Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hairy Men and Testosterone

I'm totally stealing this topic from Veinglory over at EREC, so hopefully she'll forgive me.

See, she did a post about hairy chests. And whether we like hairy chests or not. (My comments is there, I'm just expanding it and making it actually about writing, gasp.)

For years I didn't. Hairy chests=yuck. Perhaps some of this stemmed from a man I saw in high school, when I worked at a movie theatre. He was wearing a tank top and the man was not hairy. The man was furry. Literally. Back and front. It tufted out above the straps of his shirt and over the neckline. Supergross.

But as I age (ech), I realize...hairy chests mean something to me. And maybe they always did.

I want to preface this by saying two things: One, my husband is not a hairy man and is, of course, incredibly handsome and sexy and everything. And two, these are simply my thoughts and theories, and are not meant to reflect on anyone else in any way. I'm not a sociologist, guys, I only have a GED (damned algebra).

I think a hairy chest is aggressively masculine. Hairy men are aggressively masculine. It's why the stubble-y look never really goes out of style. All that body hair denotes something, in the deep ex-cavegirl pure instinct hormonal part of myself. A throwback, maybe. An evolutionary impulse. But a hairy man is a man. One who can win a fistfight and impregnate you at the same time, you know what I mean?

And when I was younger--and remember, this is just me--perhaps all that rampant masculinity was threatening. I saw it as gross because it was part of a scary grown-up world that I wasn't really ready to be a part of, that made me nervous and uncomfortable.

Don't get me wrong. I like a smooth chest as much as the next girl, and I'm certainly not implying that women who don't like hairy chests are immature in some way. I'm just saying what this meant and does mean to me. My physical tastes in men have changed as I aged because what I look for in a man is different now than it was, and I wonder if that isn't the case for a lot of women.

This also got me thinking about characterization, and heroes. Most--okay, pretty much all until now--of my heroes are hairless. I didn't even think about it. I just assumed, basically, that heroes and bare chests go together like Bombay Sapphire and tonic.

But I wonder if by automatically doing that I don't lose out on an opportunity to expand characterization. If hair color and eye color are part of characterization, hairstyle, tattoos, etc...if we use those to show what sort of person the reader is dealing with, why not body hair? What sort of character can we denote simply by adding a hairy chest? Does it make a difference in the way we see him? Would that suit a more emo-type hero, or a beta male?

What do you think?

**Apologies for the late hour. What a day.

***I will not be blogging on Friday, I don't think, because Friday is the Xmas party and I'll be away all day, all night, and into Saturday. But I will hopefully have a photo to post on Monday.

****We're doing a book club at the League of Reluctant Adults blog!! Go vote on which book you'd like to read!


Charles Gramlich said...

I think it's probably a mistake to make all heroes bare chested, or make them all hairy. I was rather bothered though by the fact that Conan was shown as hairless in the chestal region. Seems to me like he would have been better with some hair. It just seemed unlikely to me.

Karen Erickson said...

I like hairy chests but not all out bear fur if ya know what I mean. Now my husband is not very hairy but that's okay too.

Pretty much every one of my heroes has a hairy chest! I say go for it and make your next hero hairy. ;)

bettie said...

The hairy vs waxed angle definitely is part of characterization, and here's why: what kind of man waxes his chest? In my observation, there are two types. 1) Men who expect to be judged on their looks (this includes some gay men, Metro straight men, body builders, actors, models and man-ho's) 2) Men who are naturally so hairy that their hair is physically uncomfortable, or is a turn-off for their partner.

There is a certain amount of vanity, I think, to group 1. (Not that I'm down on this--no woman who has ever had a Brazilian wax can call out chest-waxed guys on the issue of suffering for vanity because there is nothing so vain as paying someone to apply hot wax to one's labia and ass crack so that the hairs there can be pulled out with the root). But, generally, I tend to associate that sort of regard for one's own looks as a more feminine trait. At the very least, it denotes a man who is profoundly aware of how he will appear to others.

When writing a hero, I save the waxed chesteses for the guys who are hot and know it; guys who use their looks to get what or who they want.

BernardL said...

I can only think of one series of books where I noticed the author playing up one of the male character's furry features: the Travis McGee series by John D McDonald. Travis McGee's friend Meyer was a furry guy who always had women around him in the book. I'm glad I'm not hairy enough to be thought of as furry. :)


Hairy bodies shed, folks. Hair in the tub drain. Hair in the soap. Hair in the bed. Hair in food.

I have a cocker spaniel for that, thanks. Keep the pelt out in the wild, as far as I'm concerned. I don't even like long, flowing locks on a man's head.

Besides, even the sight of very hairy wrists makes me worry about back rug, which squicks me out more than any other physical imperfection.

Rebecca said...

I'm probably odd in that I don't like hairless chests. They seem a bit...well...weird to me. Especially the idea of a man bothering to wax (or shave or pluck or whatever it takes to get hairless) his chest - it's probably very unfair or sexist of me - but vain men are a bit of a turn-off.

Angie said...

I've heard all the psychological theories about hairy vs. smooth men and I understand where they're coming from, on an intellectual level. Just on pure esthetics, though, I prefer smoother guys. I want skin to look at (touch, lick, whatever), not hair.

