12.29.11

Why 'Manscaping' Isn't Just for Porn Stars Anymore

The Atlantic recently reported that female pubic hair is on the fast track to extinction. But grooming experts say the latest hair-removal trend isn’t targeted at women. Lizzie Crocker on the ‘manscaping’ boom.

Tim Arpin is toned and tanned, with shoulder-length brown hair and brooding eyes. He bears a striking resemblance to Antonio Banderas, circa 1995. He’s such a hunk, the 30-year-old Georgia native is in the running to be Cosmo’s bachelor of the year.

Arpin is one of 50 men who appears on the magazine’s website sans shirt and flexing his best assets. The finalists hail from different states and backgrounds, but they all have the same answer for one question: do you manscape? Every dude that’s asked says—enthusiastically—yes!

“I’m a pretty hairy guy,” admits Aprin, a real-estate investor. He says he shaves his chest and stomach weekly with a standard Gillette razor. Since he’d rather not risk nicking his private parts with a straight blade, Arpin whittles down his crotch hair once a month with a safety-guarded electric trimmer.  “I like the way it looks,” he says, adding, “And I think a girl would appreciate it.” A Southern gentleman, Arpin carefully avoids crude references. Only after being nudged does he admit that general upkeep makes sex better. “Too much hair can be distracting and take away from the moment,” he explains.

The Atlantic reported this month that female pubic hair in America is on the road to extinction, but that’s a bit like noting the spotted owl is an endangered species. Grooming and waxing experts say the latest trend in pubic hair removal isn’t targeted at women—it’s for the guys. There’s evidence of this all around us (if you dare to look). The most startling aspect of seeing Anthony Weiner’s penis in a leaked iPhone sext earlier this year wasn’t its size, but that it looked like a plucked chicken. The same is true of other celebrities’ trimmed full-monty shots, from football player Brett Favre to Fall Out Boy Pete Wentz.

In ancient times, removing male pubic hair had less to do with aesthetics. Egyptians did it to stave off fleas and lice. Romans removed adolescent boys’ body hair as an initiation into adulthood. In the 16th century, Europeans were aghast when Michelangelo’s statue of David featured a sculpted tuft above his penis; they thought it looked ungodly.  The modern manscaped man is a product of today’s post-metrosexual society, where even the alpha male indulges in spa treatments and $50 Diesel boxer briefs.

“Part of it has to do with shared roles,” says Nicole Caldwell, the editor of Playgirl, who has seen such a steep decline in male pubic hair recently that she has to remind her models not to shave everything off. “I don’t want to say there’s no distinction between men and women, but it’s more acceptable for them to share a space. Guys can occupy salons and it’s not totally bizarre.”

Robert, a 25-year-old investment manager from Massachusetts, trims his pubes with an electric razor—“the kind that barbers use for shaving heads,” he says. Just as he prefers a woman to be groomed when he performs oral sex (“the less hair, the better”), he imagines girls don’t want a bush in their mouths either.

While little scientific research exists on male hair-removal habits, a 2008 study conducted by researchers at Flinders University in Australia concluded that “hairlessness is rapidly becoming a component of the ideal male body.” Of the 228 heterosexual males who participated in the anonymous survey, 66 percent said they had removed their pubic hair at least once, in comparison to 82 percent of homosexual males.

Manscaping has gone so mainstream that stores like Kohls and Bed, Bath & Beyond stock body trimmers right next to facial ones. “The Mangroomer Private Body Shaver is one of our best-selling products,” says Mike Gilman, co-owner of the Grooming Lounge in Washington D.C., an upscale Barber Shop that serves scotch to its clients. Brian Boye, fashion and grooming editor at Men's Health, agrees that body-grooming products have flooded the men’s market in recent years. For only $8, you can treat a razor-burned scrotum with luxurious “Calm Balm Soothing Skin Salve,” by ballsBALM.

