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Men are easing into self-care and pampering

While stereotypical notions of accepted manly behaviour persist, the tide is turning and men are indulging in massages and facials

Men are checking into spas looking for treatments that can help improve their energy and fitness levels
Men are checking into spas looking for treatments that can help improve their energy and fitness levels (Pexels/Cojanu Alexandru)

Mayur (he prefers to use a mononym), who is based in Goa, has a detailed self-care routine that involves visiting a spa to get a body massage once a month, and facials twice a month. A cis-het man, Mayur is also used to hearing disparaging comments about his careful routine from people around him. 

“People still say a man isn’t supposed to pamper himself. I don’t pay attention to them because over a period of time, I have realised the value of self-care,” he says. What’s worth pointing out is that Mayur follows this routine every month, despite complaining about how most spas in Goa are expensive. The benefits, he says, outweigh the cost.

“I can feel a lightness in my body after a massage. My muscles are relaxed and I feel rejuvenated. Occasionally, I also go for cupping therapy where your toxic blood is removed and blood circulation improves. I strongly feel that everyone deserves some caring and gender should be a moot point,” says Mayur. He believes that the condescending attitude men face is all thanks to the view that wellness is “a women’s thing”. “It is deemed a beautification process for women, which I feel is a very limiting approach.” 

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There are many reasons why the idea of men’s wellness is sidelined. Dr. T.R. John, senior consultant of psychiatry, Aster Medcity, Kochi, attributes it to patriarchal attitudes and masculine stereotypes that continue to be fostered. “Socially imbibed concepts like ‘Men don’t cry’, ‘Men need to remain strong’, ‘Emotions are signs of character weakness’ contribute to this reluctance in men to practice any form of self care. Instead of checking in on their physical and emotional well-being, most men turn to alcohol and other drugs which lead to further problems,” Dr John notes.

As for mental health, he says, “Men’s mental health is highly neglected. This is because seeking help is socially discouraged. Even though the number of men seeking psychological help has improved post covid, it is too low. This, even though the incidence of mental illnesses and distress is similar among men and women.”

Like Mayur, Nimish Nanda, an HR manager at a company in Pune, prioritises self-care. He is a regular at the Kairali wellness resort in Pune. For Nanda, this interest in wellness treatments arose when he was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in 2020. Nanda checked in to the wellness resort when regular treatments didn’t help him. “Unlike allopathic treatment, the doctors in the resort worked on identifying the root causes of my anxiety. Through multiple sessions that included massage, steam therapy and shirodhara, my nerves started relaxing where earlier I would feel a tightness,” shares the 31-year-old. While he says the benefits were tangible, Nanda too dealt with snarky comments from his family and friends. “They’d tease me for ‘pampering’ myself. They would say nasty things like ‘You are not man enough’ and so on.” Nanda didn’t let it affect him.

“I think taking care of our bodies should be a natural habit," declares entrepreneur Rajat Jadhav. "Gender shouldn’t be a part of the conversation at all. If a man loves to go for a massage or wear make-up, what’s the big deal? We need to shatter these stereotypes in order to move ahead.”

Jadhav co-founded Bold Care, a Mumbai-based health and wellness startup, in 2020 to address men’s health issues, including daily nutrition, hair care and sexual health. “Men still fall back on the classic identity of being the sole breadwinners for their families. Soft masculinity is not normal,” says Jadhav, who has factored this inhibited behaviour into the way services are offered in Bold Care. “At Bold Care, we have a team of doctors who look at the problems of men, including erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation and hair loss. But we operate digitally, so the team answers queries and offers solutions online,” he shares.

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The popularity of purpose-led wellness holidays
Wellness retreats are a much-needed escape from the lives we lead as they allow us to focus on our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Speaking on why men need to indulge in them, Mark Sands, vice-president of wellness, Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas says, “In today’s fast-paced world, our bodies are in constant fight-or-flight mode. So, there is a more pronounced need to reset our bodies with a purpose-led wellness holiday. Signing up for a wellness retreat can be a great way for men to get in touch with their bodies, minds, and souls.” Sands, who is based in Thailand, says that men demand therapies that are aimed at improving energy and fitness levels.

“In order to solve their health problems, we try to unearth what the underlying cause is—whether the problem is due to the gut, metabolism, nervous system or simply stress. We then provide them with therapies, diet, and exercise that are tailored o achieve their wellness goals,” says Dr Jitendra Varshney, wellness director at Six Senses Vana, Dehradun.

Six Senses Vana offers a range of personalised programmes that combine yoga, pranayama and diet to provide maximum benefits to their guests. “Today, men are keener to take care of themselves whether it is for their physical health or mental health. They are aware of what they should eat, what they should do, and what they should avoid to maintain their well-being at work and at home,” says Dr Varshney, basing his comments off of his analysis of male clientele who visit the resort.

Seeking alternative treatments
In the last couple of years, the men’s health and wellness industry in India has grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 16% to 17% and is only expected to grow further. Not just that, youngsters who are concerned about their health and well-being are openly seeking out alternative forms of healthcare.

Sands reveals, “Our male guests enjoy our biohacking therapies as they instantly takes the edge off stress and eases them into their holiday. Our heat and cold therapies get the body’s internal systems functioning efficiently.” Described as do-it-yourself biology, biohacking is a popular concept today. Many wellness resorts including Six Senses offer biohacking therapies such as localised cryotherapy where your face is exposed to sub-zero temperatures to boost collagen. For longevity and athletic performance, you can go in for Cellgym, a breathing mask that allows you to breathe in a combination of normal oxygen air and oxygen-reduced air. Sands reveals that the cold bucket shower is popular among Six Senses’ male guests. “We also encourage our clients to try sound healing and breathwork to achieve a deeper state of calm,” he says. '

“The current youth are more open about discussing their issues and have access to anonymous channels like tele-consultations and helplines,” Dr John says before noting that a lot of work still needs to be done “to educate and encourage men to seek help early. Men need to acknowledge their emotions and accept formal help for rectifying them.”

Sands believes that a slight change in perception may get men to feel comfortable with trying out spa treatments. “Wellness is a team sport and so, when men understand that making their personal wellness a priority only powers them to take care of their family and friends, they’ll accept these self-care rituals more easily.”

Tanisha Saxena is an independent journalist based in Delhi.
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