188. formidable


BeardsAuthor’s note: personal disclosures ahead that might make you feel slightly uncomfortable. You’ve been warned.

Boys are an odd bunch, especially once adolescence arrives and puberty starts wreaking havoc on their bodies. Comedian Eddie Izzard remarks in one of his shows, “… you think, God, I want to get off with some of these people, I’d better look my best. And then Mother Nature says, No, you will look the worst you’ve ever looked in your life!

This is especially true for boys, many of whom are rather gangly to begin with. But then the violent chaotic upheaval starts to resolve itself. There’s a lot of idealization of the male body that goes on amongst young men (of any sexual orientation) as they attempt to wrap their minds around what’s going on physically, particularly around muscular development. This has been true throughout human history for the guys with more muscular physiques. Women (and gay men) want them; other men want to be them.

There’s also a bizarre kind of fetishization that’s been present with men concerning facial and body hair since, well, forever. Allan Peterkin’s book One Thousand Beards: a cultural history of facial hair explores the historical record of attitudes and trends in facial hair throughout history, all the way back to depictions in cave paintings of men shaving.

My own relationship to facial and body hair growing up was rocky. I didn’t like my body very much as a teenager, which I suppose isn’t uncommon, though it seems most guys come to own their physiques at some point. They seem to exhibit a lack of shame when it comes to showing off what nature has bequeathed them, shucking shirts and pants without a second thought, either not caring who looks or basking in the attention they receive.

I was not crazy about getting hairier once puberty hit. For years I was painfully, neurotically self-conscious about this, always wearing jeans and long pants, and certainly never appearing without a shirt. Some of it had to do with not wanting to look like my dad, who is fairly hirsute himself. (Thanks, dad.) Some of it likely had to do with the anxiety from not reconciling to the fact that I was madly attracted to the developing (and increasingly sexy) teenage bodies of my male peers. For some reason I found (and still find) guys’ leg hair incredibly sexy.

Throughout high school and college I kept both my face and chest clean-shaven, which meant that I spent a lot of time doing what I later learned was called manscaping. That probably had to do with the kind of porn I was watching at the time and finding smooth guys most attractive.

It wasn’t until later in college that I began to accept my body hair, and that it might actually be an attractive feature. (Of course, I still wasn’t thinking in terms of other guys finding it sexy yet.) My first semester in college I learned about “no-shave November,” which provided an avenue of competition for the guys and a reason to complain for their girlfriends.

Several trumpet player friends of mine in college were obsessed with beards, facial hair, and in general all things manly. As far as I know, all of them were straight, but this helped move me more in favor of my own body hair. I even had a beard for most of college. There were frequent exclamations of: “Check out that guy’s beard!” or “Look at that his chops [sideburns]!”

Once I started having sex and discovered that guys found my being an otter both sexy and desirable, the more I liked how I looked that way. My first boyfriend enjoyed it when I didn’t shave my chest and encouraged me to let it grow. He was the one who introduced the term “otter” (gay slang for a skinnier, hairier guy) to me. My last boyfriend also liked that look on me, but frankly, longer that hair gets the itchier it becomes so I usually keep it neatly trimmed.

Again, boys are weird.

Yesterday afternoon I attended a Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra concert in Minneapolis. They were playing Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 4, Mozart’s Serenade No. 7, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. All in all, it wasn’t a remarkable performance, which one reviewer described as “lacking in passion” and urgency. I’d agree with that assessment.

It’s sad to say that probably the most satisfying part of the concert for me was watching one particularly handsome violist who I noticed almost immediately, partly because he was sitting next to the harpsichord during the Bach piece. (I’ll always be a keyboard nerd, no matter where the rest of my musical life goes.) I’m not sure what his name is since he was an auxiliary player, and the program didn’t specify which auxiliary violists were playing that afternoon. But he was very pretty to look at.

I’m not exactly sure what qualities made him so attractive. (My friend who was attending the concert with me also pointed him out.) It was hard to tell, but he looked to be on the shorter side, of slim build, slightly swarthy, and square-jawed. It certainly looked like he had some stubble on his face, which on the right guy is very irresistibly, devil-may-care sexy.

It’s hard to say what is attractive in another person. Some people have a “type” that they go for, or a list of qualities that they either want or can’t stand. While there are characteristics that tend to make a guy stand out more (it’s an evolutionary strategy for sorting out potential mates), for me it has more to do with their overall physical and mental attractiveness. A guy could be smoking hot but isn’t intellectually curious or interested in the arts. Conversely, he could have a great personality but I’m just not physically attracted to him…

I guess all I’m saying is that this whole business of finding a boyfriend/partner is a mess.


3 thoughts on “188. formidable

  1. lydiarussell

    It is a mess, but he’s out there, David 🙂 Probably feeling the exact same way as you do now, and some day you’ll both look back and laugh about it over coffee. [Trivial encouragement, though it may be]

    • David

      Ha, thanks, Lydia. 🙂

      Yes, I’m narrative-aware enough to know that this is likely true. Life always seems scarier when one is living in the middle of a story and hasn’t read how it ends yet! It’s just daunting and slightly overwhelming when so much else is up in the air: job searching, career, grad school, potentially moving to Michigan for grad school, etc. But that’s what makes the adventure so exciting, right?

      • lydiarussell

        well said. cheers to the journey, I suppose–daunting though it may be. I am right there with you, emphatically seconding the “slightly overwhelming” status… 🙂

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