There are the great literary themes you learned about in high school — man versus nature, man versus society, man versus self — and then there is the epic struggle of this week's excerpt: man versus hair. Hair is an anarchist, an outlaw, a weed. Like liberal ideas, the more you try to keep it in its place, the more it sneaks through, making a muck of things. My own body is under daily pilatory siege: first the beard, then the nose hair, recently a back hair or two (dear God) and now, a few years into my thirties, earlobe hair. How can this be?
As a man, hair is a source of near-constant vexation: first the teen traumas around wanting pubic and chest hair to prove one's virility, then the slow realization that every new body hair signals one fewer head hair. Hair on men migrates, as the head-and-shoulder evidence of any Greek isle beach would attest, and it's hard not to think that the little buggers are moving to the wrong neighborhood.
On women, of course, hair is a more tangled issue, both personally and politically. To shave or not to shave, and what — these questions trace out party lines, even in this decade. Porn and the mass media seem to suggest that men would have women shave everything south of the pate. I disagree. My ideal? Legs, shaved; pubis, trimmed; underarms, either way.
Nor am I particularly wedded to variations one way or the other, except regarding the pussy. A shaved muff (and how, etymologically, can it still be a muff if it's shaved?) strikes me as an odd, even a sad thing. Somehow, I don't want a pussy to look vulnerable, and I certainly don't want it to look child-like. To me, the hair of genitals means sex, means, "Now. I'm ready." And could this not have been the biological function (for what other reason are we furry down there?), to signal to our primitive progenitors who, if dragged into the shadows of the cave, would propagate the tribe?
My sociobiology might be a little shaky here, I realize, and my aesthetic preference might be in the minority. Apparently, a lot of men really do like the babyface-vagina thing, and a lot of women find it sexy too. I present as evidence a scene from Almudena Grandes' 1989 The Ages of Lulu, which won an award in Spain for best erotic novel. It's a pretty sexy book — if you like that kind of thing — especially during Lulu's early encounters with Pablo, the friend of her older brother who becomes her sexual mentor. In their first meeting, Pablo takes the fifteen-year-old Lulu back to his apartment and then preps her in a way he finds suited to her age. Like Buck Mulligan at the beginning of Ulysses, he comes "bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed." I suppose the antidote to innocence lost is innocence faked.