Male Body Hair in Today’s Culture

In their final review, Mahzarin Banaji and Antony Greenwald write about stereotypes and conclude that “stereotyping achieves the desired effect of encouraging us to quickly view absolute strangers as distinctive individuals” (613). Mathew Immergut, on the other hand, uses his metaphysical interpretation of the universe to explain the banalest bodily practices, such as hair removal, and its analogical representation in the real world. Both posts are excellent reads, illuminating the latent prejudices that we all have without ever realizing it. The essence of the two articles by the three authors is that people operate below certain levels of consciousness and without knowing they permit stereotypes that transgress against them. It is not a must that one falls in the minority group to feel inferior. Moreover, it is plausible that an individual who is very much regarded in society will still feel inadequate in the presence of the dominant group even though they may be accomplished in many ways. By considering Immergut’s example of receding body hair, the paper answers the question “Who gets stereotyped?” concluding that it is human nature to stereotype individuals and the environment around them, and no one can escape stereotype.

In Manscaping: The Tangle of Nature, Culture and Male Body Hair Mathew Immergut uses ethos pathos and logos to enlighten the readers of the analogical meanings of the male body in relation to the natural environment. He explicitly explores the relationship between the males’ hairy bodies and the natural environment, the society and culture and eventually juxtaposes the grotesque and classical bodies. In the introduction of the article Manscaping, Immergut recounts the first time he shaved his chest and belly hair. It was during his early years in college in the 1990s. The experience he records here is that of a confused young man who does not really decipher the difference between being male or female. He notes, “When I finished, I stroked my smooth abdomen and felt proud – like a suburbanite gazing with satisfaction at his freshly mowed lawn. Yet I was also ashamed of my newly manicured body because it seemed to raise questions about my masculinity” (552). In this statement, two stereotypes are brought out. The first one is that of a suburbanite who believes that a cleanly mowed lawn is better than a bushy one. This is a stereotype against nature claiming that when the natural environment is left to be as it was intended to be by God it looks bad – a grotesque body in essence. The second stereotype is that of masculinity and femininity. In fact, Immergut clearly shows how feminine and masculine instincts rule all mankind. An individual is first, male or female, then human. In one way or another, Immergut is proving that to be masculine is to be rugged, and that is a stereotype that has been created over the years man has existed on the planet earth. Being smooth and refined is tantamount to being feminine. Sex and gender therefore is the basis of all kinds of stereotyping in a world where men and women are known with particular affiliated traits.

According to Banaji and Greenwald, the human mind is designed to categorize things in six different ways such that those that look alike are regarded as kin. That is to mean that the mind is built to form categories with which inference to the person can be made. Sex and gender is just one of the six categories. The other ones are race, religion, age, nationality and occupation (616). Each of the categories of classification of a man as created by the mind has some connection to the different types of hair that a man has. Pubic hair in particular is considered unhealthy and therefore should be trimmed at all times. In many ways it improves the hygiene of a man.

Immergut quotes Antony Synott who in his theory of opposites wrote that “Hair is not just hair, it is a sex symbol” (554). By way of reiteration, Immergut goes on to quote Antony Synott by saying that both men and women are proud of chest hair of a man as much as they feel about curly and long hair on a woman’s head. On the contrary, both men and women will feel ashamed of voluminous chest hair on a female (554). This example also provides a very hard hitting truth on the kind of discrimination that stereotypes breed. How come that what is a sign of good quality for one gender becomes a tragedy for the other? Banaji and Greenwald note that “it is not possible to be human and avoid using stereotypes” (623). The answer to this question is that “stereotypes are not distributed equally” (623). Banaji and Greenwald (623) go on and explain that “when stereotypes are unfavorable as many are, the forces that cause people to act in ways that conform to the stereotype applied to their own group can have damaging effects.” For instance, being old is associated with wisdom, but when old age is construed to mean being sickly, sleepy, or feeble, it dents into the reputation of the person. Immergut uses a positive example of stereotyping when he describes the true masculinity in the present day and age as “hairlessness.” Immergut uses the TV show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, to demonstrate how hairlessness is the new measure of masculinity in the western world. He mentions a number of well-known male celebrities such as: Brad Pitt, Bon Jovi and David Hasselhoff to show how the society has transitioned from a hairy society to a hairless society. Using this strategy, Immergut plays to the idea that those who do not shave their body hair will soon be considered as old-fashioned which is a stereotype that is quickly gaining ground in the western world.

Immergut argues that the human understanding of nature is limited to what they know and the extent of their creative imagination. While talking about the construction of nature and hairy bodies, Immergut (557) says that:

The body is a bio-physical entity but is also significantly social creation. The same can also be said about nature. There is a bio-physical reality being referenced when we talk about nature, but the way we know and talk about that reality is deeply shaped by our historical and sociocultural position.

