Let’s not beat around the bush. I’m the hairy Jewish guy who’s built more like Esau than Jacob and who comics and cartoonists love to lampoon. While I’m bald on top, genetics compensated me with swirls of fur everywhere else - arms, legs, shoulders and back. I’d be a terrible criminal because I would leave curly DNA evidence everywhere I go.
The look has pleased me since a line of hair first ran down my chest starting in the seventh grade. An early bloomer, I was. I still delight to see the hair poke up at the top of my shirts, like a wash of black foam on a beach of skin. At real beaches, I shuck my shirt to stroll about in my barrelchested, Russian-Jewish glory. At my health club, sleeveless t-shirts display my shoulders and their halo of hair, what I see as a living tattoo of shapes, shadows, and textures.
I grew up with positive media hair images, like Sean Connery in his 007 days and Burt Reynolds with his April 1972 Cosmopolitan centerfold. The hippies of the 1960s, who let their freak flag fly, gave me confidence with my own evolving body. That’s just who I am, man. Impending baldness rankled me since I knew, as the latest in a long line of bald Wallachs, I’d lose hair on top in my 20s, but that happened so graduallyI barely noticed and hardly cared.
Over the past 20 years or so a new look emerged favoring shrunken-chested Euromen with less body hair than a Chihuahua. Media images taunted my curl-enclosed physique. Ads in the Village Voice celebrate hair removal via laser and other technologies. The pages of GQ and Esquire glisten with images of young men of marbleized features, with nothing on their hard and hairless abs and chests. A recent cartoon in The New Yorker by Roz Chast, about an updated version of the 10 plagues of the Exodus, showed a girl on a beach recoiling from a man with a hairy back, under the title, “Unwanted Body Hair!”
And I’ll never forget the derision heaped on the main character in The 40 Year Old Virgin for his hairy chest, which drove him to a salon for a wax-and-rip treatment. Actor Steve Carell, who really did undergo this painful procedure on screen, got big laughs with his outbursts of yowls and curses, but the obvious message made me wince. The message: Male body hair = social handicap.