Recently, I stumbled across Stephanie Karina’s article regarding men, their chest hair, and societal standards. Her concern for those of us with chest hair made me smile. While said concern was unnecessary, I still found it endearing, because it reminded me of my ridiculous journey to fully accepting my own chest hair.
There’s this stigma that men who shave their chest hair do it because they’re ashamed of it, but I can’t claim that I’ve ever felt particularly tormented about mine. It was more of an annoyance than an anxiety when it first started coming in. Sure, movies and magazines made smooth chests look like the superior option. But all it took was a pair of tweezers or a razor, and just like that, problem fixed. I didn’t necessarily want people to know I shaved my chest, and got mildly embarrassed when one girlfriend pointed out my stubble, but I can’t say that it felt like a shameful thing. It was just something I didn’t like about my teenage body.
The only time I really felt any anxiety about it was the spring musical my junior year of high school, when I had to be shirtless onstage for most of the show, but I spent way more time working on my abs in the months leading up to show week than I did worrying about my chest hair. It stemmed more from the desire to look good than it did an anti-hair stance.
Most of the men in my family have Tom Selleck/Sean Connery-esque chest hair. Being from the generation that idolized those men, my older relatives always seemed confused when they found out I shaved my chest. I just counted it to a generational difference in tastes.
It wasn’t until the spring of 2009, my second semester of college, that I realized just how wrong I was. I went to see the new X-Men movie, Wolverine: Origins with a couple friends. Plot holes and special effects issues and every other argument that’s ever been made against that movie aside, if there is one thing the Wolverine movie did well, it was making Hugh Jackman look like a badass.
I still can’t tell you what type of physical shape he was in for the preceding X-Men movies, but he turned it up a couple notches for the Origins movie. It was also the first time I’d seen an A-list action hero aimed at my generation who had chest hair. He kicked ass, he was ripped beyond all belief, and he. had. chest hair. I walked out of that movie with a new view about chest hair, mentally set on letting mine grow out.
On a side note: One of my roommates has a theory that women who are curious about what men really want simply need to watch one scene of that movie. I don’t remember every detail (it’s been a while), but it’s near the beginning: He walks out of his middle-of-nowhere cabin, wearing nothing but jeans, possibly with a cup of coffee in hand. And as he stands near his front door, staring at the gorgeous mountain landscape, his beautiful girlfriend/wife/whoever she is walks up to hug him from behind, wearing his shirt.
That’s it, ladies. I promise. That’s all we want. Any woman who can look at that scene and make it happen in my life is automatically my soul mate. Game over, you’re perfect to me. I want nothing more.
Now I can’t attest for all men, obviously. You should know, though, that I’ve spoken with a lot of guys on this theory, and every (straight) one of them has reacted the exact way I just did in the last paragraph. Might be something to consider.
I digress, though. Where was I? Oh right, chest hair. Sorry.
So I walked out of the movie, grew my chest hair out, decided I liked it, and eventually stopped thinking about it. On the rare occasion when I do notice it (I don’t spend a whole lot of time gazing at myself shirtless in mirrors), it’s something that gives me a sense of… pride isn’t the right word, but… satisfaction, I suppose. Granted, I more or less hit the genetic lottery with how mine grows. It makes the muscles in my chest look bigger, hints at a six pack that I no longer have, and isn’t so overly thick that I look like I’m wearing a sweater. Emphasizing my strengths and hiding my flaws? Sounds great to me.
I try not to imitate that creepy “shirt half unbuttoned, showing it off to the world all the time” guy. I think there’s a time and place for it. And I understand that some guys simply dislike it more than they dislike the maintenance of it. They put up with the shaving and the tweezing because it’s the lesser of two evils to them. If you don’t like it, you won’t hurt my feelings. Shave it off again, I don’t care. But you have not felt joy in this life until you’ve had a pretty girl resting her head on your chest playing with your chest hair. Seriously.
On top of that, the media’s approach to chest hair has changed in the 8 years since I started disliking mine in high school. It’s something that you actually see fairly often now. Look at the epitomes of classical masculinity on TV today. Can any of you imagine a Mad Men where Don Draper meticulously shaves his chest? Or Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man In The World guy getting a chest wax? Of course not. And when modern characterizations of suave manliness have chest hair, I’m fairly certain that means it’s back in style.