The statement above, by Immergut sheds some light on who gets stereotyped since it impliedly claims that people stereotype what they are not so familiar with. To prove this assertion, Banaji and Greenwald use the example of Japanese men in Japan, who stand no chance of being stereotyped, but once they settle in the United States, they end up being a subject of stereotyping. In the same way, nature is judged based on the historical and sociocultural norms of the people giving opinion. The receding human body hair points towards a natural resource that is wasting away for the sake of man-made development. For instance, many of the cities that we have today were actually raised in places that can be said to have been habitats of certain flora and fauna. Despite there being a general consensus that the flora and fauna may have been beautiful to the eye, there is also a consensus that urbanization has its beauty and therefore is justified. To a person brought up in some remote place in the world, such as the Congo Forest, New York city is a concrete jungle and presents a quagmire that is hard to solve. To such a person, living in New York is a hustle with no end. They will stereotype the place as being harsh and unfriendly since every other person is up and running to meet some deadline. The same will apply to a person born and raised in Washington DC. If such a person is sent to the Congo Forest, and let to survive in the environment, they will have it rough and get stereotyped by the natives as being either lazy or too soft for such a jungle.

While talking about grotesque bodies and grotesque nature, Immergut, contends that not all body hair is good. He cites the example of underarm and other pubic hair that may work to the disadvantage of the male human being in the presence of a woman. Too much hair in the male parts is a recipe for bad odor that can be irritating. As already stated, hair has sexual appeal, and the appeal can either be positive or negative. In the same way, stereotypes have an appeal to either betterment or functional degradation of the human spirit. Banaji and Greenwald (623) state that “self-fulfilling prophesies can be good”, to imply that when an individual takes up a positive stereotype, they can leverage on its power to become the best version of themselves. With this argument, Immergut explains the difference between grotesque bodies and classical bodies. He claims that those classical bodies are embodying containment, idealization and proportion while the grotesque is typical of openness, materiality and protrusion (560). He further explains that a hairy man is a typical expression of grotesque characteristics that are absent in a classical body and vice versa. The differentiation of the classical body from grotesque is another typical form of stereotype that is common in society. People will have a particular connotation with respect to the grotesque body such as dirt and filth and stereotype the classical body as clean and attractive.

Save from hygiene, issues that relate to body hair are deeper than we may think. In disregard of the grotesque hair, Immergut (521) states that, “the grotesque quality of body threatens to disrupt a much deeper and more cherished human boundary. In the classical contemporary imagination, body hair appears as a reminder of our connection to other “dirty” creatures, a repulsive memento of our common animal nature. In this regard, Immergut simply cautions that the grotesque body initiates a stereotype that is linked to animal traits. One of those traits is being dirty as seen in the quote above. The article goes ahead to demonstrate the need to shave body hair as being a response to the needs of the female humans for sex appeal. This is a form of categorization referred to as “cooperative categorization” in Banaji and Greenwald (621). The females are well aware of what they need, and they have the moral authority to ensure that the male species of their own look much better than the apes and other primates to which they are assumed to have the same ancestry. Still, Banaji and Grenwald attest to the fact that the most basic categorization effort is to separate male from female and so on.

Perhaps, the male human body is the only perfect tool that can be used to draw a line between human nature and the wild. From the foregoing arguments by both Banaji and Greenwald and Immergut, men are best suited to remain natural – in this sense grotesque. This explains why in many instances people are forced to reconnect back to nature in their daily engagement with stereotypes. Immergut (563) states that, “classical bodies are not bodies free from nature, but are bodies ideally composed of an alluring nature.” This implies that while the grotesque body is being tamed, care should be taken to ensure that it remains natural. Nature is beautiful but at the same time it must be given a touch to make it even more beautiful. In the same way, stereotype must not damage the human but seek to build their reputation among others. With the need to have the human flourish in his natural environment, Banaji and Greenwald allude to the fact that positive stereotypes have the ability to make people better than they would be without them. Banaji and Greewald (621) note that: “orderly living is not possible without using categories”. Yet it is the categories that we easily form that establish stereotypes. Thus, whoever gets stereotyped earns the category based on their engagement with the environment since they look different from the rest.

In conclusion, Immergut’s example of the receding human body coincides with Banaji and Greenwald thoughts on several fronts. First, Immergut shows that the male body hair is soon becoming a thing of the past with many women expressing contempt for its existence and advocate for its removal. In his final analysis, he claims that even though the grotesque body looks unkempt and that the classical body is desired, it must always seek to look natural. On the other hand, Banaji and Greenwald have exciting insights into the debate revealing that the human mind is accustomed to the art of categorization. Everything, in the universe belongs to a particular category of similar things. Thus, even human characteristics such as sex, gender, age, race and religion matter when referring to fellow humans. Most importantly, Banaji and Greenwald prove that stereotypes are a formation of the human mind with respect to history and the sociocultural environment. The receding human hair is a proof that humans have evolved over the years, and their need to look better than their animal relatives is because they have stereotyped them as filthy and dirty. That is why even those that would like to maintain the grotesque body, they do so with a desire to look classical which is more refined and attractive.

Works Cited

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