Who remembers short-lived, salon-based reality show Celebrity Scissorhands? It had celebrities working in a salon? Mid-Noughties era? OK, nobody, fine – it changed my life regardless of its relative obscurity. One contestant, Sabrina Washington from R&B girl group Mis-Teeq, was challenged to wax the most armpits in five minutes and a mate lulled me into being one of the waxees. To maximise Sabrina’s chances, producers put the fairest, blondest, most pluckable volunteers at the front. They put me dead last. With 45 seconds left, they shoved me in, a knackered Sabrina applied a waxy spatula to my pit and then… the buzzer went. Fair play to her: she kindly completed the process once the stunt had ended – and I’ve been grateful to Sabrina from Mis-Teeq ever since, because it acted as the gateway to the world of waxing I’d always secretly wanted.
I am in the (roughly) half of the population of men who feel like they’re too hairy. I have an Iranian mum and a dad whose hair miraculously didn’t fall out during chemotherapy. I come from hairy stock, in other words. None of this is a sin, yet since my early thirties, I’ve felt my smattering of body hair to be utterly shameful. Why wouldn’t I? After all, one survey of women between 18 and 44 suggested that 90 per cent found a hairy back unattractive, while another said 61 per cent of men think the same. Even though it’s a naturally occurring phenomenon, wherein multiple dark strands comprising a cuticle, core and medulla sprout out of my body, it still made me anxious as hell. So I did something about it. Emboldened by my youthful experience of a celebrity armpit wax, I started sporadically waxing other bits of my body in my thirties. It’s only in my forties that I’ve stopped to wonder what the hell it was all for.
Men of my generation have been on a pretty wild ride when it comes to the cultural status of man fur. In particular, those of us who were Nineties teenagers grew up during a pivot point – where previous notions of hirsute, virile alpha men were upended. I came of age when hairy-chested men like Sean Connery, Burt Reynolds and Tom Selleck were seen as dinosaurs from a bygone era. They had been replaced by much more boyish, smoother physiques such as those of Leonardo DiCaprio or a young David Beckham. Even classic beefcakes like Peter Andre were as smooth as eels. A more sensitive era of manhood was being exemplified in the promotion of sleeker, less macho bodies. In the first Austin Powers movie of 1997, the satirical throwback character had chest hair subtly shaped like male genitals for extra lols. At the same time, body hair beyond the chest was verboten. It was socially acceptable for Charlotte in Sex and the City to be grossed out by her beau’s hairy back, while even Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine in X-Men had a totally smooth back and shoulders. Not even Wolverine was allowed to be a bit tufty.
If the Nineties gave men a complex about their body hair, the following decade at least provided a solution. The concept of metrosexuality, which gained currency in the early 2000s, did wonders for men – mainly by slowly destigmatising the idea that straight men of any status could make themselves feel more confident via better clothes, products and grooming techniques. It feels almost quaint to talk about metrosexuality today, such has been the way it has – whisper it – pervaded even the most straighter-than-straight male backwaters across the world. Today even the most ardent of lads moisturises. Amazingly there hasn’t even been a culture war backlash urging a return to the good old days before Queer Eye, when men smelt like Old Spice and had the complexions of a shrivelled scrotum. And yet, despite this, there’s still somehow a weird void when it comes to body hair. What’s more socially awkward in 2023: having hairy shoulders or admitting to getting them waxed? Polls put the percentage of men who get their bodies waxed at between 16 to 33 per cent, which is a lot of men. But there’s rarely been a normalisation of male waxing – which is doubly weird given the explosion in products aimed at “manscaping” – which is polite consumer jargon for removing one’s pubic hair.
Where men would previously have had to walk on the wild side of the supermarket aisle to discreetly snaffle some Veet from the female sections of the shop, versions for men’s intimate bits are now common, while the brand Manscaped – who claim to sell “the Ultimate Ball Trimmer” – began appearing in Boots just this month. Ironically, it’s become much more socially acceptable among men to talk about shaving your balls than your back. But just as hair removal becomes more accessible, I wonder if I’ve made a mistake here. Did I ever need to sell my naturally hairy self out? As is always the way, going clubbing offers the chance to get some proper profound perspective on life.
Male gay clubbing culture, for example, offers a rare beacon of acceptance and positivity when it comes to letting your body be itself. Most people are aware of the concept of bears in male gay culture, but otters? Otters are less blessed with bulk than a classic bear, and are less overtly macho, but are nevertheless hirsute and celebrated for their body hair regardless. Similarly, in queer nightlife culture, there’s a very tacit understanding that body hair is a form of self-expression to be both encouraged and in no way to be seen as a point of shame. And away from clubs, there’s been so much inspirational activism and dialogue in non-male circles around destigmatising body and facial hair that was once cruelly seen as undesirable that the effect has been to make me feel like a fool for ever having cowered in the first place. I feel this especially given my Iranian heritage – as though I somehow betrayed my racial roots by trying to assimilate into a majority-white concept of what a man should look like.
Where I once felt like I needed to wax to not look like a dinosaur, I almost feel like a dinosaur today for having waxed in the first place. The only way men are going to feel comfortable being hairy is – well – to be hairy in the first place, which makes me a bit of a scab to the cause. I do still blitz my armpits quite regularly, as a paean to my twenties and the kindness of one-third of Mis-Teeq. The rest? I don’t care if you don’t.