The anecdote about how the hairy-chested Ernest Hemingway in 1937 burst into an office at Scribner to confront Max Eastman celebrates the bravado a hairy chest can bring.
Eastman had written an essay called “Bull in the Afternoon” that eviscerated Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon and posed the following challenge to Papa: “Come out from behind that false hair on your chest, Ernest. We all know you."
In person, Hemingway bared his chest and asked Eastman whether the hair was false before he insulted Eastman’s hairlessness. Hemingway then knocked the critic in the face with a book containing the riposte.
So did my middling pilosity make me less vigorous? And more to the point: was I to wither away a pasty weakling?
It depends on your outlook. Of course, the loss of body hair was a distinguishing evolutionary feature when human beings departed from our primate brethren. Body hair kept us warm, and we lost it for specific advantageous evolutionary reasons.
One prominent theory, according to Dr. Mark Pagel of the University of Reading in England and Dr. Walter Bodmer of the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, holds that human beings rid themselves of body hair to avoid fur-infesting parasites. The lack of fur passed through natural selection and onto sexual selection, where those who weren’t prone to fleas and ticks were deemed to have a higher fitness.
As confirmed by Markus J. Rantala at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, human beings veered toward bare skin when the cost-benefit analysis favored having "fewer parasites" over a "warming, furry coat." To boot, Cambridge University zoologist Charles Goodhart postulated that because men preferred the “hairless trait” in women, they passed along the trait to their offspring, both male and female.
Today’s use of hair-removal products—among both sexes—demonstrates the hands-on continuation of the human striving for hair-free bodies. Far from a Neanderthal, maybe I am an evolved modern man.
Tastes evolve. If we look at the manly archetype of James Bond: contrast the Sean Connery of the ’60s, with a chest like the coat of a Welsh ram, to the waxed Daniel Craig of today’s films. The world has embraced smooth pecs as debonair. Even bombshell model Kate Upton campaigns for guys to keep a hairless chest in a new ad from Gillette’s “What Women Want” series.
But the hairy chest is still often associated with machismo. This past summer brought the appearance of a $3,000 Man-Fur Coat made from discarded male chest hair. The fashion statement was created by the British arm of global dairy company Arla.
The coat was apparently supposed to help promote Arla's new Wing-Co. chocolate dairy drink, with 40 percent more protein than average chocolate milk. The idea is to “man up” by getting the proper intake of nutrients so you can demonstrate macho phenotypical characteristics.