All my previous criticisms of Slate BLT columnist Mark Joseph Stern have now been rendered moot and I withdraw every single one of them (well maybe not on Brendan Eich). For it is a far far better thing that he does now than he has ever done, declaring of his own hairy back, that “from this day forward, I refuse to be ashamed of it”:
All other once-taboo forms of body hair now have their partisans, from pubes and armpits to feet and faces. The gay community, especially, has embraced hairy chests, hairy privates, and hairy faces as part of its self-acceptance ethos. But there has been no such renaissance for back hair. Beauty blogs and fitness forums, even open-minded ones, universally malign it. (GQ flatly issued this Kantian edict: “Back hair is never sexy.”) Gay men, except perhaps for a certain subset of deeply dedicated bears, quiver at the sight of it. And back hair has the dubious distinction of being the one type of body hair that straight men—who generally get carte blanche in the personal grooming department—might actually consider to be embarrassing.
This is a strange and unacceptable state of affairs. There’s nothing inherently gross or dirty about back hair, no reason why it should be singled out for near-universal abhorrence—especially when its close cousin, chest hair, remains so widely beloved and even fetishized. It wasn’t always this way, either: As recently as the 1970s, erstwhile James Bond Roger Moore could flaunt his hairy back on the big screen—In a sex scene! In a close-up!—without losing his sex symbol status.
But those of us who grew up after 1979 have been brainwashed to despise any hair that sneaks below the neck. Most male movie stars today have the hairlessness of a pre-pubescent boy, somewhat freakily accompanied by the abs of a body builder. Even the furriest of modern idols, our Jake Gyllenhaals and Jon Hamms, boast perfectly smooth backs and shoulders. Hollywood and glamour magazines have colluded, insidiously and insistently, to convince us that the hairy chest/hair-free back combination is a naturally occurring phenomenon.
One of the greatest bodily regrets of my life – apart from having my foreskin chopped off as an infant because it was allegedly too ample – is that I have no back hair. My brother? An ape. God knows why this aspect of manhood has loomed so large in my erotic imagination … but there we are. The earliest porn I ever saw I had to create myself. I drew sketches of the men I longed for in a scrapbook and they were all covered in fur. Maybe it’s because body hair is such a powerful visual indicator of testosterone and maleness; maybe I’m just a perv. Or maybe because when a man allows his body to be what it is, and doesn’t try to micromanage every inch of it, he’s inherently sexier than the manscaped, plucked and trussed twink version.
Congrats, Mark. And keep keeping it real.