And I have to wonder what the psychological theories would look like if the dominant culture had sprung from one of the ethnicities where the men have naturally smooth chests. The whole Hairy=AdultMale thing is very European, after all. There's a variety of hairiness patterns out there, and a smooth chest does not automatically mean that the man must shave or wax.

Most of my fictional guys have hairless chests, just because that's what I like personally, but I try to throw in some variety just for... variety. :)


December/Stacia said...

Really, Charles? That never even occurred to me about Conan, honestly. I guess because I was so young when I saw the movie the first time.
Perhaps he's depicted as hairless because he's already masculine enough? If you know what I mean. I could run with this shit for days.

Oh, yeah, Karen, I doubt I will ever like furry. But I guess it would depend on the man...

Wow, Betty, I never really imagined a hero waxing. I just figured they were naturally not hairy. (Although Harry on SATC waxed his back, which was sweet and yes, I can see that.) But waxing because you have a little hair is a bit...hmm. Not my thing.

But then I've never had a Brazilian wax. Too scary. I use Nair. :-)

Yes, Bernard, there is definitely a line between hairy and furry. I can appreciate hairy, but furry Just don't think I could do it. But again it would depend on the man. :-)

December/Stacia said...

Oooh, ugh, Kerry, I hadn't thought of that but...yeah. Oooh I hate hair in the drain. Or the sink, or anywhere. Bleh! *shudder*

I like hairy wrists though. I like wrists. Men have nice strong wrists which are good. I have tiny wrists.

No, I agree Rebecca, the thought of a man who waxes--except as Bettie pointed out men who do it because they are VERY hairy and don't want to cause any discomfort--is bleh. The only waxing I will accept on a man is monobrow waxing. Because that seriously impacts how people see you every day, you know?

And here I thought this was my own original theory, Angie. :-( Got any links? I'd love to read about it.
No, I would never automatically assume a hairless man waxes. Like I said my husband is not hairy at all, and neither were a couple of other men I've, ah, known. But I guess if he was really hairy elsewhere but not on his chest you would kind of guess he probably waxed. And I do agree, skin is very nice. I guess it's more my surprise that hairy chests don't gross me out anymore than that I'm suddenly only interested in hairy men.

writtenwyrdd said...

I gotta weigh in in favor of some hair but not a pelt. Some guys have less than others, but being realistic all men have some hair if they are of European descent. Maybe your Polynesian, Asian and Native American folks have little or none, but European guys have body hair.

Yet, the waxing of Conan makes sense, too. Because have you ever seen a really muscled guy with body hair? It looks wrong, like a chest toupee on a marble sculpture!

Gabriele C. said...

I'm also in the some hair is ok, but no fur, please-league.

I can't see Arminius without chest hair, for example, while I think Germanicus may have waxed his according to Roman fashion. :) Talorcan, my British tribal leader, has tattoes, and the Batavian Irminger wears an ear ring. Different times, you see. :)

Angie said...

Stacia -- no links, just something I've seen brought up whenever the esthetics of body hair on men is discussed, going back to RomEx on GEnie in the eighties. Someone always brings up the point that hairy-chested men look more masculine, more adult, more macho, more whatever, than smooth-chested men (in their opinion, although it's usually stated as a fact) and sometimes the conversation veers off into what women are "looking for" based on whether they like hairy or smooth chests, with an amateur psychoanalysis of the women who like whatever the commenter dislikes. [sigh] I don't know if there's ever been a formal paper on the subject, but considering what PhD candidates do write about, I imagine there are probably a few. :)


Robyn said...

My hubby is a by God Sasquatch. And if you came anywhere near him with hot wax you'd have a fight on your hands. It's okay with me, though, because I like fur. Always have. I expect it's from having been exposed to Tom Selleck in my formative years.

kirsten saell said...

Love hairy legs on a man, but not so much the chest. I have this gag reflex thing that is literally hair-trigger. On of those babies in my mouth for more than a few seconds will make me puke. Ugh.

There's gotta be some kind of research on this. Maybe Desmond Morris? I mean, he did posit that boobs are really butt cheeks women wear on their chests to keep the sexual signal at a man's eye level, and that a woman's soft pink lips are just a mimicry of her, um...ahem, soft pink lips, if you know what I mean... A guy like that, I'm pretty sure he's got something to say about chest hair.

Bernita said...

No pelts, please, but some hair? Fine.

Anonymous said...

One of my pet peeves is a baby smooth chest on the cover and a description of chest hair in the story. I've only seen chest hair on a couple of covers and I must admit I prefer it to the pervasive man-titty. I'm so tired of heroes with bigger cup sizes than the heroine.


Anonymous said...

I’ll have you to know my smooth-chested self is 6-0-1 lifetime in knock-down, drag-outs, December. ;~)>

As for heroes, me being a guy and all, it doesn't matter to me -keep the ladies happy. -V95

McKoala said...

I once reassured a man that his having no hair on his head would not necessarily put off women. I didn't mention that the bear pelt on his back might.

Anonymous said...

I like hairy chests.
I like bare chests.
I like any chest, as long as it's muscular, hard, and masculine.