Text Why do modern men hate chest hair? Wives laugh at their vanity.
Morning in the Strinati household and there is an unexpected winner in the battle for the bathroom.
For it’s not Nicole, a 46-year-old administration assistant at a special-needs school who spends the most time in there preening and pruning, but her partner, 48-year-old Aldo, a resources manager for Royal Mail.
‘If he is not shaving his chest, then he is putting eye-cream on his crow’s feet,’ sighs Nicole.
‘He can be in there for an hour or more if we are going out for an evening. He’s worse than a woman.
I’ve told him I love him just the way he is, but he thinks it keeps him looking young.’
And central to Aldo’s dogged pursuit of the body beautiful is his glistening, fuzz-free torso.
After years of shaving to achieve a smooth chest, he recently discovered waxing. Now, his high‑maintenance regime includes regular trips to McCaffreys male grooming salon in Cheltenham, Gloucs, where he lives with Nicole, to be stripped of hair from his chest and stomach — a process he describes as ‘worth the agony’.
Not only does it cause him eye-watering pain, it also costs him £30 a trip. But Aldo insists it’s money well spent.
And he’s not alone. Aldo is just one of many men who are embracing the hairless chest look. And they’ll do anything — no matter how painful or embarrassing — to achieve it.
The men who remove their chest hair have many pin-ups: David Beckham, Daniel Craig, the entire Chelsea Football team and practically every other male celebrity you can think of. What was once the preserve of metropolitan man is increasingly mainstream.
Even rugby players are no longer Neanderthal and hirsute. Only this month, the British and Irish Lions unveiled their glistening chests while on tour in Australia and there wasn’t a hair between them. Ditto the British Olympians last year.
No doubt all these silky-smooth sportsman will argue that this is to do with being ‘aerodynamic’. But what’s the excuse for non-sporting males?
Nicole perhaps speaks on behalf of many women when she describes this new obsession with polished pecs as ‘pure vanity’.
but clinical psychologist Linda Blair believes it’s a sign of how much pressure today’s men are under to emulate celebrity man-gods.
‘Everywhere you look, the message is that good guys are hairless,’ she says. ‘In sport, the winners are the super-smooth men; in adverts for grooming products, the underlying message is that chest hair is undesirable.
‘Today’s men are bombarded with subliminal messages that they need a smooth chest to be attractive.’
Certainly Aldo’s obsession with achieving a hair-free chest appears to be linked to underlying insecurities about his looks.
‘Before I met Nicole six years ago, I was single for a long time after the break-up of my previous relationship,’ he says. ‘Then I met Nicole, who is absolutely gorgeous. Ever since, I’ve felt that I have to look after myself.
‘I don’t want to let myself go and start looking middle-aged. The hairs on my chest were going grey so I wanted to get rid of them.’
The irony is, of course, that Nicole would prefer her man to be more, well, manly.
Aldo, though, won’t be convinced, even though he admits his father, a chef who died when he was a boy, would ‘turn in his grave’ at the thought of his son waxing his body ‘like a woman’.
‘When my father was young, men were men and prided themselves on the natural look,’ shrugs Aldo, who has three children from a previous relationship.
‘But it’s different now. Having a smooth chest makes me feel younger. It gives me more confidence. Yes, it’s painful, but the results make up for that and last for six to seven weeks.’
Aldo is particularly keen to make sure his chest is hairless before he exposes it on the beach during his next holiday.
And he’s not alone. John Lewis reports an increase in sales of male grooming products of 31 per cent during April and May alone — presumably as self-conscious hairy men prepare for the beach.
Jason Shankey, who runs a chain of male grooming salons, reports that more than 50 per cent of his chest waxing appointments are booked in the summer months.
What do men think about women with hairy legs?
Thousands of women, we're told, are signing up for the Hairy Legs Club – an online movement that encourages like-minded ladies to ditch the razor and flaunt their naturally hirsute limbs. But what are men supposed to think about it?
A woman with more fuzz on her ankles than a Tour de France cyclist or Premier League footballer can be a strange, conflicting, unsettling sight for us gents.
Deep down, we can be as modern and liberal as the next person. We understand the importance of freedom of expression, of breaking gender cliches, of not conforming to social pressures, and of being comfortable in your own skin. But if we’re honest – really honest – few of us would say we prefer a hairy leg to a shaved one. Some men would no doubt say they find it disgusting.
The focal point of the Hairy Legs Club is a tumblr account where women can post pictures and share their experiences and thoughts. Looking through it, there are some stories that emphasise why this a potentially important issue.
One post tells the story of an Australian teacher who forced a pupil with learning difficulties to shave her armpits in front of the class. It's an appalling tale – and clearly it’s the culture of judgment and bullying that should be getting the chop here, not the poor girl’s armpit hair.
But the shaving of body hair is a cultural thing, and that's why attitudes are so ingrained. Men have been conditioned for decades to find a certain image of femininity attractive, but does the Hairy Legs Club mean that we now risk being called sexist pigs if we endorse that image by saying we find shaved legs more attractive?
