AMERICAN women didn’t shave their armpits en masse until the 1920s, after a perfect storm of sleeveless dresses and a barrage of advertisements by depilatory makers characterized underarm hair as ugly.
Next came the tarnishing of women’s leg hair. By the 1930s, beauty writers scolded women with forests under their silk stockings. Decades later, what began as a fad had solidified into custom. Girls coming of age no longer needed to be told their leg hair was unsightly. They got rid of it.
Can the same thing happen with men?
These days, the hair on men’s chests, backs, armpits and even “down there” has become suspect — if you believe the marketing campaigns. Several recent online videos created by brands like Gillette recast hair removal below the neck as the domain of average Joes.
Having a chest as smooth as Matthew McConaughey’s is old hat for competitive swimmers, urbane insiders who became swept up in the metrosexual moment and some gay men who have long embraced hairlessness. To play Brüno, a gay fashion reporter who favors hot pants, the formerly hirsute Sacha Baron Cohen endured repeated waxathons to get bare nearly everywhere. But now evidence from market research and academia indicates that more men are removing hair from their chests, armpits and groins. The phenomenon skews to mostly college-age guys or those in their 30s. Reasons run the gamut from Because My Girlfriend Likes It to a desire to flaunt a six-pack or be clean.
“It used to be a hallmark of male models and homosexuals,” said Kat Fay, a senior analyst at Mintel, who writes an annual men’s grooming report. She added that the high-maintenance primping of metrosexuals was “privileged” and clustered in cities; by contrast, this campaign has “more of an everyday middle-America feel” and aims to convince squeamish men that body shaving is “the greatest dating weapon.”
Little research has been done on male body depilation. But a 2005 study published in the journal Sex Roles found that 63.6 percent of 118 men at the University of South Florida said they trimmed or removed body hair below the neck to be hygienic and attractive. And in a yet-to-be-published survey of 364 male students at the same university, more than 80 percent said they engaged in body depilation, said Michael Boroughs, the lead author of both studies and a graduate student in psychology.
What’s more, he added, there was no statistically significant difference in the number of gay and straight men who tamed the hair on their chests, abs and groin.
Unsurprisingly, the loudest voices making the case for so-called manscaping are the creators of the five-blade shavers, multitasking gels and gadgets made specifically for trimming and shaving in the shower.
What may surprise, however, is how candid the pitches are, and that no fewer than four brands have broached the seemingly treacherous topic of manscaping.
In May, Gillette started a series of how-to and why-do-it videos online suggesting that men go further with body shaving. The rationale varied by part. Chest? “A sweater should be bought not grown.” Armpits? “An empty stable smells better than a full one.” And their coup de grâce is the groin: “Trees look taller when there’s no underbrush.”
A muscular cartoon with pixeled privates even shows how to get bare without putting “your equipment at risk.”
On the site for Nivea for Men, Jislain Duval, a Canadian model, uses its Active3 shower gel to demonstrate how guys can go from hirsute to sleek in a jiffy. In the name of education, Mr. Duval is shown shaving starlike patterns around his nipples. As he gazes at his private parts, the camera stays waist-up; yet, the scene doesn’t leave much to the imagination.
A comely blonde turns feral at the sight of a clean-shaven chest in a video advertisement for Braun’s BodycruZer, a precision trimmer with a Gillette blade.
In late May, Gillette’s How to Shave Your Groin video ranked No. 3 on a list of the top online video advertisements compiled by Visible Measures, an Internet video measurement firm. In its three weeks on the list, it racked up more than 1.4 million views, not counting traffic to Gillette’s site. (Previously, videos promoting the idea of shaving “everywhere” as well as specifically touting Philips Norelco’s Bodygroom, a trimmer and shaver, also attracted notice with 680,000 views, according to Visible Measures.)
Three years ago, before catchy videos ricocheted Web-wide, the prospect of a company like Gillette talking to men about shaving their nether regions “wasn’t in the realm of possibility,” said Matt Cutler, the vice president for marketing and analytics at Visible Measures. But Gillette’s whimsical videos prompted men to discuss their habits and “what their girlfriends ask them to do,”