12.16.08 6:07 AM ET
The Return of Chest Hair
Ever since Adam caught Eve checking out that snake, men have spent way too much time worrying about the appearance of their manhood. What’s more important, the size of the wave or the motion of the ocean? Well, I’m here to make a bunch of men more neurotic by telling you the answer is none of the above. As far as I’m concerned, the real signifier of masculinity lies in another area entirely: chest hair. And it’s making a comeback.
After many years of drought, during which the only reliable source of manly tuft seemed to be the Baldwin brothers, chest hair has returned with a vengeance as the sign of sex appeal and virility. Mad Men star Jon Hamm (aka Don Draper) is entertainment’s tall drink of testosterone du jour. As much as every woman I know is in love with him, I’ve never seen a male celebrity so many of my straight guy friends openly admit they want to kiss. His profile is beautifully handsome, gracefully arched and symmetrical like the art deco bars he haunts, but he also has a swarthy helping of chest hair, rarely flashed on the show but available for long gawks on the interweb (or…so I hear.)
In these troubled times of war and craptastic financial news, are we yearning once again for leading manly men with comfortingly warm pelts in which to hide our anxious faces?
Clive Owen, the brooding, British Sin City hunk (and my number one personal distraction) has unabashedly displayed his sexily untamed man fur. Aussie Hugh Jackman (the newly anointed Oscar host and People‘s latest “Sexiest Man Alive” pick) is only a hair or two behind his X-Men alter-ego Wolverine, and he is all the hotter for it.
Is this good news the silver lining to otherwise cloudy headlines? In these troubled times of war and craptastic financial news, are we yearning once again for leading manly men with comfortingly warm pelts in which to hide our anxious faces?
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Even the Tiger Beat crowd is sporting post-pubescent chest curls these days. Robert Pattison, the delicately anemic looking young star of Twilight, has unbuttoned just enough on the red carpet to reveal a healthy crop of pectoral fuzz. And Gossip Girl fave Ed Westwick, while barely of legal drinking age, has the dark downy appearance of someone who has spent all day frolicking with a black Pug.
Then there are the ubiquitous everyman hunks of the Judd Apatow empire, the thinking woman’s boyfriends: Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, and Seth Rogen. All three are endowed with chest hair that could best be described as “enough for a handful” (employing the phrase I’ve heard men use to evoke the ideal-sized breast.) And while they all play man-children with immature tendencies, their resolute hairiness is a reminder of their ultimately full-grown hearts.
For me, a hairy chest has always been my strong preference. As someone who must make regular visits to a very intimidating woman from the Eastern Bloc to keep my own hirsuteness in check, I like to be with a man who’s definitively hairier than myself. When I meet a guy for the first time, I have no problem with his eyes wandering south for a second to check out my rack—that’s when I steal a glance at the little slip of landscape peeking out from the collar of his shirt. Is it heavily forested, gently grassy, or just a desert-like stretch of flesh, with nary a hair in sight to provide shade?
The seventies and eighties were gloriously thatchy time to be alive: Burt Reynolds was almost indistinguishable from the bear rug on which he lolled in Cosmo. The front-pelts of Ted Danson and Tom Selleck practically sprouted through the TV screen. Albert Brooks in Modern Romance was as hairy as the drain in a Greek locker room. When the Daily Beast reached out to Steve Guttenberg, one of the kings of bearing man fur, he was aware of his legacy, exclaiming: “Chest hair? Lancaster, Connery, Guttenberg, need I say more???”
My own obsession with chest hair began with Harrison Ford. I was exactly thirteen when I saw him in Working Girl. I think puberty set in sometime around the end of the first act, right after he ripped off his shirt, revealing a perfect chest drizzled with a wonderfully even hair growth. He had his way with Melanie Griffith, and then ordered her Chinese food. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked on torso-fro.
By the nineties, a period of male-pattern chest baldness had entered pop culture. Much is made of women’s hemlines as indicators of economic mood, but the financial upswing that was the bulk of the Clinton years seemed, sadly, to create a taste for smoother, more boyish men. Geena Davis was gorgeous, but when a young Brad Pitt appeared next to her (and then on top of her) in Thelma and Louise, her looks were no match for his follicle-free form. I remember sitting in the audience, baffled: How is this guy prettier than she is? Music offered no relief, as hair-free boy bands like New Kids on the Block and ‘N Sync ascended the charts.
Along came Titanic, and Leonardo DiCaprio took the hairless baton from Pitt; and with these pinkinshly naked men causing mass swoons across the country (DiCaprio was getting so many numbers he had to form a “pussy posse” just to handle it all) a scary thing happened—men started waxing. And shaving. The metrosexual, along with his tell-tale five o clock trunk shadow, was born.
A quick note on the two kinds of hairless men. It’s one thing for guys to be genetically hairless. Women are a very forgiving group (Scott Peterson still gets love letters in prison.) That said, an extremely scientific email poll of my three best friends yielded a unanimous result on this issue: No one had any tolerance for male waxing, deeming it “too vain and feminine.” One friend said her crush on Daniel Craig was tempered by her belief that his smooth chest is the result of salon intervention.
As a chest hair lover, I pride myself on my hair-dar; that is, being able to surmise at a glance who’s packing wool and who’s not. Which is why Barack Obama’s infamous beach photo took me by complete surprise. I’d predicted a light but noticeable dusting; but even upon CSI level zooming, his skin appeared unsullied.
Ah, well. Nothing will put hair on your chest like being elected President of the United States.
Jessi Klein is a writer and comedian who has frequently appeared on Comedy Central, CNN, VH1, and the Today show. She is currently writing a screenplay for Universal Studios, as well as occasionally drawing animals for her best friend’s letterpress card company. She also likes to think she has value as a human being aside from her numerous credits in the entertainment industry.