Voices | Christopher Muther

A manscaping backlash

By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / August 27, 2009

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Six years after Bravo debuted “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’’ and The New York Times published an article about a curious new breed of man called the metrosexual, the world has finally accepted the fact that gentlemen sometimes like to shop and groom themselves. We’ve realized that it’s no big deal and have moved on to watching a couple with eight children get a divorce and complaining about Gwyneth Paltrow’s website. However, we’re still saddled with an unfortunate, lingering side effect from 2003’s metrosexual mania - excessive manscaping.

It was during metro-mania that men were hit with a barrage of images (hello “The 40-Year-Old Virgin’’) that told them that having the same amount of body hair as Robin Williams was not attractive to women. This part is true. If you’re wearing a sweater of hair when your shirt is off, a little trimming can be a good thing. But as with all fads, things went too far. Manscaping is now as ubiquitous as Lady Gaga or Pimm’s Cups at cocktail hour. Red-blooded men are furiously trimming, shaving, and waxing themselves like, well, ladies.

Naturally, not everyone is happy with this turn of events.

“It got to the point where I started putting ‘manscaping’ in my list of turn-offs on dating sites,’’ says an impassioned 29-year-old Jessica Wilson of Somerville. “Have you ever felt chest stubble? It’s not sexy and it does not feel good! Leave yourself alone.’’

It’s important to note that there are differences between good manscaping and bad manscaping. Experts seem to be in universal agreement that if you’ve got a small forest of hair sprouting on your back and you have a propensity to take off your shirt in public settings, it may be time to remove the hair. Beyond this, it starts getting murky.

“There is a lot of bad manscaping out there,’’ says Dana Elise, an aesthetician who has earned the enviable title “Laser Queen of Beverly Hills.’’ “When guys are doing it themselves, they’re not thinking about what looks natural. They’re thinking ‘I don’t want hair there,’ and they get rid of it.’’

It looks terrible because it’s an amateur hack job, but also because dudes are supposed to have some hair on their body. Once I started talking to people about this subject - well, women mostly, I started hearing the horror stories about guys showing up for dates smoother than their ladies. It’s an understandable mistake. There was a time when hirsute heroes such as Burt Reynolds and Tom Selleck were considered the pinnacle of masculinity. Now Hollywood’s stars are Chace Crawford-esque man-boys who are naturally smooth or well-shorn. The rise of gym culture has also contributed to shear pressure. After seeing near-super heroes Lance Armstrong or Michael Phelps devoid of body hair, who wants to walk around looking like Brad Garrett?

You’d be surprised. Like all good fads that have stayed the night and refuse to go home the following morning, a manscaping backlash has begun.

“I think it’s all getting a little tired,’’ says David Blend, executive editor of the dude-centric website Thrillist. “For a while, everyone was just putting the word ‘man’ in front of everything and coming up with new terms for feminine things that guys were doing.’’

This news pains me, because I’ve been happily tossing around nonsense words like mandals, manpri pants, and manternity shirts for a while now. While there are still plenty of new manscaping products hitting the market, a small, brave contingent of men are setting their razors aside and letting their chest hair grow back. Ryan LeBlanc, a personal trainer in South Boston, told me that he’s done with the meticulous upkeep. An indicator that manscaping may finally be facing its Waterloo is the fact that Brian Boye, the fashion and grooming editor of Men’s Health magazine, has stopped shaving his chest after years of manscaping. He says the pendulum is starting to swing back toward a more natural look for guys now that everyone in the mainstream is getting rid of body hair. But Boye is surprisingly laissez-faire about the subject, and he makes a lot of sense when he says that ultimately, it’s not about what the masses are doing, it’s what works for the individual.

“If manscaping helps you feel good about yourself, then that’s great,’’ he says. “This is just another form of self-expression, and there’s nothing wrong with expressing yourself. Even if it means a lot of painful waxing.’’

Christopher Muther can be reached at