the male gaze

Brave Man Survives the Diets, Spanx, and Spray Tans of Red-Carpet Prep

Photo: Atisha Paulson

Ah, the red carpet: that magical dreamland where people with symmetrical faces and chiseled bodies stand still for a few seconds before entering a building. What does it feel like? Where is it? How can us useless normal people ever get there?

In the generous and inclusive spirit of awards season, the Cut gave me, a normal 25-year-old fuggo, the chance to see if I had what it takes to be glamorous. Which, yes, of course, I did. Right? No sweat. I jumped at the opportunity.

I would have 12 days before the Cut ’s Fashion Week Party to undergo “red carpet prep”: a herculean regimen of diet, exercise, and pampering fit for a male movie star and intended to correct the errors of my natural physical state, so that I might be deemed worthy by cameras held by middle-aged men in sneakers. With zero experience of high fashion whatsoever, I had one goal in mind: to be the belle of that goddamn ball.

Photo: Courtesy of Will Stephen

The first step was diet. I decided to follow in the steps of bronzed hobo Matthew McConaughey and go paleo. This, for the uninitiated, means no dairy, no grains, no refined sugar, and no legumes. In other words, just meat, vegetables, berries, and nuts. Easy. Bright eyed and eager to slim down, I started day one at Trader Joe’s, loading up a cart full of meat. I was prepared to spend the next twelve days chowing down on deli meats, almonds, fruit leather, and Brussels sprouts. Carbs? Who needs carbs?

Me, apparently. I had barely eaten two meals when, by 5 p.m., I felt very, very tired. By 7 p.m., I was very, very irritable. And by 9 p.m., I’d had a panic attack, gotten into a fight with my girlfriend, and scarfed down a sleeve of Milanos.

The next day, I briefly considered going on a Hail Mary juice cleanse, but, after some soul-searching, decided that I’d rather bear the burden of a few extra pounds and forgo shitting liquid for a week.

My initial confidence was beginning to flicker. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for the red carpet after all. Maybe I was doomed to stay just another sad, frumpy dump. So I sought encouragement from celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak, who has toned the likes of Katy Perry, Kanye West, and Rihanna. I asked Harley if he might approach working with a muggle like me any differently. Perhaps he would use some sort of gentle bedside manner? No, he said: “A person is a person.”

Charmed, I decided I would take his red-carpet prep advice to heart — to sleep well, cut back on sodium and alcohol, and increase my daily steps to 12,000. Which, in all honesty, seemed surmountable, almost disappointingly so. Facing the reality that I would not become the 12-packed Adonis I envisioned overnight, I strapped on a FitBit and walked around town, ready for my pampering to begin.

My transformation began in earnest at the sleek Mizu Salon on Park Avenue, where Über-stylish owner and turtlenecked gray fox Vaughn (mononymous à la Sting or Sisqo) was to give me a haircut that would ordinarily cost $280. Once indoors, I received a drink, a robe, and a thorough shampooing before I was sent gliding down a flight of stairs and into his cool, calm, and confident hands. His fingers flicked through my hair, as he audibly considered “adding some youthfulness.” I, meanwhile, wondered if I had stumbled into my very own version of She’s All That.

“The red carpet is not about making a fashion statement,” Vaughn said, snipping around my head. “It’s about being classic, and true to your own personal look.” Which, when dealing with celebrities, is easy: “People know what they want.” I, of course, did not. But I trusted the man who’d spent the last 30 years styling the likes of Tom Brady, Richard Gere, and Bill Clinton. And I was glad I did. After his ministrations, I felt aerodynamic and put-together in a way that $11 haircuts don’t typically provide. Worth the $269 difference? Debatable. But it was enough to leave me feeling confident, pampered, and also confused about how he said I reminded him of Alan Cumming.

Then, God help me, I got a spray tan. Two days before the Cut party, Jackie from Vita Liberata Luxury Tan showed up at my apartment on a particularly freezing morning and set up a portable tent in the middle of my living room. I stripped down to my skivvies, put on a hairnet, and shivered inside the tent as she poured what looked like soy sauce into a Ghostbusters gun and aimed it at my body. This, I learned, was the “Ecuador” shade.

