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.