A few weeks ago I started writing a new short piece about balding. Or really, about body hair in general. This matters because I watched a documentary this weekend about the recent trend in men’s grooming called Mansome.

I have two major fixations: Gender studies and Generational studies. So often they are linked in a twisty-twirly way. As one generation moves into adulthood, the way we define sexuality also shifts. Masculinity in particular has always been fascinating to me … maybe because I’m not a man, maybe because it’s an even more rigid box than femininity, or maybe because the way culture defines men (and the way men define themselves) has a direct effect on how culture defines women.

There are two things that are very true for me before I can move any further into this post. The first is I believe that preference is totally normal. If you love the muscl-y, tan, gell-haired Adonis – awesome. If you think chest hair is hot – fabulous. If you like skinny guys, or thick guys, or tall guys, or stocky guys – all good. I think there is somebody for every body and just because xyz doesn’t like abc, it doesn’t mean anything. Ok, the second thing: Masculinity and femininity or not hetero-specific terms. They reference how we define and express our gender. But! Because I am a straight girl, my experience with men is from a straight girl perspective.

Ok so! I find body hair to be a fascinating and divisive topic. And it’s interesting because for the most part we can’t control it. When I was 12 I started to grow a mustache. I am Italian. My dad has had a mustache his entire adult existence, I was doomed from birth to follow in his footsteps. My mother, on the other hand, is a red-headed, English-blooded, fair-skinned lady. Initially I don’t think either of us really knew what to do with my hairy-ness. I was teased a lot for my ‘stache. It happens. It was pretty dark. My 8th grade class photo is me at the height of my bushy-stache-ness. I knew that shaving was out of the questions, so my mother and I eased into facial hair handling with some bleaching. Well, one time while I was bleaching, I left the bleach on too long and all my ‘stache hair fell out. It was marvelous!! And I realized the only way to really handle it was total removal, so I began waxing.

Girls are not supposed to have facial hair. But we do. A lot of us do. Lately as I approach 30 I am now plucking out chin hairs by the handfuls. And oh the bikini line. Waxing? Shaving? To pube or not to pube? It’s a hot button issue. I have my opinions on it.

Women do a lot of grooming. A major part of why we groom and what we groom has to do with social norms. It’s weird to not do xyz, it’s not viewed as attractive to let abc go. But other times, it boils down to personal preference.

Maybe on the surface men and their body hair seems like a minor topic compared to women and their body hair. But I disagree with this. Balding I think trumps shaving my legs any day. Balding is the ultimate “You have 0 choice in this” scenario. It just happens. First your hair thins, then either you’re left with an empty patch, or an ever-growing forehead, or just the over all thinning until eventually you have none or you shave what little you have off. I knew a guy in college who was bald like my grandpa (and my dad) with only the side bits left, at the age of 19. He wore hats every single day. I never saw him without one. And now there is the dilemma of back hair. Magazines and TV and movies tell you that everyone HATES it. Everyone. That it is revolting, that men should be ashamed, that they should shave or wax or do whatever they need to do to make it go away as fast as possible. Or, they should never ever ever take off their shirt.

The affinity for a guy with a hairless back is a preference, but I don’t like how everywhere you turn the world is telling you how GROSS it is if you have hair there. Like it’s unclean, like it means they are broken and shouldn’t go to the beach or the pool ever. I don’t like that. If I have hairy legs and I go swimming I highly doubt that anyone would even notice (and not because my hair isn’t dark… let me assure you, I have my father’s legs).

Mostly I want to know what you think. Mansome basically says that the boundaries for men and grooming have been shattered. There are more products for men than there ever have been, they are free to have many different hair styles, to wax heir eye brows, to wear eyeliner (hello Jack Sparrow), to use concealer. To care about how they look – or to not.

Is there something to think? Where are we headed? I started writing this and then I think I lost my way. My point is somewhere within all of these paragraphs. Maybe I’ll find it in comments. Body image, gender, the bullshit of getting older and my million chin hairs, balding, Kamel has little black hairs on his ear lobes that I simultaneously love to feel because they are so soft, but would also really like if he waxed off. I have visions of him being an old man with tufts of bush growing from both sides of his head and him saying, “Eh? EH?!” all of the time because he can’t hear me.


8 thoughts on “Mansome”

  1. I think one of the big differences is that as women we are almost pushed to learn how to deal with and take a stance on our body hair emotions and handling much earlier than men are. How can we not be, when we first start dealing with girl-staches and hairy legs and teasing as tweens? Men, on the other hand, don’t necessarily get hit with this until they’re much older. Balding sneaks up on them, and more regimented grooming routines aren’t expected of them at as young an age.

    What fascinates me though is Bunny’s grooming routine. He calls himself an “urban hick” and I think his routine fits that: he trims his eyebrows, keeps his head and full beard about a quarter to half inch long but shaves his neck and right under his lip. And he lets the body hair run as it will – back hair, bum hair and all. It’s this strange combination of caring and not caring about how masculine this makes him appear. I’m always driving him nuts wanting to pluck the occasional long stray, or super thick dark hair growing in his beard.

