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Wax on, wax off Add to ...

She tells me it won't hurt, that none of her clients, mainly Bay Street suits, have ever screamed. And she tells me that the most painful movie scene in the history of man - the one in The 40-Year-Old Virgin where the titular character howls in agony after having his chest hair torn off with a wax strip - was done all wrong.

"That was a demonstration of exactly what not to do," assures Ashley Cox, a manager at The Men's PowerSpa in Toronto, as she uses a tongue depressor to spread a layer of blue goop, warmed to body temperature, over my left pectoral. The goop is chamomile wax. "It's soothing ... calming," the petite 21-year-old says.

Soon she starts patting an eight-inch cotton strip over the goop with latex gloves. I see her pinch the end of the strip and raise her elbow, like a gunslinger ready to draw. I dig my fingernails into the foam mattress, determined not to be the first screamer.

Torture has become a hallmark of modern male grooming. After decades of gazing at magazine covers and sports competitions featuring ripped, hairless models of the male form, the average man has given up the hope that the Burt Reynolds type will ever again be a sex symbol. And so we are manscaping - snipping, shaving, waxing and burning away our weedy thickets of body hair.

"For men, hair removal has become the equivalent of putting on a suit," says Peter Papapetrou, a Toronto fashion stylist. "There's something very polished about it. The perfect male form has that smooth look and the average guy is taking notice."

Grooming companies are catching on. Last month, Philips Norelco launched the Bodygroom, an electric shaver designed for trimming delicate male bits south of the Adam's apple, in Canada.

In the United States, the Bodygroom has become the company's second-most popular grooming product.

There's also depilatory cream for men, waxing strips for men and even a Bodygroom competitor - the Mangroomer, an electric shaver on a stick designed for those hard-to-reach tufts.

And for those who have hang-ups about hovering reciprocating metal blades over their own nether regions, male-only spas have found homes in every major city.

"A day doesn't go by that someone doesn't come in for hair removal," says Ian Sutherland, owner of Mann, a male spa in Montreal. "They can be anyone from businessmen to construction workers."

At PowerSpa, male hair removal has become the most popular service after massage and hand treatments with requests ranging from back hair cleanup to the Boyzillian (the male Brazilian).

Such a frightening trend must undergo a proper journalistic audit. So, over the course of one day, I waxed, razored and doused with chemicals parts of my body from shoulder to knee. Yes, even those parts. Which brings me back to Ashley.

The only thing I remember after the sound of ripping flesh is a half-scream, half-groan I try so hard to muffle that I would wake the next morning with a sore jaw. Rivulets of blood burble up through empty follicles. "Not so bad, is it?" says Ashley.

"No, just burns a little," I lie.

"Now, did you just want your chest done, or your whole front side?" she says.

"Just the chest. Please just the chest." The rest I would save for myself.

Up until recently, most men would deny keeping any kind of manscaping routine while secretly turning razors and facial trimmers into rudimentary body mowers. My first brush with manscaping came in first year at Simon Fraser University when I started playing hockey in a Vancouver men's league. In the dressing room, I noticed that I was the hairiest one on the team. At age 18, I was also the youngest. Must be genetics, I thought.

That same year, I secretly began using my roommate's electric shaver on my beard. It worked well, until he caught me one day. "I use that to shave my nuts," he said between bursts of laughter. I finally grasped how common, and how secretive, the whole manscaping phenomenon had become.

Gay men picked up the bald look from bodybuilders in the 1980s. "For gay guys, this has been around for a long time," Mr. Papapetrou says. "But women have decided they don't want to be in areas where hair is out of control either, so all men are taking it up."

A while back, my cousin, a B.C. logger, attended a drunken university party in Prince George. Somehow over the course of the night, most of the male revellers ended up naked. "They were all laughing at me," my cousin says. "I'm a mess down there and they all had these perfectly groomed little triangles."

Style preferences vary. "I know guys who shave all the way down," Mr. Papapetrou says. "Others leave a bit."

The main advantage is obvious, he says. "It makes it look bigger. It's like the rock underneath the grass when you trim your lawn. Things poke through."

