"Every morning, it's the same. The moment she wakes up, she leaps out of bed and disappears into the toilet for ten minutes," says my friend, gulping a pint. "She absolutely can't face me in the morning without it. So after months of this, I'm like, what do you do in there? Well I finally got it out of her. She's shaving. Legs, fanny, some parts of her face I think. She was really upset that I asked her. So I said, I really don't care about your hair. Can't we just have an extra ten minutes in bed every morning? She's thinking about it."
Pregnant Pause. This is the point where I'm supposed to roll my eyes and go "women, eh?" But I dash to the bar for another round instead. Why can I not engage in this particular round of manly shoulder shrugging? Because I have a deep dark shaving secret of my own. It's not something I can talk about it to my mates because it'll make me look 'gay', or my girlfriend because it'll make me look vain, or my Dad because it would probably finish the poor sod off. The truth is, I have a can't-face-the-world-without-it routine of my own and it includes shaving my balls. There, I said it.
How does a grown man get to the point in his life where he regularly takes a wilkinson sword to the most delicate part of his body? Any man that's attempted follicle growth management in non-facial areas will understand. Because hair is a slippery slope. One minute you're trimming your chest hair to stop great tufts of the stuff from escaping out the top of your shirt and whipping passers by. Then you notice the wads under your arms. And the sprouts on your shoulders. And your lower back. And finally, you reach self-awareness of the almighty horror that is your backside; the streaks of downy hair that collect at the crack and lead down to the crotch. It all has to be tamed. By which point, you've got yourself a ten-minute morning trimming and shaving routine.
It might take an extraordinary amount of effort to look like Barbie. But it takes a lot to look like Ken.
DISCLAIMER: This new and disturbing male trend is nothing if not a taste of our own medicine. Women have been required to maintain punishing deforestation routines since cosmetic companies began to manufacture more razor blades than they could sell to face-shaving men. Girls' bodies grow hair when they become women. But soon enough they're made to feel that it's impossible to be a 'real woman' unless they shave it all off. Which amounts to institutionalised body dysmorphia.
It's different for boys. They can't wait to grow the stuff, it being a symbol of status and everything. Woe betides pubeless 14-year-old boys in communal school showers, for they will be named and shamed amongst their peers until the damn stuff makes an appearance. For centuries, men could leave their hair to run free. Then cosmetic companies began to make more razor blades than they could sell to face-shaving men and total-body-shaving women. And now, through the miracle of heavily advertised body ideals, men have their own brand of self-loathing. Its getting to the point where idiots like me can't contemplate intimacy with another (formerly hirsute) human being unless the hair on their balls - the stuff that's supposed to indicate virility - has been tamed.
Interestingly, the country that gave its name to extreme 'feminine hygiene' does not ascribe the same standards of care to its testicular mascots.
This is especially confusing for me because I actually LIKE body hair on women. If you're properly in love with a woman, you're in love with the whole package. It's honest, and raw and powerful and sexy. Excessive body hair on men, on the other hand, just makes me want to vomit. Its got to the point where I leave my goggles steamed up in the swimming pool; it blurs the vision of ferociously hairy backs, sacks and cracks.
I'm what you call, in advertising lingo, an early adopter. But the creep of hair dysmorphia among men is spreading fast. And because it's generally not very manly to disclose uncomfortable feelings about our bodies, we're uniquely ill-equipped to process the internal conflict. Men over the age of fifty are generally oblivious to all this nonsense because the glare of advertised body ideals isn't pointing at them. For everyone else, the days of feeling comfortable with body hair are over.
So here's a multiple-choice question. Should we as a society...
A: Claim victory that men are now under the same pressure as women.
B: Mourn the fact that men are becoming as preoccupied with their appearance as most women.
C: Celebrate the fact that men are finally looking less like extras from Planet Of The Apes.
Do please comment. I really would like to know.
Next Week: achieving gender-neutral enlightenment through clitoral meditation.