Will back hair ever be sexy?

KATHLEEN LEE JOE
Last updated 10:54 01/09/2014
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To wax or not to wax? Since the dawn of Veet, women have been so preoccupied with this question that we seem to have missed out on another grooming battle altogether - the war being waged on men's back hair.

A couple of recent essays by Slate's Mark Joseph Stern and author Andrew Sullivan seem to suggest that back fur is the new bush: a natural state of being among most grown-ups, but rarely seen in the wild in all its textural glory.

"All other once-taboo forms of body hair now have their partisans, from pubes and armpits to feet and faces ... But there has been no such renaissance for back hair," writes Stern.

Could back have surpassed chest and pubic as the most political of body hairs? As opposed to the other two's polarising nature, back hair is almost universally maligned.

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Google beauty blogs and fitness forums and it's treated with blanket derision, despised by those of us who've grown up post-1979. GQ has even pinpointed it as the only type of body hair that is "never sexy".

Women tend to tolerate back fuzz on the men they love (and they're ambivalent about waxing it off), but rarely is it ever a preference. Though men have generally gotten carte blanche in the personal grooming department, this particular type of body hair may actually be cause to blush.

Just as us ladies have been pressured to hide our shameful, sub-beautiful physicality at the start of every summer, men have been waxing, lasering and shaving behind closed doors to conform to this rigid beauty standard thrust upon them.

Of course, it wasn't always like this. Think back to the free-wheeling '70s, when your dad would walk around the house sporting tighty-whities and a dark, thick, velvety man-pelt until your mum told him to put on a shirt.

The decades-long back-hair backlash began sometime in between Burt Reynold's Cosmo centrefold and Roger Moore's James Bond to Daniel Craig's, when Hollywood and glossy magazines colluded to convince us that a hair-free back and smattering on the torso was the only acceptable combination.

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Cue a cavalcade of leading men with fuzz that magically ended at their clavicle. As Nick Offerman explained in an interview in 2010, "I'm very hairy, and men in film and TV are no longer allowed to be hairy."

Yet the tides they may be turning. A revolution is quietly brewing.

Vulture's Jesse David Fox recently praised "back-hair pioneer" Seth Rogen for bucking the wax trend. And Sassy's Marjorie Ingall has waxed lyrical about her love for male body hair, calling it "primal, manly, sexual".

Why do so many grown women continue to quiver at the sight of male fuzz? Do we associate it with a gentler man more in tune with his feminine side? As Ingall ponders, could our preference for smoothness - however artificial - say something about our growing economic power and the mainstreaming of feminism?

Connecting our distaste for back hair with the mainstreaming of feminism does seem a bit dubious, but it's nonetheless refreshing to hear an opinion that deviates from the alleged ideal. 

There's nothing particularly unhygienic about back hair. If anything, it's a visual, visceral indicator of amped-up testosterone levels and raw red-meat virility. And isn't it inherently sexier when a man or woman allows his or her body to be what it is and doesn't attempt to micromanage every inch? 

That said, just because a man is naturally hairless doesn't make him any less of a man. You see, it's very hard to form a cohesive argument in support of any one aesthetic preference, which is why we ought to curb the arguments altogether.  

Those with back hair are figuratively born with it. As you grow older, the stray strands that start to turn up on your pillow seemingly move southward, implanting themselves into your back. You can't fight the genetic code so you may as well embrace it.

We women - whose pins and 'pits face the prospect of environmentally devastating deforestation on the regular - support your cause.

As we post photos on the Hairy Legs Club tumblr and women in China spotlight their armpit tufts through 'pit selfies, why shouldn't men feel just as comfortable in the hairy (or hairless) skin they're in?

At the end of the day, it's about body tolerance and accepting what you're born with - even if what you're born with earns you a few side-eye glances at the local swimming hole.

- Daily Life

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