I refuse to do a Daily Mail-style “my body hair hell” photoshoot for this piece so instead let’s try a visualisation. Let's imagine we're going to the beach. I've already got us a spot, set out the towels and the drinks cooler and you're coming to meet me. But when you arrive the sand is full of 6ft men in very stylish swimwear and you don't know if you'll be able to pick me from the pack.
But then you see me, first the body, then this almost halo-like contour, a translucent outline, kind of like that glitter pen you can use on Instagram, or the way the air above the tarmac starts to billow on a hot day.
Hi. I’m Sam, and that angelic aura is my body hair. Thick and wild and covering every inch of me from the top of my shoulders to the hillock of my big toe, when the sun shines through it becomes almost transcendental, not quite man, not quite matter. I know you think you’ve seen hairy men before, but do they have hair on their shoulders? The inside of their forearms? Inside their belly button? When I shower, droplets criss-cross down the maze of follicles like my chest is a charming water feature.
Obviously, being a hairy man is rather different from being a hairy woman – the standards of beauty men are held up to are leagues lower than those of women. Yes I might have wondered why I looked so different from Ryan from The OC when he took his top off, but it’s not like buff hairless men lean down at me from every magazine cover and billboard. If anything, there are quite a few hairy men icons out there to aspire to: Sean Connery, Simon Cowell, Richard from Friends. A hairy back is a bit of banter on a man really, whereas on a woman it's so taboo it's basically never spoken about. Lots of women seem to be up for no-makeup selfies these days but no women are up for a big moustache selfie.
As it goes I don’t mind the hair. If anything I find it weirdly honest, about my heritage and my family. When I was a teenager you could say that I was “goyishe-passing”, I could have been a normal British lad. But the body hair is like a pound shop 23andMe; it shows I am Ashkenazi through and through, and there’s no escaping that. Some people have a Star of David pendant, I wear a necklace of straggly black locks. Again, men get it easier here. Female body hair is often linked to ethnicity, and it’s no surprise that WASPy beauty ideals are held up to be supreme. Even now, when there is an increasing number of non-white female role models, it’s rarely discussed that they often have to go to further lengths to maintain Anglo-Saxon standards of beauty. When someone wears a backless dress to the Oscars and it has a snail trail running all the way down it, then we’ll have progress.
Really the only way that my body hair has ever affected me is that I have felt duty-bound to warn women, if I’m going to get undressed in front of them for the first time, what to expect. “Just to let you know,” I might say while fiddling with my shirt buttons, “I’m very hirsute.” I think it’s sort of like an anchovy: nothing wrong with it if you know what’s coming, but if you were blindfolded and told to expect a Rolo, you might spit it out. Thankfully I have been with my girlfriend for a couple of years, so she is well briefed.
And yet, I cannot say I’m happy about my hair. Because while I do not find it aesthetically offensive, I do find it cruel. It’s the way it taunts my bald scalp. Like a lot of my tribe, I have the ability to grow copious amounts of hair everywhere except my head, where I would actually quite like some. “Haha!” says my back. “Look what I can do, I’m basically Abby from Broad City down here and you can barely manage a George from Seinfeld”. It’s a daily torment, my body mocking itself.
I have occasionally thought about getting it removed, just once, just to see if that balances out the baldness in some new way I can’t visualise, but honestly I don’t know where they’d start? I couldn’t just show up at a waxer, not unless they had some hedge trimmers in the back.
So I’ll be keeping my hairy back, thanks. I don’t think I have much choice about the matter and if nothing else, you’ll never miss me on a busy beach.