DEAR CA & AC —
I like to think of myself as gender-neutral, meaning, whatever a woman can do, a man ought to be able to do too, and vice versa. When it comes to hair dye, I seem to have a double-standard. Tell me, please, what am I suppose to think about aging men who dye their chest hair?
SIGNED, A HYPOCRITE
DEAR AH —
As little as possible.
The good news is that particular hair-dyeing fad isn’t likely to last for long. We hear the current trend in chest grooming is hair removal. And with any luck, this too shall pass.
Among women, the ghastly, porno star-inspired fad of Mohawking and scalping nether shrubs already appears to be on the wane, thanks at least in part to new feminist etiquette lessons proffered by sassy British columnist Caitlin Moran, whose writing you must sample if you haven’t already.
As long as we are on the subject, I’d like to share with you a short lesson on its history of to illustrate just how bizarre is the practice of epilation or depilation, which are the technical terms for hair removal.
The story begins, as do so many stories, with the Roman Empire, according to Elle magazine, which last year ran a remarkably tasteful pictorial history of hair removal trends and techniques. In classical antiquity, hairlessness was a sign of high class. (Perhaps that explains why all those Greek and Roman statues are so smooth.) To remove all traces of hair from their bodies, patrician men and women used creams, tweezers, flints, and stones, which couldn’t have been very comfortable. But then it is hard to think of any pleasant way of pulling hair out by the roots.
By the Middle Ages, body hair was back in fashion, but eyebrows and forehead hair were out. Fashionistas Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth I used walnut oil, or bandages soaked in vinegar and ammonia (reportedly collected from their feline pets) to push back their hairlines and reduce their eyebrows to slivers.
It was not until the early 20th century and the advent of the safety razor that underarm shaving became de rigueur with American women. During the Sixties—a period about which I can speak with some authority—feminists decried the practice of hair removal from women’s legs and underarms as sexist. For a brief time, razors ended up in college trash bins atop bras.
Now, well into the 21st century, the practice has come full circle with men—especially swimmers, cyclists, bodybuilders, and porno stars—removing hair from their chests, legs, arms, backs, heads and pubic areas with razors, waxing, lasers and other modern techniques.
Back to chest-hair dye, which, if I recall, was the original subject of our post. My advice regarding men who dye their chest hair is not to write them off altogether. We all do foolish things to our bodies now and then. Let’s just hope the tampering is temporary. Which, of course, brings us to the subject of tattoos. Don’t get me started.