HER: Before our last trip to Jamaica, I went for a session of laser hair removal. It was a thoughtful Christmas gift from you. You knew I hated the red bikini bumps, and the last time I had the area waxed, it was so painful I swore I’d never do it again. Lasers, you thought, might be a less-excruciating alternative. Well, let me correct that misconception before our readers run out to sign up. It hurts like a bitch.
HIM: I’m so sorry, sweetie.
HER: I know your heart was in the right place. We women have a complicated relationship with body hair. On one hand, we’re told it’s unsightly and we go to crazy lengths to be rid of it. On the other hand, some feel that this obsession is giving in to a form of social oppression.
HIM: Well, if you think it’s solely a female problem, think again. If you’ve ever encountered the term ‘manscaping’, you know that men are obsessing with their body hair as well. The male ideal of physical beauty has been a hairless one since at least the highpoint of Greek civilization 2,500 years ago. Except for a brief cultural moment in the 1970s, that is, around the time of the Burt Reynolds Cosmopolitan centerfold.
HER: My ex husband was a hairy man. And when I say hairy, I don’t mean a little chest hair: I mean a full sweater, front and back. I actually remember when it grew in. Growing up, we went to summer camp together and I had seen him in his bathing suit many times. Our relationship turned romantic in the winter of our senior year of high school, and that summer we went to the beach together for the first time as a couple. When he took his shirt off, I was shocked! I did not remember that furry creature from the summer before. Once we were married, we tried shaving and hair removal creams, but nothing worked very well. So, I resigned myself to a lifetime of vacuuming up tumbleweeds of hair and keeping a good supply of liquid plumber on hand.
Which is one of the many, many reasons I am so grateful to have you: you are refreshingly free of back hair. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like a little manly hair. I see guys at Hedonism who have gone for the full body wax, and I don’t love it. I enjoy the reminder of your masculinity when I run my hands over your chest, and I like that your legs feel different than mine under the covers. But I didn’t know until at least a year into our relationship that you weren’t naturally that perfectly groomed.
HIM: Part of growing up feeling unattractive is that you are hyper-attuned to anything about your appearance that might be objectionable. My main response to that impulse was to work out consistently since I was 15 years old. Over time, I became proud of the body I created, and naturally wanted to show it off. I’ve often envied how easy it is for handsome men. They bring their perfect faces to every social event or business meeting for all to see. I didn’t consider myself very handsome, but I did recognize objectively that I had a very good physique. Yet it was almost always covered by my clothing so that I got no real PR benefit from it. I would take off my shirt any time it seemed remotely appropriate, but that was not often.
Around my early thirties, I came to feel that even when my physique was visible, my body hair was getting in the way. Although there wasn’t over much of it, it bothered me — like graffiti scrawled onto an otherwise clean surface, or a visual interference pattern distorting a television picture.
One morning at the gym I noticed a guy who had very short hair on his legs. To this day I don’t know if he groomed it like that, or if that was just the way it grew in for him. But it gave me the idea that rather than waxing or shaving, I could simply trim my body hair into a less visible presence without looking unnaturally smooth, or suddenly stubbly when it began to grow back.
At first I used scissors and a comb, but eventually I bought myself a $30.00 cordless barber’s trimmer. That saved a lot of time. Once a week I’d get into the tub before my shower, run the trimmer over my entire body, then wash the hair down the drain. Every time I did it, I made adjustments to my routine. I’d use different sized attachments for different body parts, and some areas (like my balls) I shaved clean with a regular razor. Eventually there was not one hair left on my body that grew the way God intended it. Honestly, except for my eyelashes, every hair gets the custom treatment. Yes, I know that sounds dysfunctionally obsessive, but that’s me.
HER: I think it’s a perfect compromise: not hairless, but not hairy. Now, every time I see a guy with fuzzy hair creating a little halo around his body, I think, ‘You should really have a conversation with my husband.’
HIM: There is actually a fair amount to think about, and that’s because every man’s endowment of body hair is different. For example, there are some common mistakes on the contiuum between the “natural man” and “the naked ape” (see the graphic below). For example, there is the guy who idealizes a smooth torso, and who understands that a clean package is popular with women, but who doesn’t give a thought to his hairy legs. It’s as if he’s “wearin’ chaps” (those of you who love western movies, or David Lee Roth circa 1984, will understand). Then there’s the guy who shaves just his cock and balls, even though he’s hairy everywhere else. I call this one “volcano island,” for obvious reasons.
HER: I’ve definitely seen that look. It’s like the polar opposite of puberty, where a boy will have hair around his genitals but nowhere else.
HIM: The main rule of thumb is to keep it looking plausible, as if that’s the way your body hair just naturally grew in. Clipping it all short with a cordless trimmer once a week before your shower is a quick, easy way to do that. No pain. No time-consuming appointment. No stubbly growback. You can’t lose since since, let’s face it, almost no one loves the billowing cloud of fuzz anywhere on the body. You still look like you, only better. After that, shave your cock and balls with a regular razor. Take out the pubic patch just above your penis only if you are smooth everywhere else.
HER: That seems pretty simple to remember.
HIM: I think so. But please, let me just add one more thing — there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being hairy. It’s perfectly legal in all 50 states, and does not contribute to global warming. If your partner digs it, who am I to suggest you do anything different? For all I know, the Burt Reynolds look is about to come roaring back into fashion any moment now (it’s probably already a hipster ‘thing’ in Brooklyn). I just believe that it’s always good to have options. I think more men would groom their bodies carefully except that it has simply never occurred to them.
I remember the day years ago when I was wearing shorts and one of my sons asked incredulously, “Dad, do you trim the hair on your legs?” Fortunately, I was ready for that moment and didn’t miss a beat. “Of course I do,” I replied. “Everyone trims the hair on their heads, whether they wear it short or long. We would be appalled if we saw someone who never cut their hair.” I went on to ask, why does anyone think that standard of grooming should extend only as far as the collar, yet from the neck down it might as well be the paleolithic era? We reveal much of our bodies on the beach or around the pool, so it seems natural to me to want to look as neat as possible. I don’t understand why it hasn’t become an essential part of good grooming for all men.
HER: Smooth. But I take it you didn’t mention to your kids that it makes even more sense when you take regular naked vacations.
HIM: I absolutely, positively did not mention that.