Whenever I’m asked about my resolutions for the year ahead, I respond with, “To grow a beard".
So far, I have been entirely unsuccessful. This may have something to do with the fact that I am a woman. But, since nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it, I resolve to try harder. Yup, this year will be the year. Or maybe not.
As we all know, hair on a woman is unnatural. We women don’t have hair on our chins. We don’t have hair on our arms or legs. We don’t have hair in our armpits. Heck, we don’t even have armpits. We are ladies, after all.
In contrast, many cultures, both ancient and modern, consider hair on a man to be an important and valued indication of virility. For instance, the Roman historian Tacitus recorded that ancient Germanic tribes used to swear on their beards.
But, just as standards of desirability range vastly across the world, so do grooming habits – and some are downright surprising.
For instance, I did a double take when my Japanese friend told me that in Japan, it is a rising trend for men to have their facial hair permanently lasered off.
Apparently, more and more Japanese men don’t want jawlines full of bristles. They don’t even want five o’clock shadows. They want squeaky-smooth, baby-soft, boiled-egg-shiny faces.
This reduces wind resistance when they are running to catch the Shinkansen after a night of sake and karaoke. No, I’m kidding. This makes them more attractive as men, of course. Some men have dinky little razors; Japanese men have huge and intense pulsed light.
And you thought over-plucking their eyebrows was their only grooming quirk.
But Japanese men aren’t the only ones aspiring to hairlessness in places that were formerly the purview of women. German guys, apparently, are now shaving their legs and armpits.
I know what you’re thinking. Hair removal sounds like the last thing straight German men might be concerned about, after Super Junior, Chery QQs and non-alcoholic beer. But according to our German intel, when the summer months roll around, having smooth, supple legs and underarms is pretty high on their list of priorities.
This makes them more aerodynamic when rushing for a free table at the biergarten. Ha, ha! No. This makes them more attractive as men, of course.
A FULL BUSH = A SIGN OF FERTILITY
Things are completely different in China, where body hair removal is not a thing at all. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Apparently, it’s traditionally considered good luck to have lots of hair south of the border and, well, everywhere.
Going into a marriage, for example, having a full harvest, so to speak, would be a welcome sign of fertility. It is also a sign that there is no market for string bikinis in China.
Right here in Singapore, a cursory survey of male acquaintances reveals that roughly one in five shaves under the arm – not exactly for aesthetic reasons, but mostly because they think it feels cleaner. These are things you do not find out until you have to write a piece about grooming habits.
It’s fascinating how standards of grooming and beauty vary across the world, and how they change as societies develop. The price of this awareness is that I unfortunately won’t be able to help thinking about hirsute issues the next time I’m surrounded by clean-faced salarymen on the subway in Tokyo, or the next time I see my German friends in shorts.
Yes, they have nicer legs than I do. But not armpits because I do not have armpits.