I am forever trying to convince potential models to grow back their natural body hair for a shoot. Or to let their screamingly shrill muscle mass breathe with some sensual softness.
‘Oh yeah, I know, you like guys with body hair ’ some say wearily, like I'm the one with the peculiarity, to which I reply ‘ no, it’s not that I like body hair, it’s that I like a model to be themselves, whether they have a lot of body hair or little body hair, so that I can capture their intrinsic beauty, without personal fashionable adulteration.”
I am constantly having the same discussion, arguing they will actually look more amazing in shots if they relinquish just a little of their fad-driven image dysmorphia, because it’ll seem like they look great without obsessing about it. And that is key, both in real life and in creating an evocative image. A relatively natural looking handsome man will always appear sexier simply because there is an implied nonchalance about his beauty, a manly modesty which is more endearing than the self-consciousness of the taut manicured man who clearly relentlessly hones himself in front of a mirror for several hours a day. There is something emasculating about vanity. It is not part of our myth of the man.
Despite what fashion says, people still respond emotionally to the genetic variations in beauty that men naturally have, and don't actually have the same kinds of attraction to overly manufactured homogenised bodies.
I was laying on a beach one day next to a group of very well presented young gay men who obviously spent a lot of time at gym, on their diets and supplements, and on finessing their bodies in every way known to cosmetics and non-invasive surgery, then presenting them in the latest glamorous beach fashion. I was within earshot and I could hear them when, along the water’s edge in front of them a man came jogging. He was handsome but dishevelled, wearing an old pair of faded sagging football shorts, with longish wet lank hair, a chunky body, a hairy chest and a slight stomach paunch. He was completely oblivious to the attention he got when he ran by and every man in the group next to me loudly and competitively strutted, swooned then lamented the fact they never seem to find themselves a real man like that. Except that each and every one of them could have been as alluring as that man, if they could relax.
Evolution has conspired over thousands of years to give each man his greatest appeal to assist in his hunting for a potential mate, just as he physically matures into manhood. Fashion has interfered with this in various ways over the years but never in a more destructive way that it does now. While young men are at their most insecure and vulnerable, finding their place in the world, fashion requires them to remove or inhibit every genetically sensual part of their natural selves, to completely redesign their structures without reference to their natural advantages, to reduce themselves to exact copies of each other, plastic androids.
There’s nothing wrong with a body makeover. It would be disingenuous of me to suggest that the gym and fitness industries aren’t a marvellous opportunity for us all to hone for ourselves fit proportioned bodies that can instil a healthy self-confidence. And if you are a man that feels they have been cheated in the stature department, overly blessed with body hair, or blessed in the wrong places, then there are plenty of ways to make adjustments that don’t entirely eradicate the natural you.
But the fashion today is for extreme makeover, without regard to nature's myriad aesthetics. And let’s face it, not everyone is equipped to be the objective art director of their own look! So half the time many young men don’t even know why they don’t like their body, or why they don’t think it’s big enough or defined enough, or why they don’t like their natural body hair, even when it is sparse or hardly noticeable, except that they are embarrassed by it, and egged on by their peers to remove it. All of it. Wherever it exists below their chin.
Over the years I have been shooting I have been noting people's reaction to my photographs of the male, and the ones that always beguile them, and me, are photos of men who, for one reason or another, seem like they hardly even know they are extraordinarily beautiful, or who appear relaxed in their attitude or good humoured. When a beautiful man appears to be carefree and fairly unselfconscious, people are attracted. There is strength in his relaxed self-acceptance.
I seek to reflect this story of men because it is the one I have observed and the one I find most enchanting and the most truthful about what a beautiful man is. It's the story of a man who's strong enough to be an individual, to resist being a slave to fashion, to what other people dictate, to stand out as different, and to therefore be courageous. It's the story of a hero, an everyman hero. It's unspoken but understood even by the most flagrant fashionista, despite themselves. People are conditioned to fashion from a very early age, but they never can quite depart from a story that is older than consumer fashion. It is the poetry of male beauty.
As a photographer I seek to record this poetry in all its' richness. I would much rather have a man that is beautiful in one of millions of ways to begin with than someone too corrupted with fashion bias. If I'm trying to shoot something that's timeless, I want to work with a subject that fits seamlessly into the story that I want to tell about masculinity. If everyone is trying to look the same, there’s not much of a story to tell, and no poetry. It's a hackneyed cliché but it's so true that 'variety is the spice of life'.
We should be celebrating our uniqueness. And differences.
Let me know if you agree or have any comments about manscaping below in the comments.