It seems I have been assigned an eternal battle with hair. It started growing in unfamiliar places when I was quite young, before most of the boys my age. I was proud of my pubes and the premature growth spurt that came with them. At age eleven I was one of the tallest in my class, standing proudly with my chin up in the back row for the class photo. By age twelve I was assigned permanent position in the front row, legs straight, fists on knees.
Hairy balls and standing tall: undoubtedly masculine.
My hair kept growing throughout high school. I could never really find a cut that worked so the clipped number one was my style of choice. Chest hair started to appear in line with most of the other guys of my age.
Buzz cut and chest hair: yep, within the pimply masculine bell curve.
By seventeen my head hair was thinning. Not super obviously but enough that it was fairer at the back. I didn’t really worry too much – I had other hairy concerns. My back. Anything but that.
Spot balding and a hairy back: more man than any seventeen-year-old wants or needs.
My mates were relentless, as I think all kids that age are. Insecurity leads testosterone-fuelled boys to cut down the pack. Sometimes with violence, often with words. You find weakness and hammer it. The irony is that I probably had the most ‘traditional qualities of a man’ out of all those skinny, hairless bastards.
But the teasing had an impact and the wounds were quite deep. I was ashamed to take off my shirt at the beach. I lacked confidence with girls and I couldn’t see any way around it. So for my twenty-first birthday I asked for laser treatment. I wanted that shit gone forever, and at the time laser hair-removal was the solution to all my problems. I had about ten sessions all up. It worked a bit. I’d hate to think what it’d look like now if I hadn’t had it.
Lasers: Do you expect me to talk? No, Mr Fronds, I expect you to die.
For the next few years I pretty much came to terms with being a hairy fucker. The ‘bedhead’ look was the hairstyle of the day and I was running out of head hair, fast. Before I left for London my mate gave me clippers, a not-so-subtle hint. I haven’t grown my hair above 2mm since. Pretty sure I couldn’t if I wanted to.
Accepting your bald future: masculine.
At twenty-six and after back-to-back winters (Hobart then London) I had bulked up a lot in the gym. I had been eating well and was lean. My skin was pretty much transparent from lack of sunlight but you couldn’t see it through the unkempt man-gora. What’s more, I could grow a respectable beard.
Growing a beard was a milestone of manhood. Just like benching 100kg. That definitely felt masculine.
After London, the plan was to spend July in Barcelona getting some sun before returning to the Australian spring, so I booked a back wax. I’d had one or two when I was younger but fuck me did this one hurt. My hair was thick and it took about forty-five minutes. I apologised to the poor girl who waxed me, not only because of the hard work but also because the swearing was reminiscent of Steve Carell in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
After about a week’s worth of the Spanish sun my mate Worm suggested I use the clippers on my chest hair. I thought “fuck it, I’m on holiday” and clipped it off to about 3mm. Underneath was a pretty decent rig I never knew existed. I thought I looked great. I know it’s unsafe but a tan also helped, and I felt great about myself.
Looking like something from MTV’s Geordie Shore: masculine?
Up until my mid-twenties I was ashamed of my hairy body and balding head. It made me insecure. Embracing a bit of regular manscaping (waxing and shaving my chest) really gave me a confidence boost. Of course that opened me up to ridicule, too, but I could get my gear off without being called a gorilla.
Now, twelve years later, I shave my head with a razor twice a week, clipper my chest hair when I can be bothered, and get a back wax every five weeks. I also grow a beard once or twice a year, just to prove I can. Embracing my baldness with a razor brought honesty and freedom to my look, and I can add a beard within a week if I want to!
But can you really judge a man’s masculinity by what he does with his beard or razor? The small things I do with my hair are no different to any of the thousands of other things people do to feel good about themselves. Also, by definition, masculinity’s only what’s characteristic of men; I’m a man, so everything I’ve done is masculine. And most of the time, this man feels pretty good about himself.
Header photo by Jonathan Wherrett.