You know what’s a funny joke about a guy? That he has back hair. It’s hilarious! It’s funny because back hair is just inherently funny. It’s inherently gross. Because—because it’s HAIR! On someone’s BACK! EW! Hair is not supposed to be on a back, right? It’s supposed to be on a head! Obvi. Which is actually why it’s also funny when a guy doesn’t have enough hair to cover the top of his head. Because that is where the hair is supposed to be! And it looks ridiculous when it isn’t!
I think that’s how the logic goes, anyway. I’m trying to figure it out, because I definitely notice a lot of smirking, humorous references to men who are balding or men who have back hair, without any explanation for why these things are supposed to be so unappealing and ridiculous as to be amusing.
There are gleefully explicit scenes in movies where guys need to get their back hair waxed before they can even approach a woman. Because what self-respecting woman would ever even consider a man with hair growing on the wrong side of his body?
(hold up! you just crossed over to the wrong side of the tracks! source)
I admit it, I have giggled agreeably along with these observations about unfortunate, socially unpresentable men. You know, when one of my friends is relating a story about a guy she ended up deciding against, and she adds, lowering her voice secretively, but with a note of righteousness, “And…he had back hair!” Or, “He was totally going bald…” So that we can all understand exactly how bad it was. This was the sort of thing she was dealing with, so, you know, she did what had to be done.
Just like the nice guy I wrote about who made all those not-so-nice comments about women, I don’t think that making these comments about men necessarily makes women mean. I think when we do this, we’re often just employing the jargon. Like a tired comedian wrapping up her set, we’re just making the jokes we know will get a laugh. And when we do end up dating/loving/appreciating a guy with back hair, we simply don’t mention it. Why would we? We don’t want anyone to think poorly of him, or be grossed out by his body. No need to even get into it.
I remember the first time I ever saw Bear without his shirt. And there is a reason I call him Bear. He’s fantastically furry. And I didn’t know until then that I would like that sort of thing, but instead, I loved it.
Bashful, he said, “I know, I’m really hairy.”
I said, “It’s amazing!”
That was my reaction. I don’t exactly know why. Maybe because it’s hot and primal. Maybe because I was already a little in love with him. Maybe because he rocks the hairiness. Maybe because I knew that one day it would be winter, and the winters in NYC are long and depressing and they drain you and leave you a shivering, uninspired husk. I wanted a bear to snuggle with, to keep me warm. I wanted to curl up against his chest and hibernate.
I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter why.
I would’ve been surprised if Bear had all that hair on his front and none on his back. And when I was happily watching him sleep the next morning, I loved how furry his shoulders were. He looked sort of fantastical; a sweet, muscular, mythical being who had stepped through a silvery portal in the misty woods of Central Park and emerged, slightly bewildered, gently refraining from killing tourists with his massive strength, to find and love me.
I have been crazy about this man’s body from the beginning. I am crazy about it now. Not in spite of things, either, is my point. Because of everything. It is my favorite body in the world, and the hair, all of the hair, is an important component of that.
But allow me to continue to be shocking:
Bear is starting to go bald.
While the hair on his back is going strong, the hair on his head is thinning in the front a little, and I suspect it won’t hold out long. You have only to look at his father to know his fate. He has a big, handsome father with a big, white beard. His father was called “Hulk” in college, and still is by some. But unlike the smooth, green, amphibian skin of the comic book Hulk, Bear’s dad is unsurprising in pigmentation and fabulously hairy—he is a polar bear. And the top of his head is bold, bare and quite regal looking, I think.
Sometimes I notice that Bear is going bald, and often I am not really paying attention to that particular detail on that particular section of his head. It doesn’t seem incredibly relevant. Occasionally, I hope that he is OK with it, because sometimes he looks in the mirror and makes a rueful sound and says, “Pretty bald today!” Sometimes I know he is worried about it. And I don’t want him to feel badly about the way he looks. I want to somehow protect him from that, even though I know I can’t. After all, I know how it feels to look a way that other people poke fun at, that doesn’t fit inside the crushingly narrow parameters of Best, Most Acceptable, Most Successful Beauty. And I know the havoc that that knowledge can quietly, persistently wreak inside your head, even when, as we all tell ourselves, this stuff doesn’t really matter.
Finding people you know in real life gorgeous is always an interesting lesson in a world with so many beauty restrictions. It doesn’t really solve anything, I guess, but it certainly points out how random and inaccurate a lot of the beauty rules are. If back hair isn’t really gross, then what is?
Maybe it depends on individual taste. Maybe it always did. If a balding man with back hair can be the most perfect-looking man I know, then what other possibilities are flung open?
People can explain this phenomenon. They say, “When you love someone, you perceive them as beautiful.”
They say this as though this explains how these people who we love are not actually, truly beautiful. As though there is some objective, impenetrable thing out there called true beauty.
But this is bullshit. There is no lockbox where absolute, unadulterated beauty is kept. People are beautiful on slippery, ever-changing spectrums, according to millions of points of reference, from every conceivable angle, according to the varying specifications of different cultures, according to the reactions of others around them, according to a moment in time, according to who is making the judgment. No one can ever really agree completely on beauty. It always depends on who you ask. It’s a reflective, transparent, changeable thing, even as we convince ourselves of its immutable permanence. Even as we figure that if we just lose ten lbs or get some botox we will finally, finally own it.
And in the end, and always, I have to be reasonable. I have to simplify. I’m busy! I have things to check off the endless to-do list on my phone. I don’t have time for this crap! If someone looks great to me, then there’s no need to figure out where they fit into some complicated equation of beauty. Instead, I’ll just let them be beautiful.
We could stand to do that more for ourselves, too, I think, when we look in the mirror. Sometimes I catch myself thinking, “I look good” and then I catch myself quickly correcting that assumption. “No, no. I can’t really look good. See the distance between my nose and mouth? It’s all wrong. The proportions are off, and the neck—please. Would that neck ever appear in a magazine? Of course not! So clearly, I am mistaken. I look bad. ‘Bad’ was the word I was looking for. I said ‘good,’ because I was getting all mixed up and opposites-day about the whole thing. My god, I’m losing my mind. It’s this weather! I didn’t get enough sleep last night. Bad. Yes. There. Now that’s settled.”
In the end, though, rebelliously and empoweringly, whatever else gets mixed into it, beauty is always about whatever we—you know, you, and me, and this girl over here– find beautiful.
In my case, that sometimes involves myself. And it certainly always involves some back hair on a particular man who is starting to go bald. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Especially because, you know, winter is always coming…
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Anyone else not have a problem with back hair?
Unroast: Today I love the way I look in hot pink. I figure, why not? Which is what I figure about everything I wear these days, since I am now hugely pregnant.Also, a little giveaway! De Agostini’s, the publisher of the very popular Cake Decorating Magazine (23.8 million issues sold worldwide) is launching a new app, called Rate My Cake, for cake lovers who want to share pictures (yay!). You can download it for free on iPhones here. And since they’re promoting the app, and since I encourage people to eat the damn cake, and also since my mom is a badass cake decorator herself (growing up, our birthdays were occasions for cakes in the shape of turtles, alligators, beloved literary protagonists, and one glorious time, a whole turreted castle!), I thought it’d be fun to do a gift basket giveaway. The gift basket comes with five issues of cake decorating magazine, and some baking utensils to get you started. If you want it, just let me know in the comments.