Laura Ingalls Had Hairy Pits and So Did Pa

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Remarking on Sacha Baron Cohen’s smooth appearance as Bruno, the New York Times reports here on a survey of grooming habits among men at the University of South Florida.  80% of those men surveyed reported their  below-the-clavicle hair removal — mostly from the chest, abs, back and pubic area.

The internet ad from Gillette, below, leaves no doubt about the target audience for its media campaign.  One of the tag lines is, “You might say when there’s no underbrush, the tree looks taller.”

My unscientific, unrepresentative ad hoc data gathering tells me that my previous take (here) is partially correct.  Male depilation remains more common among the young and the gay (and the young gay) than the over-40, heterosexual crowd.  But the ads from Gillette and others are causing me to reconsider aspects of my previous analyses.

I used to think that white women’s practice of hair removal was embraced, at least in part, because the effect was to exaggerate gender differences between white women and white men (see here and here).  (For Ann’s take on related aspects of the topic, see herehere and here.)  I need to complicate my analysis now that men, too, are getting the media message that hairless is better.  Both women and men are being to encouraged to shave (ok, by companies that sell shaving products).  Does this indicate some larger cultural move toward de-emphasizing gender?  I doubt it.

So why would their own hairlessness appeal to men?  I suspect that it is decidedly not because men want to look like women . . . although many wouldn’t mind looking like Michael Phelps or Lance Armstrong.  Rather, hairlessness — obtained naturally or by grooming — is a sign of youth (the pre-pubescent look), body-consciousness (I can see those abs glisten!), self-care (when you trim your nails, trim your hairs) and other-regarding (how thoughtful of you to anticipate that I wouldn’t like hair up my nose — wait a sec, did you assume I’d be visiting this part of your anatomy on a first date?).

A marketing technique will be a sure winner if it appeals to men’s desire to feel, um, large.   There’s a reason that  Trojans don’t come in size “small.”

The hairless look?  Shows off a guy’s “equipment,” in Gillette’s lexicon.  But for most female fans, Pa Ingalls was appealing with the beard (in the Garth Williams illustrated books) and without it (in the TV series with Melissa Gilbert).

-Bridget Crawford

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1 Response to Laura Ingalls Had Hairy Pits and So Did Pa

  1. Pingback: Femmostroppo Reader – July 14, 2009 — Hoyden About Town

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