In Search of the Divine Masculine

Our style columnist, Christoper Riley, goes on an unlikely journey that starts with reality TV and ends in an elevated sense of self.

Article by Christopher Riley

Photography by Simone Pellegrini.

With the end of January approaching, I’m sat here taking stock of my year so far. And I’ll be honest with you, it’s slim pickings. I’m yet to figure out what on earth NFTs are and my resolution list now taunts me with daily reminders that my intentions are somewhat grander than my reality. But what I can report is a new obsession I have managed to uncover. The vast majority of my spare time over the past month has been dedicated to watching the TV program Alone (SBS).

The premise of the show is simple: contestants go into the wilderness armed with 10 items with the intention of setting up camp and surviving off whatever they can hunt or forage for as long as possible. Over time, contestants slowly fall by the wayside until only one remains, and he or she then returns home half a million dollars richer.

For a city boy such as myself, watching these survival experts hunt, lay traps and set up elaborate camps all with their bare hands is an inspiring reminder of our incredible resourcefulness and will power. Trust me, it’s captivating stuff.

But the most interesting part of the show doesn’t involve bow and arrows, slingshots or even the boat Jose manages to make in season 2. What has kept me hooked is the exploration of gender identity. Never before have I seen masculine and feminine tropes demonstrated in such extremes.

On the one side are the men, who come to “conquer”. For these red-blooded individuals, the show — like the land itself — is something to defeat and overcome. Set up camp and let the local flora and fauna know who’s boss. On the other side are the women who, more often than not, arrive with the intention of being at one with nature. They seek to coexist with their four-legged neighbours and learn how to be a better human being, regardless of the outcome.

In the context of the show, both approaches have their merits. But, sooner or later, both fall short. The men realise the rugged landscape is a pretty worthy opponent, and the women generally wind up starving themselves due to a lack of hunting success. This leaves space for the few unassuming contestants who sit somewhere in the middle, to sneak through and win. It is the ones who embody the characteristics of both extremes who are able to thrive.

Photography by Şafak Atalay.

This leads me to what I am calling the “divine masculine” (copyright pending…). I’m not going to sit here and tell you gender is a social construct — though of course, it is — but what I will tell you is that we are made up of a spectrum of instincts and behaviours, all of which we need to nourish in order to be the best versions of ourselves.

When we balance our extremes, we allow ourselves to flourish. Which brings me to style. If we think of the male style icons of our era, it’s the likes of Jared Leto, Harry Styles, Pharrell Williams, Dapper Dan and David Beckham who come to mind. All of these men embody as many typically feminine tropes as they do masculine. They wear nail polish and rock a strong three-piece suit. They wear elegant penny loafers and dad hats.

Even in hip hop, a scene historically known for its displays of macho bravado, the fly ones are the Young Thugs and Lil Uzi Verts who wear dresses and designer handbags as often as they do tracksuits and vintage Air Jordans. None of these men surrender their masculinity when engaging in femininity.

And so I have set off in search of my own divine masculine. For me, this has started with grooming. Sure, I know my way around a good moisturiser, and I’ve even been known to enjoy a mani pedi or two over the years. But, too often, I have come to realise, I approach these actions with a sense of masculine inhibition.

With the manicures, I am yet to ask for a layer of colourful polish even though each time I go that midnight blue is calling my name. And when it comes to moisturising, I go about it with a sense of frantic urgency as if I am attempting to overcome my skin’s impurities by the sheer force with which I apply lotion. Each night, my partner chuckles as I wage war on my skin while she delicately soothes and nurtures hers.

No more. For the past week, I have been engaging in a conscious grooming routine in which I take my time and ask myself what it is my complexion wants and needs, rather than assuming to know the answer. I seek to communicate with my inner self rather than forcing myself to do something purely for the sake of it.

I challenge you to do the same. Find an action or behaviour typically associated with the opposite sex, embrace it and see what you learn. I can’t promise you it will make you half a million dollars, but I can say it will help elevate both your sense of self and your style. After all, in Alone, as in life, it’s all about balance.