Are Hairy Chests Due a Comeback?

Are Hairy Chests Due a Comeback? June 9, 2011

Wax THIS, yuo fop!

I make Robin Williams look like a reptile. If you don’t believe me, check out my picture, to the right. That thing on my neck is not a tarantula.

It’s not that I’ve making a principled stand against depilation. If a man thinks hiis pectorals deserve air to go with their exercise, then by all means, lay on that wax with a will, sir. I’m just too cheap to have the job done professionally and too clumsy to tackle the job myself. I’ve scarred my gums flossing; God only knows what harm a major deforestation project would inflict.

Certainly the furthest thing from my mind was impressing Salon staff writer Tracy Clark-Flory. But today, she gives chest plumage an approving nod. In fact, she goes further, writing, “depilation is increasingly common among straight men, and it’s a damn shame.”

I don’t pretend to speak for all women; there are plenty of ladies who love nothing more than a man as smooth as a Sphynx cat. I’ve certainly gotten looks of revulsion from friends when expressing my fondness for unshorn men. But given the extreme visibility of denuded beefcakes — everywhere from underwear ads to pornography — it’s easily forgotten that there are also women with a special appreciation for hirsute hotness. I love resting my head on an undepilitated chest, whether it’s a thick forest or a slight scattering of curlicues in between the pecs. The same goes for running my fingers over a man’s facial hair, be it a wee bit of stubble or (only in my dreams) a legendary thicket like “The Beard.” As for the undercarriage, trimming can certainly be practical for certain carnal endeavors, but visually speaking, shaving and waxing takes away that earthy sensuality, the primal snarl

I appreciate men’s body hair in the same way that I relish their size and strength. It’s just another signifier of difference. That isn’t to say that women are naturally un-hairy, but they are generally much less so. Part of the charge in heterosexual sex is the distinction, the joining of opposites. I see a man with hair on his chest and I think (or rather feel, because this is where my rational, feminist brain checks out): You man, me Jane. It’s not that hairiness necessarily makes a man more attractive — please, no one run out for pectoral hair plugs — it’s that natural is sexy, and unvarnished maleness is incredibly erotic. To me, excessive hair removal signals an insecurity and uneasiness with our wild, primal selves. It’s anesthetized masculinity and lust — the total opposite of sensual.

Fanning yourselves yet? Well, knock it off; here comes the use-your-head part. Clark-Flory puts the smoothness trend down to a culture of misandry, of all things:

The truth is that the male body in general gets a bad rap. There is this bizarre cultural notion that the female physique is innately and objectively more beautiful or artful. I can’t tell you how many times a boyfriend or straight male friend has said to me, “I don’t know how you women put up with this [gestures towards his own body].” Ancient Greek sculptors would have a thing or two to say about that, something along the lines of, “Are you ing kidding me?” and “Get out of here with that nonsense” — at least that’s how I’ve always responded.

I can’t decide whether she’s right. There is a certain logic to it, I suppose: visual stimulation is more effective on women than on men; most men are visually stimulated by women. If men have stopped running the world, they stopped fairly recently. Die-hard traces of patriarchal thinking would naturally tend to place the female form on pedestal, or at least wrap it around a pole.

But women seem to have paid dearly for the extra appreciation. A few days ago, I blogged on news of a study that reveals overweight girls tends to earn less as women than their better-proportioned counterparts. No such differences were found among men of varying weights. The explanation, according to researchers, is that women who were obese as girls tend to drop out of college more frequently than women who weren’t. The study doesn’t say so explicitly, but it wouldn’t surprise me if overweight girls were slower to develop the self-confidence and the social skills that earning a degree requires.

In other words, exalting good female bodies means scorning the not-so-good ones. If society neglects men’s bodies, it’s a benign neglect.

It interests me, though, that Clark-Flory makes her plea for sexual dimorphism just as the anti-circumcision movement has started to crest. Could there be something in the air, the water, the Zeitgeist that is making people start to appreciate the unaltered male physique as never before? Some of my readers have linked foreskin-hugging to gay liberation, but in my combox I heard from a pretty fair cross-section of people — gay and straight, male and female. Maybe it has something to do with the new power of women in the workforce — as women gain economic leverage, people of both sexes want some reassurance that men qua men won’t disappear from the earth.

Whatever the reason, it’s nice to see a trend that actually works out to my benefit. This whole man thing is hitting just as the thinker’s lines in my forehead, not to mention the smoker’s lines around my mouth, are getting deep enough to hold a shot of bourbon. Until today, I was sure I was getting uglier. Maybe I’m just getting manlier.

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