The barrista recommended the Sumatra Mandheling Dark Roast. He filled up my thermos cup and I told him that “I like coffee that puts hair on my chest.” It’s true. I like coffee that has a little oil and a little sediment. At home I drink Mountain Java Supreme French Roast brewed in a French Press.
The idiom came out of nowhere. I’ve never uttered that line before. I haven’t even allowed myself to wish for chest hair since I was a child. At the time, I wanted a chest like my father’s (slightly pudgy, and hairy, but definitely manly).
There are other things I could have said. That I like coffee that could strip paint off a car. That I like coffee as thick as mud. Coffee that builds character. Coffee strong like bull. I half wish that drinking coffee would put hair on my chest. Or that eating spinach, would make my biceps bulge.
When I was seven I wished for a hairy chest. While the other girls were dreaming about being blonde and wearing a bikini, I was hoping for a happy trail to go down to the top of my (imaginary) navy blue swim trunks. I still thought it was theoretically possible, but I knew not to talk about it. Girls only talked about removing body hair.
I like my body hair. I like the hair on my legs, the hair under my arms, even my pubic hair. Getting body hair was the only part of puberty that I didn’t hate. It seemed more masculine than feminine. I wouldn’t have minded a little more hair. I wouldn’t have minded a little happy trail.
I never learned how to shave. I refused to shave my arms and legs. I had all sorts of excuses, but mostly I didn’t shave because American men (at the time) didn’t shave their arms and legs. It was one more thing to drive my mother crazy, but since I didn’t wear skirts, dresses, shorts, or tank tops, my unshaven body hair wasn’t visible in public.
Fortunately, body hair stops growing. I expected to end up looking like Rapunzel, but my armpit and leg hair both reached equilibrium. Excepting some random chin scruff (currently plucked) and a menopausal mustache (intact), my body hair is similar to what it was like when I was in high school. I’m not embarrassed by it. It’s natural.
I am, and want to remain, a low maintenance groomer. I shower, wash my hair, dry off, and get dressed (and put on deodorant, and brush my teeth). If I go on low-dose testosterone and grow more body hair, I doubt I will want to do anything about it. Body hair growth (within reason) is neutral to positive. I’m not crazy about getting any more facial hair, but even without T I’m considering shaving my chin and upper lip. I ruled out wax, laser, and electrolysis; I don’t like pain.
In the past I regarded all forms of hair removal, including using tweezers, as way too feminine for me. Right up there with wearing make-up and moisturizing. Then, while I wasn’t paying attention, younger men started to trim their chest hair, or go for the smooth and hairless look. Ordinary guys with ordinary bodies shaving their chests. Not a lot of hairy chests at the beach this summer.
If I was that seven-year old today, what kind of chest would I be dreaming about? Would I still want that happy trail? Or would I change that idiom to “I like coffee that will take the hair off my chest”?
Notes: Rebecca Herzig, in her book “Plucked: A History of Hair Removal”, states that as of 2005 over 60% of American men were regularly removing hair from parts of their body below their neck. This excerpt from the book, posted on Salon, is an introduction to how Americans got to where they are today. The entire book is available through the usual sources (I borrowed it from the New York Public Library), and is a good read.