I have acquaintances that do bodybuilding that shave their body hair. This is mainly for cosmetic purposes: to emphasize muscle definition. Most of these guys do this only for competitions, so in a way it is somewhat analogous to the swimmers or cyclists that are trying to improve performance. But it is also analogous to the extreme ‘beautification’ techniques that are common in the beauty pageant industry.
My son’s purpose in telling me about these guys shaving their legs was to insinuate that he thought it was strange behavior. We all engage in vanity to a one extent or another, but my son was wondering exactly who it was these guys were trying to impress. He’s been friends with these guys, but he says that their leg shaving kind of gives him the creeps.
It’s been a long time since I was in junior high and high school, so I realize that there is definitely a generation gap thing going. But I explained to my son that guys back in my day were intensely proud of anything that denoted their burgeoning manhood. Except for the handful of competitive swimmers in the school, no male would consider shaving his legs, as the hair on his legs was a symbol of his masculinity and of the transition from boyhood to manhood.
I realize that cultural norms change with time. When I was in high school, very few of the boys were capable of actually growing a decent looking beard. The few that could grow beards did so as a symbol of their manliness. The rest of us shaved our faces. This was an entirely different thing than shaving legs. The fact that we “needed” to shave was itself a symbol of our manliness. If you were unable to grow an acceptable looking beard, you shaved, because having a spotty growth of light colored scraggly facial hairs was disgraceful and unmanly. Even bodybuilders that shave their body hair do it to show off their manliness.
Most of these teen boys that are shaving their legs are not doing it to be more competitive in a sport. Nor are they doing it to demonstrate their masculinity or burgeoning manhood. Rather, it seems they are trying to show the opposite. They are either trying to demonstrate femininity or they are desperately trying to hold onto their childhood — trying to appear more childlike than adult-like.
We recently bought a book by Michael Gurian titled The Wonder of Boys. We also have Gurian’s book The Minds of Boys. Gurian contends that our society is doing an abysmal job of raising our sons to become happy and productive men and fathers. He discusses positive ways that these goals can be achieved. And I guarantee you that male leg shaving is not among his suggestions.
As our society increasingly emphasizes feminine-centric models in education and development, the masculinity of young males is marginalized. The trouble is that it does not go away, so boys end up manifesting it in ways that are counterproductive and/or anti-social. They turn to violence in entertainment or in reality. They act up at school and get drugged so that they conform to the ideals of the feminine-centric classroom culture. But they do not learn what it means to be a productive man and father. We end up with men that are confused about their roles and that act like adolescents long into their adult years. They sire children, but they have no clue how to be a real father to those children.
I am actually rather amazed at how many of Gurian’s suggestions we have naturally implemented in our family over the years. No wonder my son is creeped out by his male friends that shave their legs.
Update: I finally turned comments off on this post. While I have no problem with people expressing their opinion about male body shaving practices, I frankly don't care to moderate any more comments about the matter. Those that have an opinion on the matter are free to post on their own blog about it.