Is back hair the new pubic hair?

Mary's really dressed up for date night. Fred? Not so much.
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Mary's really dressed up for date night....

Image: Hugh Jackman as The Wolverine, hairy at the front, baby smooth on the back.

Right now, you’d be forgiven for thinking men have abandoned the entire concept of hair removal.

Just take one look in your local inner-city cafe and you’ll be greeted with a veritable forest of man foliage – scraggly Ned Kelly beards, a hint of chest fur and long, Jesus-esque hair as far as the eye can see.

But despite appearances, there’s a silent battle being waged over male body hair – and the title of ‘public enemy number one’ no longer belongs to pubic hair.

Now, it belongs to back hair.

Once upon a time, hairy backs were out and proud in the street and in pop culture. Many iconic actors of the ’70s – Peter Sellers, Albert Brooks and the late Robin Williams among them – were famously hirsute. In a scene from The Spy Who Loved Me, Roger Moore’s back hair was momentarily displayed on screen… and it did nothing to hamper his sex symbol status.

back hair removal

Yet in recent years, this perfectly normal part of the human body has done a Houdini on us, all but disappearing from sight. Men haven't naturally evolved to a hairless state, so what's to blame? Society and beauty standards, of course, with wax, razors and lasers acting as enforcers. It seems the 'manscaping' phenomenon has moved out of men's pants and onto their backs.

In a recent article on Slate, Mark Joseph Stern explains that men have been "brain washed" since the late '70s to loathe any body hair beneath their necks. Now, in addition to being reviled in the gay community, back fuzz has the "dubious distinction of being the one type of body hair that straight men ... might actually consider to be embarrassing", Stern writes.

Meanwhile, somewhat unhelpfully, a GQ guide to male hair removal declares that "back hair is never sexy", and women interviewed for a She Knows article unanimously agreed that back hair should go.

On Vulture, Jesse David Fox observes that Seth Rogen is the first actor in a long, long time to openly display his back hair on the big screen, a refreshing departure from the "seemingly very hairy actors with baby-smooth backs that made them appear as if they had walked backwards into a Nair waterfall but stopped before getting completely wet."

Back hair removal

While actors like Hugh Jackman and True Blood's Joe Manganiello are famously bushy on their faces and, often, chests, their backs are mysteriously free of any sign of growth. And those men literally play animals. It seems man can have hair everywhere - as long as it's not on their backs.

As women, we have so much experience with the politics of body hair. Whether it's our legs, arms, armpits or pubic hair, we're subject to pressure to rid our bodies of follicular activity. Sometimes this pressure is societal; other times, it comes from partners or friends. The decision to wax, shave or laser is also deeply personal.

In NY Mag, Kat Stoeffel urges the hirsute men of the world to "cease their heartrendingly furtive grooming and join women in the land of open and overshare-prone hair debate".  She's right - and now is as good a time as any to start.

In recent months, women have been increasingly hitting back at the expectation to be sleek and hair-free. The Hairy Legs Club tumblr displays images of fuzzy legs submitted by their proud owners; meanwhile, women in China are showing off their armpit hair on social media.

Considering the interest and praise these movements have attracted from women, perhaps men with hairy backs should step up to the plate, cancel their waxing appointments and start a pride group of their own.

Tell us what you think! Wax it or leave it?

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