Holy shit, is Hank really going there? I am, shocked reader, I really am. Some of you will never have to deal with the sprouting of hair in unwanted places. Some of you are only now starting to notice emerging new follicle pastures in the heretofore-bare patches of your adult bodies. And some of you started sprouting early; perhaps a unibrow or thick, lycanthropic zones of hair on your forearms. Maybe, if you’re a lady, there is the faintest shadow of upper lip-hair, an assumed affront to western beauty standards. Or, if you’re like, me, thin clusters of black, curly, itchy back hair sprang up on your back around the time of puberty, 16 or 17. I know. Gross!
I first became aware that it was an issue when I was at a pre-college summer program at UCSB. While on a hot-as-hell hike in the hills north of Santa Barbara, I took my shirt off, as people do when it’s hot as hell. Juan, the diminutive twentysomething program administrator, who was leading the excursion, was quick to remark, “Jesus, Henry, you really need to shave your back.” Not knowing what to say, I just shrugged and self-consciously mumbled a, “Yeah, I guess,” but his comment wrought a new sense self for me, a self that was entirely more self-consciousness and self-pitying. In the ensuing weeks and months, I became a more fatalistic teen (and I was already somewhat dark). God, I felt, had cursed me with a chronic disease, and my only remedy was to not take off my shirt in public for the rest of my life.
The first time I shaved my back was spring break of my second year in college, the night before leaving for a week-long trip to Jamaica. My roommates had all already left for the break, so I had our dingy apartment to myself. In between bong rips, I scotch-taped a Mach3 razor to a ruler, and, in sections, slowly, carefully, twisting my head to see the mirror, began to widdle away at my back-bush, one section of back a time. It took about three hours, but that includes standard breaks for more weed; I probably smoked an eighth of weed to myself that night. At that point, I was twenty years old, and hair already covered 75% of my back. I wish I could somehow see a video of what this night must have looked like, because it would possibly make for the most black-humored piece of video art in existence.
When I was finished, I showered off and checked myself out in the mirror. I wasn’t necessarily happy with the rest of my body, but my back, good lord, my back was looking dope as fuck. “This is what I’m going to do from now on,” I told myself. It was going to take effort, but for the rest of my life, I was going to be back-hair free. And then I put a shirt on.
Almost immediately, I realized that this wasn’t going to work. The rubbing of fabric against the millimeter of stubble was unbearable from the morning after I shaved. Painfully itchy, to the point where any time I moved, a different part of my back felt like it was burning. Also, the week on the beach only wrought new feelings of terrified unease with my own body. I was scared to let any of the friends who I was traveling with help me with sunscreen, lest they feel the stubble and learn my dark secret, so I got deeply burned in one central, unreachable part of my back. Guess what makes itchy back stubble more uncomfortable? A serious sunburn. Like pouring Saracha in an open wound. When I got back from the trip, I swore to myself I would never shave my back again.
And then, I shaved my back again three weeks later. I guess I was still clinging to that image of me without hair on my back and convinced myself that maybe the itchiness hadn’t been so bad. However, if I thought having itchy-stubble-covered-back in Jamaica was terrible, when I only had to wear, maybe, a t-shirt, having an itchy-stubble covered in Montreal, in the middle of winter, where you had layers of clothes, including the possibility of long underwear was beyond terrible. It was soooo much terrible-er.
After that, the oath to never shave my back again stuck and I resorted to less uncomfortable methods of dealing with my backhair; I hid it from public view. If I went swimming, I was always the last to take my shirt off and kept my back to the wall at all times. If I was at the beach, I opted for the unbuttoned, short-sleeve-shirt-look. And I pined away to someday have enough money to pay the 5000-5000$ for laser-hair-removal.
Even at 20, I had the good sense to realize I was years away from having anywhere near enough money to waste on cosmetic surgery and there was one situation that still required taking off my shirt around other people; sexy-time. And that’s when I got into the habit of warning girls, when we were fooling around, but still had our clothes on, that I had a fair amount of back hair. I’d frame it casually, right as clothes were about to come off, “Hey just so you know, I have, like, a ton of back hair. Hope that’s not a thing.”
And somehow, I think, most girls found it charming. They usually laughed or said they didn’t care or just said, “OK.” Not one woman has ever been like, “Seriously? Fuck this. Where are my pants?” I guess, if two people are about to have sex and the guy starts off a sentence with “Hey, just so you know…”, finishing it with a warning about copious amount body hair is just about a the best way that sentence can go. It could be:
“Just so you know, I have, like, a ton of STDs.”
Or. “Just so you know, I’m going to need to pick up my girlfriend in about 20 minutes, so we have to make it quick”
Or, “Just so you know, you’re going to need to actually need to strap this on and fuck ME, otherwise this isn’t going to work.”
Also, I make a habit of only getting intimate with girls who actually are into me, not just looking for a quick get-off. So an off-putting amount of body hair has never been a deal-breaker (yet).
All this is to say, nothing soothed my fears about having back hair more than the fact that I figured out that it wasn’t going to curse me to a life of celibacy and masturbating. I could actually get laid. That is, if I was a nice, funny, outgoing person. I was fuckable! And from there, it opened me up to not being afraid of taking my shirt of at the beach or going to a pool. I’m still a little self-conscious, like everyone is, but not morbidly. Maybe some people I don’t know are grossed out, but fuck them. Seriously. Fuck them. And maybe someday, I’ll be both rich and down in the dumps, and getting the laser thing will be little a pick-me-up, but I don’t think that’s likely.
So that’s how to deal with having back hair. Just deal with it. Life goes on. As the saying goes, you’re an adult.
Henry Goldman is founder of yr an adult and he’s doing just fine, thanks. Twitter!
Photo credit: flickr user Tambako, used under cc license.