As much as I enjoyed the last X-Men film (Days of Future Past), when Wolverine jumped out of bed in the 1970’s, his entirely hairless body came as something of a shock. Naturally I was happy enough to get a look at Wolverine’s bottom (seems fair, we see enough girl-butt in movies), but I found his complete lack of body hair incongruous, to say the least.
Now first of all, the 1970’s was definitely one of the hairiest aesthetics the world has ever seen. Secondly this is Wolverine we’re talking about, a man who’s mutant healing ability causes his bones to knit and skin to heal in front of our eyes. Does it not also ‘cause his waxed back to immediately regrow as well. Thirdly, most adult men simply don’t bother to wax or shave their bodies, particularly not men like Logan.
Wolverine suddenly didn’t look like Wolverine, he looked like a pretty actor, all plucked and polished. In a film with so many opportunities to take a viewer out of the delicately constructed suspension of disbelief, it stood out as being particularly jarring. Once I started to look into it, I realized that nearly all current movie superheroes are a victims of this ridiculous hairless aesthetic, whether it is plausible (i.e. it looks like they’re naturally hairless) or not. Somehow, just like the weird movie fallacy of women waking up in full make-up, or falling asleep in underwire bras (both things which, by the way, we really prefer not to do), the depiction of adult men with zero body hair has become a Hollywood norm. At is just as ridiculous looking. Henry Cavill was one of the only natural-looking superheroes in recent popular movies, and ironically he was playing an alien! His very human hair growth served to emphasize his apparent humanity, and to distance himself from his warlike compatriots, and so on that level the inclusion of chest hair was perhaps a savvy choice.
As a character with so many references to his bestial nature, Wolverine should never be hairless, but there are heroes who have Nordic or Asian heritage and so they could feasibly be hairless. Personally I doubt it, since they’re adult men and I’ve never met an adult man with ZERO hair on his body at all, but it’s possible. So let’s assume that maybe Thor or a very blonde Captain America have hairless bodies, fair enough. In most cases though, this is not the case and removing all body hair makes these actors look younger, less like the post-pubescent adults they are depicting, and this seems particularly inappropriate in heroic characters who’re intended to be figures of authority, not children. More to the point, on a practical front, where would these heroes find the time to remove their body hair?
Most of the adult men I know don’t have (and won’t make) the time to shave or wax their entire bodies, even if they wanted to (let alone being willing to put themselves through such discomfort and effort). But do you know who really doesn’t have time to get their body waxed or spend an extra half hour in the shower every day shaving? People with full-time day jobs, and secret night jobs as superheroes. A man with two jobs is hardly going to waste time on hair removal. And then he certainly wouldn’t have time to exfoliate to avoid annoying in-grown hairs (inevitable if you regularly wax or shave). It’s all just too ridiculous.
The outcome of all this is that we’re having our idealized superheroes concepts brought to life by actors who’ve been groomed to look like giant babies. They’re so hairless that they hardly look human, let alone like adult men, and it simply reinforces the idea that the whole concept is fake (which is not what you want when you’re trying to bring a potent story to life on the screen).
From a personal point of view, this week’s column became quite strange to research. I suppose I was relatively ignorant about what is currently “fashionable” for men’s bodies, since I’m not a man and aesthetically speaking it’s all pretty much equal to me. However, as part of my research I needed to find out what constituted a “leading man” physique over the decades, look at when the current preference for hairless actors began, and try to understand why…
In ancient Greece idealized male athletes were depicted in hairless marble. In the 1950’s the Hays code deemed Hollywood’s hirsute men to be “a source of moral corruption”. But the current vogue for male hairless bodies probably has less to do with men emulating the ancient marble sculptures of gods, or evoking a lost youth, or aiming for a prepubescent / de-sexualized masculinity, and far more to do with pressure from cosmetic companies looking for a new market to profit from. The social implications of male hair removal are still being investigated but male grooming is a definitely a growing market It is disappointing to see superheroes being co-opted to propagate this unnecessary trend. Hair growth is a sign of male maturity. That isn’t to say that all adult men grow body hair, but that when it is removed the implication is that he’s younger and / or less mature. Not only does it make these actors look less realistic, it makes them look like plastic Ken dolls – hardly a symbol of male virility, but instead the ultimate non-threatening, neutered, girl’s toy. What it doesn’t do is “bring superheroes to life”, the very idea behind making superhero movies, and that’s alone makes the entire process pretty ridiculous.
*You’ll have to forgive me for the lack of photos from X-Men: Days of Future Past, but it’s new enough that there aren’t a million photos of Hugh Jackman’s bum on the internet… yet.