Thursday, September 06, 2018

Adam Rippon video: does male body shaving imply gender fluidity? (or the converse)

The YouTube channel “Baring Is Caring” (Nivea Men) has a whimsical video about “all that body shaving”, or “Danny Amendola and Adam Rippon Talk Body Shaving”. A Facebook friend in Florida shared it recently.

Rippon (skating) was supposed to meet with Vice President Mike Pence at the time of the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February, at a time when North Korea was still an immediate threat to go back to missile tests.  For all the controversies about Pence’s past anti-gay attitudes, this meeting could have been diplomatically important. And, given the developments of the past couple of days, it looks a little more like Pence could become Commander in Chief.

As for the depilation, there is another angle. CNN journalist Will Ripley had interviewed some North Korean teenagers “on the beach”, and they had said that Americans were big hairy monsters with big noses.  Kim Jong Un has made a foppish, fem appearance into a perverted erotic royalty.

But there is a long backstory to this. Back in the 1950s, when I was growing up in largely segregated America, where I formed my impressions of what looked “masculine” only from white (aka European ancestry) men, I did have the idea that hairy men were automatically to be viewed as more masculine. The Advocate did a story on this in the late 1980s, after running a short story called “The Body Shave”.

There is something potentially “race related” about all this that nobody ever dares talk about (as Will Ripley found out).  Generally speaking, most white men evolved in colder, less sunny climates and wore more clothes.  In the rest of the world, where body hair would simply lead to overheating when hunting in the day (humans got much better at this than chimps with their full bipedalism) some hormones developed to prevent skin hair follicles (except on the beard) from responding to androgens after puberty.  (That observation could lead to some sci-fi scenarios for new hospital sanitation procedures – Michael Crichton had already explored the idea with the photoflash chamber in “The Andromeda Strain” around 1970).  So body hair wasn’t useful to men to attract women – that’s rather like saying in some bird species, the male’s plumage is brightly colored, and others not.  In parts of Europe it remained so.  (Whether mixing with Neanderthals made a difference, we don’t know – although Neanderthal genes may have offered some slight advantages in the cellular immune system, in exchange for greater exposure to heart disease).

And remember this about race:  uniquely human ability to pass down culture to succeeding generations started in Africa.  In a sense, we are all "black".  But ancestors who moved north lost skin pigment (protective against UV radiation) to make vitamin D.

But in the 50s and early 60s – well before competitive swimming and cycling got attention – male body shaving was seen as a no-no, or something ritualistic, maybe fair game for college or fraternity initiations (like the “tribunals” at William and Mary in the fall of 1961, as I describe in my first DADT book).  People could probably get off on it.

Then, of course, there was football – players often shaved for sports tape.  Then along about 1983, John Travolta, fresh off “Saturday Night Fever”, removes it all for a curious dance film called “Staying Alive”. And slowly, the magazines started talking about it.

Of course, things would change.  In high schools, as well as college, competitive swimming became an established sport (and more often learning to swim could become a graduation requirement form P.E. as high schools started getting pools).  Lance Armstrong put cycling on the map – after his own testicular cancer recovery and then the later scandals.

And furthermore, people became more racially integrated, not just in schools, but socially, even in dating and marriage (and even gay marriage today).

More recently, it seems to happen a lot in Hollywood:  Justin Timberlake and Jake Gyllenhall, among others, seem to regard their male plumage as expendable for the role.  And Cillian Murphy did to play a trans person in "Breakfast on Pluto" (2006) and that's controversial. On "Days or our Lives", it seems that both Will and Sonny have trouble with losing it all the time. 
In the video, Amendola has an excuse – the taping for football (Oh, yes, the NFL starts tonight). But Rippon seems rather girlish. "He'thmooth."  Is this video a monument to gender fluidity after all?

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