By the end of Ashley's chest-waxing job, the pain had subsided from throbbing inferno to smouldering burn. Ashley told me to avoid sun and chlorine for 24 hours and to exfoliate my chest with a loofah. She then rubbed me with soothing azulene oil before sending me on my way. The final cost: $45. And my pride. I looked ridiculous, a clear line at the base of my pecs segregating bare chest from shaggy belly. I needed product.

I drove to a Shoppers Drug Mart and discreetly slipped Parissa male waxing strips, Nair for Men and a loofah into my basket. They would join the Bodygroom I already had in my apartment. I didn't look the cashier in the eye.

At home, locked away in my bathroom, I unloaded my loot.

Nair for Men has the consistency of mayonnaise. The directions say to smother the hair with the slop for five minutes and then wipe off with a towel. What the directions don't mention is the reek of burning hair. I gave up before I'd reached my belly button.

Personal waxing strips sound like a nice idea. By bringing the wax experience home, men can both avoid the spa costs and the risk of striking a Mariah Carey falsetto in front of complete strangers. But there's one problem. Most people's brains are hard-wired against the self-infliction of pain, especially pain emanating from the breadbasket. And so, with the wax warm and the strip set somewhere between the top of my thigh and the base of my stomach, I froze. After several false starts, I peeled the strip away slowly, too slowly to lift any hair. A sticky green rectangle remained on my skin. I tried another strip, and then another. With several strips in the trash, I was no less hairy.

My quest for a marble smooth pelt seemed doomed to fail. My skin was a tacky, irritated mess. I staked all remaining hope on the Bodygroom with its shiny steel head and streamlined design. Starting with the longest of three length attachments, I buzzed the trimmer back and forth over the remaining wisps a few inches below my belly button. Maybe I could salvage a nice triangle. But nothing happened. I opted for the next attachment down, and then the next. Finally, I tossed aside the length attachments altogether. Just steel on follicle. Bad idea.

While the bare Bodygroom shears smooth skin with relative ease, its rigid head doesn't easily adapt very well to contours. When it meets skin with the furrows of, say, a Shar Pei, the Bodygroom has a tendency to pinch. I haven't taken it out of its box since.

In the mirror I looked part mange-ridden dog, part chicken pox sufferer. My chest was aflame with little red dots. The rest was a blotchy patchwork of red skin and curls.

Later that day, I walked around my neighbourhood. Unencumbered by wooly insulation, I could actually feel a breeze through my shirt. But my chest burned. My gut reeked. Everything else itched.

Even my girlfriend, who, like most women, keeps up an admirable regimen of shaving and waxing all over, couldn't lie about the results. "You're like a whole new boyfriend," she said when she finally assessed the mulched, puffy mass I'd become. "We were meant to have hair; maybe we should leave it alone."

On globeandmail.com/life

Patrick White shares his manscaping experience in an audio slideshow.

*****

Hair-free living

CHEMICAL DEPILATORY

Products: Veet for Men, Nair for Men.

How they work: These gunky substances contain calcium thioglycolate, which breaks down keratin in the hair so that it can be wiped off with a towel.

The upside: Simply spread on and scrape off.

The downside: You'll smell like burning hair. The labels warn not to use it south of your belt buckle.

SHAVING

Products: Philips Norelco Bodygroom, Mangroomer.

How they work: Both shavers are basically facial trimmers with a few modifications. The Mangroomer comes with an extendable handle that helps reach inaccessible parts of the back. The Bodygroom has three sets of blades and three length attachments.

The upside: Quick and easy. Detuft an entire belly in less than five minutes.

The downside: You can survive the odd nick and cut on your face. But down there, proceed at your peril.

WAXING

Products: Parissa Tea Tree Wax Strips for men, Andrea Wax strips for men.How they work: Warm wax binds to your hair when it cools. Tear it off with a cotton strip and the hair goes with it.

The upside: Rips straight from the root so the hair won't grow back fully for at least a month.

The downside: It can hurt. Really hurt.

LASER

Product: Intense pulsed light treatments.

How they work: A specialist zaps your unwanted hair with a laser designed to deactivate hair follicles.

The upside: After five or six treatments, the hair stops growing back.

The downside: Cost. Treatments can range anywhere up to $1,000 for a full body treatment.

Patrick White

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