Back Hair Surpasses Pubic Hair As Most Political Hair

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Photo: 13/Jonathan Kitchen/Corbis

As long as women have been removing pubic hair, we’ve been debating the practice in almost equal measure. The articles could populate an entire bush blog devoted to questions like: Do Brazilian waxes perpetuate sexism? Even if you leave some hair in front? And, regardless, what are the least painful and longest-lasting methods for perpetuating sexism?

Somehow, while we were mons-pubis-gazing, we missed the war that was being waged on men’s body hair. Recent essays by Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern and Andrew Sullivan suggest back fur is the new bush: common among adults, yet rarely seen in the wild. Men gay and straight have been silently, stoically waxing and using Nair — sometimes, most poignantly, enlisting a roommate to shave — in order to meet the standard of dorsal hairlessness established by Hollywood at some point between Roger Moore’s James Bond and Daniel Craig’s. Stern describes these travails as well as the rigid standards that demand them: according to GQ, back hair is the only body hair that is “never sexy.” Men have absorbed this edict so successfully that I personally had no idea what was going on. You guys were shaving your backs this whole time?

Now, however, the tide may be turning. Vulture’s Jesse David Fox recently praised Seth Rogen for bucking the back-waxing trend, and Stern urged fellow gay men to embrace back hair because the “gay rights movement is centered around an ideology of self-love and self-acceptance.” Sullivan jumped on board for more prurient reasons. Though without back hair himself, he has been into hairy guys since his first, hand-drawn porn of men “covered in fur.” He writes:

Maybe it’s because body hair is such a powerful visual indicator of testosterone and maleness; maybe I’m just a perv. Or maybe because when a man allows his body to be what it is, and doesn’t try to micromanage every inch of it, he’s inherently sexier than the manscaped, plucked and trussed twink version.

In the body-hair wars, defenses based on personal sexual preference carry little political weight. The implication here is that men should groom themselves based on the imagined tastes of some potential sexual partner. (And that anyone who isn’t particularly interested in sex with Andrew Sullivan might as well keep on feeling bad about his body hair.) In fact, after a couple years in the pubic-hair trenches, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is impossible to defend one’s body-hair choices without insulting someone else’s. Whether you’re saying a woman should go bare or keep a full bush, you’re telling women what to do. And what about the naturally smooth? If body hair is a “powerful visual indicator of maleness,” as Sullivan writes, does that make Asian men “trussed twink[s]”?

But even if you can’t organize everyone’s personal grooming choices and aesthetic preferences into a coherent party line, testimonies like Sullivan's are still valuable. They indicate that, whatever you decide to do or not do with your body hair, someone will be into it. Even if you are a woman who is hairier than the most self-conscious manscaper. Consider Jon-Jon Goulian’s Vice essay “In Defense of Hairy Women,” an ode to his ex-girlfriend’s untended eyebrows, mustache, happy trail, pits, pubes,  and legs — “not to mention forearm hair and rectal hair and hairs running around the circumference of her areolas and a little bit of delicious fuzz where her butt crack meets her lower back.” Goulian doesn’t like female body hair because it is masculine or edgy or because it betrays feminist self-assurance. He writes:

With hair, of course, comes sweat, and with sweat comes pungency, and pungent hair is suggestive of what? The vagina. A woman with a hairy body has essentially four vaginas — two armpits, the asshole, and the vagina itself.

In other words, not even eschewing the most basic grooming conventions of Hollywood and porn will stop someone from seeing you as an assemblage of sex parts. Thus assured of their basic desirability, men should cease their heartrendingly furtive grooming and join women in the land of open and overshare-prone hair debate. I’m desperate to know whether the artificially hairless among you can feel the difference between sugaring and waxing.