I recently watched an old movie starring James Caan. Quite a manly man, he was clearly the rough and tough sex symbol for the movie. In it there is a scene in which he has his shirt off. This is a hairy man, chest hair, back hair, all displayed proudly as he cleans his manly wounds in the mirror, the camera inviting us to admire him, to desire him. What struck me as I was watching was that I will never see this in movies or TV now – body hair has become such a taboo, we just don’t see how a natural human body might look.
Whether you like body hair or not, I think it is important that we take a moment to acknowledge the path we are going down in censuring its existence out of our lives. An up and coming male actor now would have to wax his chest and back to even get an audition, much less a part. And a woman with any body hair at all – the horror! And what we see becomes more and more constrained to one version of the human body, an adapted, smooth, youthful image.
Body hair for humans is a sign that one had passed puberty and has the sexual maturity that implies. It protects our skin and genitals from the external environment. And it may collect scents that signal to our unconscious sexual desire and possibly even compatibility of a partner. Pubic hair for women can increase clitoral stimulation during intercourse as the light tugging on it spreads to the network of clitoral nerves under the surface of the skin.
Trends are one thing, they come and go and embrace variety and change from one generation to the next. But completely rewriting, or re-imaging, how humans look by erasing certain natural variations is something different. Already most children probably have no idea that women also grow hair on their legs and underarms; they just have never seen that represented. Before we surrender completely to a world in which hairless bodies are the only bodies we see or even imagine, we might want to remind ourselves that sexiness comes in all kinds of surprising packages. Viva la difference!