  2. I find this all fascinating as well. What we prefer and don’t prefer – where does that preference come from? But I REALLY like the comment from Sheryl – about the combination of caring and not caring. That idea is something I really like and I feel like it really sums it up. Regardless of when and how we learned (or didnt learn) about grooming and hair prefernces growing up (I am imaging the father son shaving scene right now!) – I think as we get older we balance out on what we decide to care about. We care about this, and not about that – and we don’t care who notices. It becomes more about us and less about what others think. Its personal. But I could be speaking from personal experience and the shared experiences I’ve heard expressed by my friends. And I could also be very idealistic in my “everyone figures it out” type of thing (because really, thats what I wish for people!)… But for me, I constantly forget to shave my legs, and probably have a few black ‘stache hairs – but I pluck my neck hairs and dye my head hair. All of that attention is very “up in my head” and I seem to be the only one who cares or notices.

    In terms of the boundaries being blurred for me to either care or not caring – overall I think its awesome that men are encouraged to be whoever they want to be. But similar to the womens beauty industry, I can see how the “mens grooming” industry is exploitive and pressuring. This product to get rid of this hair, and dye your hair this color, get a tan, exfoliate your feet, etc etc etc. I feel like its a lot of pressure, for both women and men, but if thats your thing, having nice feet, then go for it! But sometimes it makes me sad that the industry is expanding that type of pressure and ‘priorities’.

  3. I think it all boils down to a matter to personal taste, or if you are in a relationship, taking into consideration how your partner feels as well. I know for myself, I keep up on my eyebrows, legs, armpits, chin hairs and stache, but my bikini area sometimes goes longer than I should before I take care of it. My husband does not complain about any of it, or even have an opinion for that matter.

    When in comes to my husband however, it’s a wierd thing. He likes to present himself as best he can when he dresses, but unless I shave him (his head, and face) he can go for a long time before caring about it. I’m usually the one who says “baby, you’re looking a little scraggly”, and then that weekend we break out the clippers so I can trim him up. And his ear hairs. Oh. my. god. his ear hairs. He trims them himself, but really, you can’t see inside your own ears! He’s German and they grow like wildfire. When I notice them getting long I cut them for him.

    I think as we get older we get more confident as to who we are, and don’t feel as if we need to fit into society’s standard. If you love your hairy back, then love it fiercly! If you like to wax your chest, then own that ish. For either gender. Just because companies are trying to target men and thier grooming habits doesn’t mean that men will become more caught up in grooming. Does that make sense? People are going to groom how they feel comfortable grooming. I know that the brazilian wax exists, but I’m not running out to get it done.

  4. I think the documentary was interesting in pointing out what ways it is now “acceptable” for men to groom where 20 years ago it was unheard of. I also thought it was fascinating WHY people do the things they do. So often it’s to appeal to the same sex. I really don’t dress for men, I never have. If I really think about it the pressure I feel to look excellent is due to the judgment of other women (including ME). The difference between what we’re told we should do (slash) what we should do to appeal to men/women and the reality of what people actually care about is interesting.

    But just like I take massive offense with anyone telling me how my hoohaw should look – including Cosmo or the morning radio talk show host, I am also offended that the “voices that be” have decided that back hair/baldness/manscaping is also something to fiercely comment on and that it obviously means something about the person’s cleanliness.

    1. I agree that How To Be A Woman is an interesting read and I did like some aspects of the chapter on body hair, but I have to say that I didn’t love how she was so firm in her stance that no women should shave their public hair, while simultaneously maintaining the position that women can do whatever they want with their underarm and leg and other hair. I understood her point that pubic hair is different because the clean shaven look has roots (ha!) in the porn industry, but I think personal preference should still prevail when it comes to body hair.

  5. This is a really excellent post that made me think. I don’t have much to add, because I agree with everything you say, but I would like to say that I’d love to hear more from you about masculinity. You’re right that it is more rigidly defined than femininity. And while there is no doubt that women have it worse, in the world, in general, most of the time, I do notice that it is much harder for men to make traditionally female choices than it is for women to make what were once upon a time traditionally male choices. I’m particularly sensitive to this issue as a married lady who wants kids and whose husband will probably stay at home to take care of those kids. Yeah, it’s sometimes tough for me to be a woman in my line of work and I’m sure it’ll be doubly tough when I have kids, but it sort of horrifies me the things people (usually women) say about men who stay home with kids — usually some version of “he’s lazy” or “he’s not pulling his weight” — when it would be so non-PC to say the same thing about a stay at home mom.

    Huh, I guess I did have thoughts after all.

    1. I am so grateful for your comment here. I was a little dismayed and was kicking myself about this post – wishing i had done better because of the few comments it did receive. So I really appreciate your feedback.

      My parents had switched rolls as far as gender in my house. My dad did and still does most of (ok, all of) the cooking, most of the cleaning, and had a much more flexible work schedule than my mom did. So my dad was the one to drop me off to school and pick me up, and he was home more. My mom works longer hours, makes more money, was an avid athlete in college, loves watching football, and doesn’t particularly like hosting parties or get togethers – whereas my dad LOVES IT. In all caps.

      In the 80s when they were newly married with a new baby, this type of situation was totally unheard of. And mostly my mom bore the criticism for it. But it has made me hyper sensitive to the hyper-masculinity of men. Being a “man” has nothing to do with where your body hair lives, and it isn’t about how many beers you can drink, how much money you make. What I’ve learned from my father is that it’s about how you treat your family, taking responsibility for your actions, and having solid values that you uphold in the face of adversity.

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