From my experience, it seemed like 50% of the guys at my high school grew facial/body hair over night. I can distinctly remember a particularly earth shattering event during my freshman year PE class where all the guys were allowed to take their shirts off and I was hit with a wave of hairy reality. At the time, young men’s body hair could not have been more disturbing for me. My dad had a beard and hair on his back, like, ew. Not a single fiber of my fifteen year old being wanted to have a crush on a guy with extra hair. But, fast forward three years: I want me some hairy manly men. Did this new found love happen over night? Maybe. Was is because I saw a picture of Henry Cavil with shirtless ? Beyond likely. What got me really thinking about this was The Pub(lishing) Crawl’s post Sex in YA. While reading their discussion, I realized, there are practically NO male leads with body hair in YA. I even skimmed through a few of my favorites YA novels and couldn’t find a single mention of light stubble or tasteful happy trail. Why?
I have a few ideas, so let me try elaborate:
Age group of audience
Young Adult fiction is categorized as catering to individual’s between the ages of 12-18. While I think that is seriously narrow, it is important to recognize that your readers could be as young as twelve years old. If they were anything like 12-16 year old me, body hair on the love interests would be a serious turn off. The classic image of a fresh faced sixteen year old is clean shaven. No rugged five o’clock shadow to be found.
Age of your character
This is where you start to lose me a bit. I would like to argue that if your character is over the age of sixteen, he at least has an awkward peach fuzz mustache. Obviously, you’re writing/reading fiction. It is very much within the acceptable limits of your genre to omit details that would otherwise be present if that character were to exist in real life. Do you want your target audience to picture this young, ripped, strong-jawed Adonis with a peach fuzz mustache? Probably not. In YA, it seems that body hair is usually linked to characters of older age. It’s the trait that sets the young protagonist apart from his older counterparts.
I can see the biggest split in character traits between genres. It seems like you are much more likely to read about a hairy man in your mom’s trade paperback romance novels compared to your kick ass fantasy or contemporary. Basically, the closer the genre is to reality, the more likely you are to run into a male lead with realistic body hair. There is zero mention of faerie warriors with chest hair, or demon killers with serious happy trail. The farther you are from reality, the less you expect those characters to be like you. Why should there have to be chest hair on sexy af woodland elves? Is it really that this one, seemingly insignificant detail just doesn’t fit the tone of that genre? Would a YA fantasy novel featuring a hairy male lead be unsuccessful just because of this added detail? I almost want to say: yes.
So, what gives?
When I asked one of my best friends if she would like a male lead with body hair as much as she does to those without, she said she didn’t think so. Book boyfriend’s aren’t real. They look like perfect models in our minds – and models? 95% of them don’t feature an inch of body hair. So, what’s the real issue then. Is it because that particular element of reality does not fit the already thriving world of YA, or is it actually a very real social standard to have men with little body hair? I think it’s a bit of both. Socially, we want men that are clean shaven and absent of significant body hair. You can see why simply by the phrase I just used: “clean shaven.” I think we often associate body hair as being unclean, thinking that men that have a beard or anything more than minimal happy trail are not as clean as those who shave off that excess hair. As well, little body hair often correlates with youth. In fashion both women and men are featured with very little body hair to give the sense of youthful beauty. Extra hair comes with age, it is a very obvious example of someone’s physical maturity. Ironically enough, you would think that people would be more attracted to men with body hair. It is a great subconscious sign to our cave men brains that that person is of age and healthy. Two characteristics that would promote good genes for breeding. Have we really all just bought into the idea that less body hair is more attractive simply because it’s younger and cleaner? Maybe so.
Personally, I find men with body hair significantly more attractive than those without. (This opinion coming to you from the average straight, twenty year old, American girl) Not everyone finds that attractive – in books or in real life. But, it surprises me still. I think this might all be caused by culture. In America’s pop culture, we have a very big movement of wanting the ideal man to have more feminine characteristics. More sensitive, nurturing, caring. So, it would make sense that we would want our men to look more feminine, i.e less body hair. Stereotypically the “manly man” is emotionless, harsh, rough, and rude. You expect someone who looks rough, to be rough. Smooth muscle and clean shaven? Easier to assume that they will behave accordingly.
Whether you look at it as a product of the target age or social desires – there absence is still evident if you’re willing to look. Arguably, it can be chalked up to their name. Hairy men, not teenagers. But, my point still stands. The average age for the male lead in YA is between 17-21. Very much making them men. I can’t quite decide if the reason is because hairiness simply doesn’t fit within the rhetoric of young adult literature, or because culturally, socially, and aesthetically less hair is more attractive. I might never decide, but a sexy af woodland fairy with a well-groomed beard just might help me figure this all out.
What do you think? Would you like to see some hairy male leads? Would you rather not? Am I missing something big here? Let me know down in the comments or find me on Twitter @nerddelizzie 🙂