• Phil McAuliffe

3 things I learned growing my body hair

I regrew my body hair for the first time in over 20 years.

This is what I learned.


Hello!


You don’t seek out and then read articles about loneliness unless you’ve come to the realisation that you’re lonely. The stigma and shame you feel is real, and it takes a lot of courage to even engage with the subject.


I’m proud of you for opening this article. I recognise and admire your courage. Now that you’re here, let’s start getting you connected to yourself, those most important to you and to your community.


This article was written and published on Ngunnawal and Ngambri country. I wish to acknowledge and respect the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people’s continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of Canberra and the surrounding region. I would also like to acknowledge and welcome other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may read this post.


~ Phil

* * * * *


Fair warning before you read: this post isn’t safe for work.


I regrew my body hair for the first time in over 20 years over this past Australian winter. You may have seen my weekly updates in my Stories if you follow The Loneliness Guy on Instagram.


The rules were simple and clear: I wouldn’t shave my chest, abs, arms, pits, pubes and legs from 1 April 2022 to 30 September 2022. I’d reflect on how I felt and then write and talk about what I learned.


It’s now October 2022 and here we are. You're about to read my reflections.


Why I did it


Why I shaved

I started shaving my body in the 90s and early 2000s for two reasons: I swam competitively and – aesthetically – it was the look I liked. The models in the pages of Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness whose bodies I aspired to never had body hair.


I shaved a lot. I shaved my body twice a week in the shower. Upper body one day, lower body the next. I kept shaving it because I liked the look, and I didn’t want to go through the prickly regrowth phase of letting it grow out.


Vanity was a significant reason of why I shaved. I thought I liked my body hairless. We’ll revisit this point shortly.


When I came out to live as a gay man and separated from my wife, I started to shave my balls and hole for comfort and because I learned that I like how other guys kept their holes and balls hairless.


Connection to self


As readers of The Loneliness Guy, you know that there are three pillars of connection that inform my work. They are:


- Connection to self

- Connection to those most important to you

- Connection to community

After shaving for over 20 years, I was curious to see who I was when I let the hair grow and how connected to my body I was.


This was a connection to self experiment.


Body image blog post


In early April 2022, I published a blog about body image and recorded a podcast with Mike Campbell on the topic.


Some cogs began to whir in me in writing that blog and recording that podcast. Generally, I now have a very good relationship with my body. I’m in awe of how it works and keeps me alive and experiencing this world.



I can’t say that I’ve always had a great relationship with my physical self. For many years, I tried to hate my body into submission. I tried hard to turn it into something that it’s never going to be and was never meant to be.

A few years ago when I was learning from my own loneliness, I did an exercise that profoundly changed how I felt about my body. It's an exercise that I invite you to do as part of my Connection Starter Course when you begin exploring your connection to self.


As a result of that exercise and the profound shift I experienced, I decided to work with rather than against myself. I decided to connect with myself, rather than connect to an idea I had about how I was supposed to be. This was part of the powerful perspective shift.


So writing the post on body image planted the seed in my mind to see how I’d feel within my body when that body was covered in hair. I wanted to see how I’d connect to my hirsute self [continued below...].

 
 

What I noticed


The regrowth for the first few weeks was awful. It was itchy and my clothes stuck to me like Velcro.


Swimming with body hair feels very strange. I was acutely aware of the sensation of hair moving in water. I felt like one of the characters from this car commercial.



Running with leg hair and exposed legs feels similarly weird.


By July, I couldn’t see my nipples under the hair. That was odd. I missed seeing my nipples.

I have lots of grey hair now. LOTS of grey. I was surprised by how much grey hair I have on my shoulders, but that I don’t have much below my pecs.


I had random hair patches on my abs. They're like islands of hair.

Not shaving saved me lots of time.


I started shaving my armpits because I sweated a lot; seemingly LITRES a day. Shaving my pits helped anti-perspirant to stay where it needed to, and not run off immediately. Early in the experiment when the armpit hair returned, I noticed that I rarely sweated unless I was really nervous or was exercising hard. It feels that now that I’m living life as me – and not wearing masks – I don’t have the constant stress/anxiety within me that released through armpit sweating. This was a huge win for me.


That said, I was continually surprised when I saw my armpit hair in the mirror when doing pull-ups, chin-ups or lat pull-downs at the gym.

I enjoyed getting to see what I look like.


What I learned


Here are the three things that I learned:


1. I feel physically connected to myself. My body remains my only body, whether it’s covered in hair or not. I remain in awe of my body and how it keeps me alive and moving through life.


2. I sometimes felt that my hair was like an article of clothing that was between me and the world. I very much want to show up in my life without filters, and my body hair felt like a filter. I didn’t enjoy that feeling.


3. While I consciously posted weekly updates to Instagram, I was surprised by the amount of feedback that I received. It’s clear that body hair is something that is divisive as a point of physical attraction in the gay community. I found myself beginning to put currency on the comments I received about my body. The comments were almost universally lovely and encouraging, but I found it curious that I was again beginning to see myself and attune my perceptions of my own beauty to the way others saw me rather than how I felt.


When I realised that, I was very careful to not deliberately or accidentally crowd source opinions about whether I should keep the body hair or not.


Now that it’s October…


I did shave my chest, abs and arms on Saturday 1 October. It was an undertaking. It was also oddly satisfying to run the clippers up the length of my arms like a shearer shears sheep.


I shaved them again on Saturday 8 October. I’ve not shaved my pits or legs.


I noticed that I’m not inclined to pick up the twice-weekly maintenance sessions again. At this stage, only shaving once a week would work for me.


In terms of my thoughts and feelings on what I see, I still admire my body for what it does and how it gets me into the world as a 45-year-old.

I’ve been reflecting for the past week about how I feel about my body aesthetically. I’m not sure where I am on this, yet. That I have no strong feelings either way possibly suggests that the negative feelings I had towards my own body hair for so long have passed.


I will say that it is far easier to apply sunscreen and moisturising cream to hairless skin than it is to long hair. That may mean that I keep myself trimmed in the warmer months than in winter. Practicalities rather than my feelings and aesthetics may win out!


How about you? Have you done a similar experiment?

What did you notice? How do you feel about your body hair?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!


* * * * *


Body image triggers many in the gay community. Please, know this: you are beautiful and worthy of love and belonging, no matter how you’re shaped and how hairy/hairless you are.


You may need some help after reading this article. Please, reach out to your partner, a friend or someone in your orbit who you know is trying to put themselves into the world just like you are. That could be me through my services. That could be a therapist or a counsellor – including a crisis counsellor. That could be a coach. It could be a combination of all.


Be sure to check out my services page if you need help.


Want to chat more about the experiment? Join me for a coffee and a chat in the upcoming episode of my podcast for gay men ‘Connection over Coffee with The Loneliness Guy’ from Thursday 20 October 2022.

 

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Important notice: All views expressed above are my own/the authors and are intended to support, challenge and inspire gay men to consider the issue of loneliness and increase awareness of the need for authentic connection with themselves, with others and their communities as an antidote to chronic loneliness. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional. Please consult the Services page if you feel that you need the services of a licensed helping professional where you are in the world.


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