surgeries while his bald client calmly watched television.
"It's due to awareness we have created by advertising and good references," Dr Chaudhry, 40, said, adding that business would be even better without the security threats from terrorism throughout the country.
"Business is growing more and more, but when there's political instability or some explosions then there's a down. People are afraid to travel to Lahore or even to Pakistan."
His waiting room is covered in posters of satisfied clients and their glowing references, including a former federal minister and Test cricketer.
Dr Chaudhry's client Azhar Amin, 43, sat in the surgery chair with his legs outstretched as the surgeon cut away a section of his scalp under local anaesthetic.
"I wanted it for cosmetic reasons and to improve my confidence," said Mr Amin, who paid 230,000 Pakistani rupees (Dh10,000) for two five-hour procedures.
"Baldness is a weakness, so after the hair transplant I will be more cosmetically acceptable and confident. I saw it on the internet and then decided to have it done."
Beauty treatments traditionally associated with female pampering, such as facials and manicures, are also increasingly popular among men.
Michael Kanaan, a Lebanese salon owner in Islamabad, has worked in Pakistan for five years and watched the trend grow.
"They're catching up with the western fashion. Everyone wants to look good, everyone wants to feel good about themselves when it comes to their hair and nails," Mr Kanaan said, attributing the trend to increased travel abroad.
A businessman and provincial politician, Yousuf Ayub Khan goes to the Michael K salon every three months for a facial.
His voter base is in the north-west province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a conservative region rife with Islamist militancy.
But Mr Khan said male pampering was surprisingly socially acceptable, even among the tribal cultures of the lawless border region, where traditional dyes such as henna are popular for colouring hair and beards.
"It's a very traditional conservative society in Pakistan, but traditionally it's not a problem over here if you tell someone you've been to a salon and had a facial or pedicure, no one will laugh at you."
Mr Bajwa cautions that there are limits to this trend. "One thing that still isn't acceptable, even among metrosexuals, is accessories," Mr Bajwa said.
"That's not something you ever see in Pakistan. Earrings, in fact piercings anywhere, socially is unacceptable. It's still a social taboo."