Before my senior year of high school, I had relegated the concept of manscaping to metrosexual metropolises like New York and Los Angeles. No way did it exist in my native Nashville, no matter how progressive my school was. The only boys who shaved their body hair were swimmers, and that was a matter of practicality and athletic achievement, not petty grooming.
But one day that emasculating plague struck down south. It started out as a joke, when my boy Spencer unveiled his hairless chest for one of our late summer cross country runs.
“I started in on the happy trail,” he said, “but then it looked whack and I had to take it all off.” I vicariously mourned the loss of his body hair, having always been proud of my own blindingly white chest and the streak of black hair that runs down its center, on display often enough in the warmer seasons.
My hair fixation started around age ten, when I tried to grow enough on my head for a Jedi ponytail. More recently, I have developed my chin-scruff, which at its longest is respectably skeezy. My nether beard is a lot more impressive, a thick set of luxurious curls far more indicative of my Jewish heritage than any other part of my body. But I never thought the boys down there were at risk of nudity. Spencer’s shave had surely stopped just below the belly button, right? A one-time fluke? Anyway, it was his right as a senior to experiment and develop his sexual identity—his blinged-out left ear and new hipster glasses were proof enough of that.
Despite my hopes, the happy trail mishap proved not to be a singular event, not even within the cross country team. For whatever reason, the junior class that year underwent something of a sexual Renaissance that played out in a torrent of hookups throughout their ranks. They threw more parties than we seniors did, they had more sex. And they were anxious about their pubic hair.
“Mackie shaved before Isabel showed up,” one of my informants told me. “He was totally bald. She just laughed at him.”
“It makes you look bigger, right?” another asked. (In my mind I quickly created a tip-of-the-iceberg philosophy.)
“It’s all about finesse,” said our leading scholar, “and degree.” This ten-second conversation blew my fucking mind. Here were kids one and two years younger than me worrying about something I had never given a second thought to. This new social anxiety among the juniors, combined with their intimidating sexual growth, started me worrying about my own body hair.
I didn’t act on these new anxieties until the following summer. I was house and dog-sitting for a family on vacation, which meant playing a lot of Biggie Smalls on the stereo, eating reheated chicken patties, and walking around the house semi-nude. On one of these half-naked strolls, I stopped to look at myself in their full-length mirror. The longer I looked, the more a puff of hair just below my belly button that I had once thought winsome and attractive started to look like an outlier in an otherwise respectable program of body hair. It was summer, so I had shirtless running to consider. Also I was having a lady-friend over to the house later on hazy sexual terms. So I fell into the trap, at least to a minor degree. I took shears to the little guy. Nothing happened with the girl but the pain of the lost puff remained.
Over the course of its regrowth, I wondered why I had done it, and why it hurt. I do like the belly-button puff, and cutting it to theoretically please the world at large depressed me. The idea of manscaping, with all its desire to impress (and its origins in pornography) is a controlling force, something I oppose on individualist grounds. It’s become pervasive in the media, with Gillette selling razors specifically for body hair and bald chest after bald chest appearing in People. Manscaping demonizes something I consider beautiful and symbolic of my identity. Watching my younger teammates fall to these pressures was funny at first, but after having tried manscaping myself, it proved to be quite a bummer. Why worry about this stuff? Why chop up my happy trail?
Ultimately, it’s up to you, dude. If buzzing your pubes makes you feel strapping and confident, fucking go for it. But I did it because of some weird societal brain waves I was picking up, and it turned out to be the wrong choice for me. Chest hair, happy trails, and scraggly beards make me feel more like myself, and that’s enough.