We’ve come a long way from the days when Steve Carrell comically winced while waxing his chest in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. In this year’s 50/50, when Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s cancer-stricken character shaves his head, he borrows an electric trimmer from his bearded buddy (played by Seth Rogen), who confesses after the fact that, yes, he uses it to shave his balls. The subtext here suggests that if a guy as unkempt as Rogen tends to his hair down there, so should every other American bro.

For those seeking a silky-smooth undercarriage, there’s always the waxing option. In London, the Strip: Ministry of Waxing reports that one out of every three male customers requests a “Boyzilian.”

“I have guys who come in every four to six weeks just to wax their butt cracks,” says Cande, a laid-back wax aesthetician at Strip’s New York City outpost. Most of her male clients are in their late 20s or early 30s, she says, and many claim they were encouraged by their significant others to get the “BSC”— a provocative procedure that involves waxing the “back, sack, and crack.” One young man confessed his fiancée sent him in after he told her to “take care of her bush,” though he’d clearly never considered trimming his own hedges.

The modern manscaped man is a product of today’s post-metrosexual society, where even the alpha male indulges in spa treatments and $50 Diesel boxer briefs.

“There have been a couple of serious scenarios,” Cande says in reference to a few of the thicker shrubs she’s pruned. Some particularly hairy (and forthcoming) men complain about the necessity of showering every time they do their business. “Waxing keeps it cleaner back there,” says Cande. “Once they feel the difference, they become addicts!”

Kirsten, the manager at Strip NYC, notes that men of all ages and demographics are increasingly more open to the idea of waxing where the sun doesn’t shine. “Last week, a man in his late 50s came in to get a BSC while his daughter got a Brazilian,” she tells The Daily Beast. “I can’t imagine that scenario taking place two years ago.”

Martha Frankel, who co-wrote Brazilian Sexy with Janea Padilha, one of the founding members at Manhattan’s infamous J Sisters salon, is bowled over by the manscaping boom. According to Frankel, waxing used to be a strictly gay phenomenon, particularly in Brazil, where gay men strolled the beach in barely-there banana hammocks. Today, she hasn’t come across a single straight guy under 25 who doesn’t trim, shave or wax.

There are many factors driving the trend, but both experts and average Joes agree that pornography officially made manscaping de rigueur. Peter Walters, a 23-year-old from San Francisco, says porn inspired him and his friends to trim their pubic hair as freshmen in high school. “Most of the guys in these videos were completely bald, as were the girls, so we all experimented.”

John Marsh, who owns the company that produces videos for Fratmen and Fratpad, porn sites geared toward a gay audience, says virtually all of the straight men they recruit for their films shave their pubic hair, and they all fall between the ages of 18 and 22. “They claim they do it because the girls want it that way, but I don’t think that’s the case,” Marsh argues. He’s convinced most of them do it to make their members look bigger. “These guys also like their girls to be hairless, so they assume the girls want the same thing from them.”

Au contraire, says Shallon Lester, who stars on MTV’s reality TV show, Downtown Girls, and recently released her second novel, Exes and Ohs. When one of her real-life exes came home with a Boyzilian, Shallon was revolted. But she thinks man bushes are icky, too. Men (and women) should “just keep things in check.”

Dave Rubin, an openly gay comedian and cohost of the Sirius XM radio show The Six Pack, has similar views about pubic-hair extremes: “It doesn’t have to be anything major, but I think everyone appreciates a little clean-up operation. In fact, I should probably go trim after this conversation.”

But when it comes to more extreme manscaping, the most vocal critics are—perhaps surprisingly—gay men. Models who don’t have pubic hair are often criticized by their gay fans for looking too feminine. Just ask Benjamin Godfre, a 24-year-old model based in California who has starred in fetish videos and been “professionally tickled.”

“My girlfriend in high school liked it when I shaved, and I kind of liked it too,” says Godfre, who stopped two years ago. Once he became an obsession on gay blogs, photographers urged him to grow out his pubic hair. “I’m a 180-pound normal dude. I have a more masculine look, so I like to keep it natural looking down there. I try not to shave it anymore,” he says. Otherwise, “I just look too teeny-bopper.”