Spray it, Don't Say it: The Newest Trend for Tween Boys Smells Like Sex

"Hey mom," my son ran his hand over his freshly gelled hair and tugged at his favorite shirt thrown disheveled-on-purpose over his artfully destroyed jeans.  (He is of the generation that will forever be immortalized for paying to have holes in their pants.)  "How do I look?"  I smiled and fought the urge to muss his hair.  My oldest boy was getting ready to take a girl to the movies! "Um, can I borrow Dad's, you know, smelly stuff?  I think Ella will really think it's cool."

"Dad's smelly stuff...?" I fumbled.

"Yeah it makes him smell good and he puts it on in the morning?" he clarified.

"Oh, cologne!" I laughed as he looked hopeful. "And no. You don't need cologne. You're eight."

Did I mention that the movie they were attending was Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel?  (Bet you didn't even know there was a "squeakquel"!)  And that he and his second-grade crush were being escorted by her mother and little brother?

"But mom!" he whined.  "All the boys wear it!  Aidan wears it and he's only seven!"

While my son was placated by the promise he could buy a box of Mike'n'Ikes to share with the beautiful Ella -- who, awesomely, is about two feet taller than my son -- I was disconcerted.  At the risk of sounding all get-off-my-lawn-whippersnappers, I still have to ask, "What are second grade boys doing wearing cologne?"  It certainly isn't a hygiene thing; trust me, around here smelling foul is considered an accomplishment.

As a mother of three sons, I've counted myself lucky that I never had to worry about telling my kindergartner no to wearing fishnets like Miley or my first grader to wash off that face of make-up.  But according to The New York Times, I am no longer safe in my smugness as pre-teen and tween boys are the latest targets of cosmetic companies.

The metrosexualization of young boys is oddly reminiscent of the much talked about sexualization of their tween female peers.  Boys not old enough to reliably tie their own shoes, (Anyone else notice that velcro shoes go all the way to adult sizes now?  If my kids are any indication there will be a whole generation of men living solely in slip-ons.) much less have pit hair are becoming "increasingly self-conscious about their appearance and identity. They are trying to tame their twitching, maturing bodies, select from a growing smorgasbord of identities - goth, slacker, jock, emo - and position themselves with their texting, titillating, brand-savvy female peers, who are hitting puberty ever earlier."

And of course the solution to this classic coming-of-age dilemma is buying more products.  As Kit Yarrow, a professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University explains in the Times article, "More insecurity equals more product need, equals more opportunity for marketers." Ah, the old break-them-down-and-then-sell-them-the-product-to-fix-it strategy that we women are so familiar with!

So what is the male equivalent of shimmer eye shadow and plumping lip gloss? As any Middle School teacher-- with their nose plugged -- can tell you: The ubiquitous Axe body spray and similar odoriferous ilk. Have you seen an Axe ad lately, either in print or on TV?  They play out like every male adolescent fantasy with hot women inexplicably throwing themselves all over unsuspecting men who have done nothing to deserve the attention except, of course, spray themselves with a cloud of scent.

It's this message that is more worrisome to parents than the early attempts at grooming.  The ads portray a very narrow definition of masculinity, especially appealing to the very young who have not yet developed their own sense of what makes a "real man."  Hint: You never see Axe men crying in a movie, painting a beautiful sunset or even having a conversation with any of the many women who are draped over him.  (Come to think of it, women in Axe commercials rarely, if ever, speak.)  Instead the men are portrayed in one of three situations: Looking for sex, having sex or just finishing sex.  Not exactly what I want my second grader to think of as "what men do."

In addition, scented products have one of the highest toxic loads of any cosmetic available.  The single ingredient "fragrance" can have thousands of unnamed chemicals, many having been found to stunt growth, cause allergic reactions and, yes, deform sperm -- not exactly manly.  Adult bodies have a hard enough time dealing with the effects of these chemicals, surely in a culture that gets hysterical over BPA in children's water bottles and catatonic over pesticides on produce would not condone crop dusting the youngsters with such a chemical cocktail.

The worst part?  It doesn't work, as a young man from India discovered after using Axe body spray for seven years and failing to land even a single girlfriend. He's suing for fraud.  Naturally.
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