Breaking such deep-rooted conditioning is hard. Sexual desire is arguably man’s most powerful, primal urge, and no one is going to change our preferences overnight. Hopefully that doesn't make us sexist.
Most modern men support pro-feminist agendas and we try to make amends for the sins of our fathers. But let's be honest, women aren't entirely blameless when it comes to projecting beauty stereotypes either. Fashion and glamour magazines, the multi-million-pound beauty industry, and high-profile female stars all promote a standardised, smooth-skinned feminine sexuality – they’re just as guilty as the much-criticised men’s mags of telling women how they should look, even if their approach is different.
Clearly, the fact that a debate has been sparked means the Hairy Legs Club is a positive thing. Reading through the tumblr posts, the concept has been an inspiration for women to come out the hairy closet. Many of them talk about how their male partners have supported their decision to not shave or wax. Perhaps one day we'll get to a point where the matter won't even be an issue that needs discussing. But men in general have a long way to go before the image of a hairy woman’s body doesn’t make us recoil. The Hairy Legs Club tumblr makes for interesting, right-on reading, but some of those legs are, let's be honest, extremely hairy – it's a startling sight, even for those of us who are used to our partners only shaving or waxing when necessary.
Of course, some will say this campaign is not about men's preferences, and that the Hairy Legs Club really has nothing to do with men at all. And that's fine. It's none of our business, and we're not judging you. But if did want our opinion on the matter, most of us would probably say that diversity is a good thing, and that actually we're much more concerned about what a women is like under the skin, rather how much hair she's got on her body.
Hairy or shaved, it shouldn’t matter. And I'm no position to judge anyone who refuses to reach for the razor blades just to keep their other half happy. I’ve had a beard for the last 15 years, largely due to laziness, and it would take something pretty spectacular for me to take up shaving again. Even if women told me on a daily basis that I looked more attractive without the hair, I think I’d struggle to keep it up. And it certainly wouldn't occur to me to shave just for their benefit.
So you see, sisters? I'm with you all the way.
Why remove body hair?
The growth of body hair is natural. Yet many American women, spawned on by advertisements of hair free models, smooth legs and bare armpits, spend years of their lives shaving, plucking and waxing hair away. There are no proven biological benefits to it, so why do women continue the never ending battle of hair removal? The answer to this question is simple yet complex. Simply stated: women remove their body hair because they are women and that's what women are supposed to do according to our culture. However, the answer can not be that simple because some women do not remove their body hair, and some men remove their hair.
"...most strongly feminist women and most lesbians and bisexuals do remove their body hair. ... the implication of the hairlessness norm is that women's bodies are not attractive when natural, and must be modified."
- Susan A. Basow
Popular culture would have us believe that there are two types of women: the beautiful and the successful. Furthermore, it pretends that these two traits can never be possessed by a single female at one time, as if they are opposites. By our cultural definition women are beautiful, which means they do not have hairy legs, moustaches, bushy eyebrows or any other unsightly body hair. Any woman who is less than beautiful is less than a woman. By definition this would include stereotypical views of lesbians and feminists as man-hating and hairy legged.
In her study on the relationship between a woman's politics and sexual orientation with the shaving of her legs and underarms, Basow found that the majority of women who did not shave their legs identified as "very strong feminists and/or as not exclusively heterosexual" and the major reason they did not shave was for political reasons. However, 81% of the women surveyed shaved their legs and/or underarms on a regular basis.
Women are depicted as tall, thin, (often times) blonde, less than brilliant, makeup wearing, fashion savvy beauties who always have a man. The successful (less than) women are depicted as intelligent, professionally successful, single and jealous of the beautiful (real) women. With an idea of beauty that is unattainable for most, women are constantly spending time trying to improve upon themselves instead of improving themselves. Women who do not initially strive to attain the cultural standard of beauty, be it wearing makeup, shaving their legs or plucking their eyebrows, are labeled as feminists or lesbians, whether or not they actually are. Those women not wanting to be associated with either of those categories and even some who do begin to mold themselves toward the ideal of beauty in order to be considered real women.
"Hair does not make a woman's body dirty. Whether she removes it, from her legs or armpits, for example is entirely a cosmetic decision, unrelated to good health."
- Cynthia W. Cooke and Susan Dworkin
The purpose of Basow's study was to examine the development of the hairless norm for women and to determine its function. Shaving appears to be a rite of passage for girls. Although most women surveyed cited social and normative reasons for beginning to shave, they cited reasons related to femininity and sexual attractiveness for why they continued to shave. From her study she confirmed that the hairless norm for women served to exaggerate the differences between women and men. This assertion is supported by the finding that there was strong conformity regarding the norm by women who identified as exclusively heterosexual and much less conformity by women who identified as lesbian or bisexual. She also found that the norm equates female attractiveness with youth.