It's a Mann's world: A hairy situation

Olly Mann

Olly Mann is unexpectedly initiated into the world of manscaping

The onset of puberty was, as I recall, rather shocking. One Tuesday, in the school changing rooms, I spotted Alex Cook—one of my more physically-advanced classmates—suddenly exhibiting a clump of blond armpit hair that had sprouted almost overnight. Sweet Lord, I thought—don’t let that happen to me! Body hair vividly represented the end of childhood, and although 12-year-old me desperately wanted to be an adult, my target age was more like 41. Teenagehood, I realised, was not going to be my happy place. Puberty felt like a loss of control.

But then it happened to me, the hairiness, and I can’t honestly say I’ve given it much thought since. I live in England, so, outside of a leisure centre, no living creature need ever bear witness to my body hair. It might as well be in a chastity belt. I never wax it or shape it or trim it, because to do so might imply there's some state in which I believe it might look handsome, even desirable, whereas in fact I actually consider body hair to be an unremarkable hangover from Neanderthal days; a mere quirk of evolution.

I neither love nor detest it. Perhaps I’d feel differently, were I one of those excessively hirsute men, sweaty coils bursting through collars and cuffs. Or indeed some hairless eunuch forever trapped in boyhood. But I’m merely averagely hairy, I’d say. The follicular developments of middle-age aren’t exactly welcome—I now own a nasal hair trimmer, and grimace as I clip my ear-hair. I also find the patches taking root on my shoulders and lower back to be pretty gross. But, in general, I’m comfortable with my body hair.

Or, I was. Then my doctor advised me to shave it all off.

The prompt was a small rash of spots on my chest—I assumed maybe low-level acne or psoriasis, but Doc’s diagnosis was a minor fungal infection (a revolting term! Always makes me think of the mushrooms that clung to the bath in my student flat). His prescription was a daily dose of antibiotics—and, to monitor their efficacy, a full body shave.

"Still naked, sweating now worried about my wife coming home, I reached in vain for the plunger"

Lacking the industrial hardware required for a full-body wet shave (and being too embarrassed to ask for my wife’s assistance), I opted for the ".1" setting on my trusty Panasonic beard trimmer. Not a terrible idea, as the guard prevented me from cutting myself, but the results were… not exactly beach-ready. Parts of my chest required multiple go-overs, like reversing the lawn mower round the back of the shed. My weighty clippers buzzing about the bathroom like sheep shears lent the proceedings a distinctly agricultural vibe. And I disposed of the unwanted hair by leaning over the sink and letting it drift down the plug-hole. This, it turned out, was a terrible idea. Our sink looked like a Turkish barbershop.

Panicked that I had unintentionally blocked the plug, I fished out the big bits and stuffed them in a plastic bag. It looked like I’d drowned a ferret and was trying to hide the evidence, but at least I had dealt with the chunks. Fingers firmly crossed, I turned on the tap. With grim inevitability, the sink began to overflow. Clogged with mysterious hair.

Still naked, sweating now, worried about my wife coming home, I reached in vain for the plunger. In my heart I knew it would make no difference—we have a wide, posh sink with some sort of innovative vacuuming U-bend that resists all attempts to plumb it. I was going to have to call the experts.

I didn’t haggle on price. I paid cash. Yet I still felt the need to clarify to the plumber that the culprit was not, you know, "intimate" hair. He gave me a knowing smirk. "I’m on to you", his face seemed to say. "I know your game". A mortifying 30 minutes.

But that was six months ago. Despite this unpromising beginning, I have, in spite of myself, become a regular hair-remover. Every eight weeks or so, I’ll trim off the new arrivals that have landed on my back, shoulders and chest. (These days, I stand over a towel, and shake it off in the garden. It’s a slick operation.) For a while afterwards I’ll feel noticeably colder, which is remarkable when you think about it, and I’ll also become aware of the strange sensation of chest-stubble rubbing up against my shirts.

But when my hair starts to grow again, I find myself wanting to tame it back down. It seems I prefer being less hairy, after all. The doctor will soon say I can stop removing my hair (the pills have worked their magic), but I think I’ll keep at it.

I’ve racked my brain as to why, having previously derided other men for taking an interest in maintaining their body-hair, I am now converted. I don’t think it’s to do with feeling manly or sexy or anything like that. I think—to borrow a phrase from the zeitgeist—it’s something to do with taking back control. 

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