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The Guardian's Tim Dowling tries out a manly chest wax

This may hurt a bit...

Once it was only women who spent hours removing 'unsightly' body hair. Now more and more men are getting in on the waxing, shaving and plucking act. Here Tim Dowling tries out a manly chest wax

Wednesday January 15, 2003 The Guardian

On hearing that increasing numbers of men are having their legs waxed regularly, my very first thought was: why? What are you fools doing? We are men! We are allowed to have hair on our legs! In fact, all the skin below the chin is maintenance-free. You don't even have to moisturise it, because you're a man. Your skin is meant to be dry and rough. By a lucky accident of birth, the beauty myth does not apply to you. Don't rock the boat. But today's man - and I'm not sure I've ever actually met this guy - does not stop, or even start with waxing his legs. He's also waxing his chest and his armpits. He's reportedly taken to walking into urban depilation clinics and asking for the full "back, crack and sack" wax, which sounds like a bad idea for all sorts of reasons. It sounds as if men are developing a positively female attitude to body hair, which is to say they are ashamed of it, when they should be ashamed of themselves. Men have always been obscenely vain, but for most of my life it was considered unseemly to be seen to be openly concerned about one's appearance. If this was fudge, it worked well in practice, and saved us lots of money in the bargain. In order to sell hair-care products to men, manufacturers had to put the shampoo and conditioner in the same bottle. In those days only big girl's blouses took two bottles into the shower, but those days are long gone.

At the Refinery, a studiedly heterosexual male grooming emporium (it's entirely staffed by women, excepting the two barbers) in Mayfair, London, full-body depilation is still rare. Hair-removal technician Verona says her clients "usually just have the eyebrows done, the chest, and the back." Not the buttocks, then? "Buttocks? No. The lowest I've gone is about there," she says, indicating a point on her thigh, about as low as you could sport your waistband and still be said to be wearing your trousers. "I've had one underarm, which was quite interesting," she adds. "He just didn't like the feel of it."

Verona is keen to remove my back hair. It would be safe to say that most women do not like back hair on men, to the point that they find it less attractive than a man who is vain enough to have a standing appointment for its removal, but I don't have any back hair. I have some chest hair which I suppose could be described as expendable, but I am not that keen on having it ripped off. I am quite literally attached to it. I don't even want to take my shirt off in case it starts a train of events I can't stop, but Dave the photographer is set up, ready to go and calling for pain. I remove my shirt and lie down in a tiny little treatment room. Here we are, two gentlemen and Verona, and a chip fryer full of hot blue wax.

"It hurts, doesn't it?" I say.

"Yeah, it's pretty painful," says Verona, "but the more you have it done, the more you're body gets used to it."

She dusts my chest with talc, and then applies the molten wax with a popsicle stick. She presses a sheet of paper over it, and pulls. There is a shredding sound, and a pain which feels like someone pulling your chest hairs out. I wince elaborately without making a sound, like Charlton Heston being whipped in a biblical epic. There seems little point in behaving stoically while I'm undergoing a beauty treatment, as if I'm the John Wayne of hair removal, but the pain's not so bad, not really.

Except that she's only done about three square inches. She continues pressing and pulling, working from left to right, moving my chin from side to side to keep it out of the way of her flashing hands. It takes about 10 minutes of additional yanking to do both nipples and the bit in between. Then she goes over the spots she missed. Like any kind of good torture, it gets worse as it goes on. When she's finished my chest is red, raw and utterly denuded.

It is at this point that I find out that a standard chest wax also includes the hair in the delicate umbilical region, right down to the waistband of your smalls. Opinion is divided as to whether this is strictly necessary. Verona says her boyfriend just has his chest done and leaves this area be, which she thinks looks quite cute. I'm with Verona's boyfriend on this, but the photographer is insistent that I have the full wax; he thinks it will be really photographic. He wins. During this part of the procedure, I allow myself to cry out. It is probably the most painful thing I have undergone voluntarily.

The whole exercise takes about 20 minutes, costs £30 and leaves me looking like a boiled rabbit. Verona tells me not to apply any perfume for a while. OK, I say, getting dressed.

Soon it stops hurting and starts itching. Later on I will come out in little red dots.

Verona says I will remain hairless for four to six weeks, which I find slightly alarming. What's the point of a grown man walking around with a bald, pre-adolescent torso? I'm nearly 40 - who am I likely to fool? To be honest, there wasn't that much chest hair there in the first place, but without it I feel denatured and vulnerable, not to mention oven-ready.

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