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The Milk House: You, me and The Hoff

Ryan Dennis for Progressive Dairyman Published on 24 August 2018

I started noticing a lot of people looking back in my direction. At first, I assumed they were looking at my girlfriend, which filled me with that natural mix of jealousy and pride.

Then she sat down, and it became clearer it was me they were gawking at. I was the only man there with chest hair.

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Like many other countries, Ireland is experiencing one of the hottest summers of its history. This meant throwing on the trunks and enjoying some rare beach time. It’s both humorous and disconcerting to see such snow-white people turn pink under the sun like boiled shrimp.

However, as I walked along the sand and surveyed the scene (under the cover of sunglasses), I started noticing a lot of people looking back in my direction. At first, I assumed they were looking at my girlfriend, which filled me with that natural mix of jealousy and pride. Then she sat down, and it became clearer it was me they were gawking at. I was the only man there with chest hair.

It appears, by all accounts, the world has changed. When I was young, it was a race among the boys in the class to see who could sprout the first few hairs on their chest. We picked on the kids with bald torsos and said they weren’t real men. However, they did become men, and it seems they have taken positions of influence in society. Now, apparently, chest hair is no longer cool.

I was horrified, at first, hearing reports some men started waxing their chests – and even more shocked the first time I heard a female call body hair on men disgusting. This led me to do some heavy research: I typed “sexiest men alive” into Google. Not one of them had upper body hair. Then I looked for any male celebrity with chest hair – any at all. I could only find one, and that was David Hasselhoff. It was disheartening, even if it did confirm what we probably already knew: David Hasselhoff is the last bastion of manhood.

The hairiest men I knew were always from my father’s side of the family. I remember as a young child being both horrified and intrigued by the gray forest on my grandfather’s back when he took off his shirt (let alone what was on his chest).

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Still, it seemed a natural part of what a man looked like. I thought I was being modern in keeping my own back hair tamed down with a beard trimmer. Now that I’m a bit older, there’s a large patch in the middle I can’t reach, but I give it my best. I thought I was keeping up with the times.

The Dennis men are supposed to be traced back to the first pilgrims off the boat from England. The English, from what I understand, are generally hairless on their upper body. For that reason, I have to believe the family line goes back further yet, to the Vikings who terrorized and pillaged the English. These men were the most fierce and ruthless of their day. And, I have no doubt, they had chest hair.

This summer, I went to Italy for a wedding. Italian men are famous for going to great extents to groom themselves. Every time I played basketball with Italians, they stayed an extra hour in the locker rooms to dry their hair and get it perfect in the mirror.

They put more care into their choice of clothes than women in other countries. I even heard some pluck their eyebrows. I knew I couldn’t compete; I just didn’t want to be an embarrassment to my girlfriend. The decision didn’t come easy, but I made it in the end. I let her wax my back.

I winced as she pressed the hot wax bar into my shoulders. She told me to not be such a baby. She rubbed the first sheet over the skin. I closed my eyes. Men aren’t supposed to live like this, I thought. She put her knee over the back of my neck and pulled the sheet free.

I screamed.

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“Do you see?” she said, in her Italian accent. “Do you see what it is to be a woman?”

She rubbed the sheet into the wax and yanked it again.

I screamed.

“Do you now understand what we do for you?”

When I was young, I visited San Diego, the famous coastal town always on TV. I walked along the ocean and saw the other people by the water and on the sand. I took note of what I looked like – pale and hairy and someone who might have had a job – and how tan and hairless and toned they were.

That day, I understood what evolution wanted me to be: I am to be a mountain person and not a beach person. Darwin built me to survive in harsher climates.

To all you out there with hairy chests: It seems we have some work to do. We’re a dying breed. I don’t know how we’re going to bring it back in style. Maybe The Hoff has some ideas. Or Tom Selleck. Maybe it will even come back into style in an ironic way, like denim jackets or Polaroid cameras. Until then, we have to be strong and agree on one thing: resist and the razor.  end mark

Ryan Dennis is the son of a former dairy farmer from western New York and a literary writer.

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