To ease my fears, Jackie assured me that the process was very, very common. Kim Kardashian gets it done once a week, she said. And a few days earlier, she had driven down to Pennsylvania to personally spray the on-air hosts at QVC. I still had some concerns. “I mean, I’m not going to say it’s odorless,” she said, cocking her gun.

Photo: Courtesy of Will Stephen

After gritting my teeth and getting doused in ice-cold brown spray, I was informed that the Cut had specifically requested I also receive muscle contouring, which is in all honesty the dumbest thing that has ever happened to me. In a mutually humiliating experience, I stood still as Jackie drew a fake six-pack on my stomach and added artificial shade to highlight muscles on my arms, legs, and chest. I then had to baste in my apartment for eight hours, letting the juices sink into my sticky skin while leaving Ecuadorian splotches all over my white chairs. Then I finally, finally, finally showered, and watched, nauseated, as the extra layers of Kikkoman flowed down my legs.

Photo: Courtesy of Will Stephen

But all this was doing its job, apparently. In the days leading up to the party, I was told on multiple occasions that I looked good. Words like “skinny” and “healthy” came up. My girlfriend said that my fake tan made me seem “aloof,” while also giving me a “weird air of authority.” I felt like a dumber and more attractive impostor of myself, which, it occurred to me, might be what being famous and glamorous always feels like. But reflection could wait: I needed to focus on looking as pretty as possible, ASAP.

On the day of the party, I had a male grooming appointment with ReVive Skincare’s male groomer Talia Sparrow, whose celebrity clients include James Franco, Mark Ruffalo, and Hugh Jackman. “All celebrities get groomed before red carpet shows,” she said. But if she’s doing her job well, no one notices. “With guys, you want to use as little makeup as possible.”

Photo: Courtesy of Will Stephen

She then proceeded to rub twelve different products into my face: serums, toners, creams, scrubs. But I was prepared. A week earlier, she had sent me ReVive’s $295 Glycolic Renewal Peel, an obscenely expensive gel that burned dead skin off my face, only to then make me feel like a silky smooth newborn. The end result of the whole thing was, again, confidence. I looked slightly but noticeably smoother, hidden behind invisible layers of goop.

All that was left was the coup de grace: the outfit. After surveying a few options, the Cut’s Diana Tsui settled on a $58 Gents Graphic Tee, $198 Gents jeans, and a $1,495 David Hart jacket, which I was told had “just walked the runway.” Beneath these, I wore man-spanx. The upper-body Spanx — an infant-size undershirt, essentiallywere a lost cause, too tight to even remotely fit over my shoulders, but the lower-body Spanx slid on just fine. They felt like a snug, scratchy, and mostly unwelcome hug around my waist. I popped on my own red Nikes, and my look was complete: that of a total and utter douche. One friend said I looked like a “jerk,” the kind of guy “who thinks negging is a good idea.” Another described my look as “Johnny Knoxville chic.”

So off I went, tan, trim, and douched up, to the Gramercy Hotel, finally red-carpet ready. I ascended to the Terrace floor, walked into the din of a fashion party, and there it was, my Mecca, just like I’d always imagined it: a stretch of carpet in front of a wall with some dudes with cameras in front of it. I stood. And smiled. And posed. And that was … it. I was done. Literally, that was it. Five, ten seconds max. I got my picture taken. Big whoop.

Photo: Atisha Paulson

My first reaction was bewilderment, bordering on betrayal. All that build up? All that expense? For that? Really?! Why had I gone to so much trouble? To look good? To feel good? Or was it to impress strangers? Of course, there is an art to fashion and beauty and style that I genuinely respect, but within the context of my own life, the whole process was meaningless. The red carpet only has power if you want it to — and for me, a guy who performs improv comedy in dank basements, it felt like … carpet. Plus, my Spanx itched.

My second reaction was genuine, profound gratitude that I had bailed on the Paleo diet. Fuck that noise.

Looking around the room, I was, as Harley had promised, just a person at a party with other people. By some distant metric, I did look better. I also felt confident (or was it just superior?). But ultimately I could not wait to go home, watch Broadchurch on Netflix, and use the remainder of my $300 exfoliant to start rubbing the Ecuador right off my body.

The haircut looks good though. I’ll keep that.

Brave Man Survives Red-Carpet Prep