A collage of three greek statues holding razers, one has a hairy chest.
Collage: Cathryn Virginia | Photos: via Getty Images

Where Did All the Male Body Hair Go?

"These days a proud display of chest hair seems rarer than a fur coat at a PETA protest."

Cosying up to a soft, warm, hairy chest after a long day may be one of life’s simple pleasures, but these days a proud display of chest hair seems rarer than a fur coat at a PETA protest. Many people blame reality TV shows like Love Island and The Only Way is Essex, but are these shows really the driving force of hair removal? Or, as the name suggests, are they just reflections of our modern reality?  


Firstly, research really does back up the idea that male body hair is on the out. A study from Mitel in 2018 found that as many as 46 percent of all men removed hair from their bodies, up from just over a third in 2016. The lack of love for chest hair specifically is clear, too. In 2021, a study by YouGov Body Image found that only a third of Brits think men look better with “somewhat hairy chests”, while a lowly four percent think men look best with “very hairy” ones. Back hair got even more hate, with 62 percent of people deeming it full on unattractive – yeesh.

But we certainly aren’t the only hair-conscious era: Even cavemen used to shave off their hair with sharpened rocks or seashells, to prevent insects from nesting. The ancient Egyptians were arguably the first to shave for less practical reasons and the ancient Greeks deemed body hair, like chest hair, downright ugly. You only have to look at statues in the V&A museum – or the equally iconic Trafford Centre – to see proof that chest hair was excluded from the Greek ideal of beauty.


Sure, a big bush on all fronts made a comeback between the 70s and 90s, in a proud, testosterone-fuelled nod to sexiness. But the 1994 coining of the term “metrosexual”, when men became more interested in grooming, could be seen as the turning point for the hairy demise. Naturally, fashion trends come and go, so is a hairy chest out for good or are we just growing with the flow? 

“In 2016, I spent £600 on laser hair removal for my chest and stomach - the process was fucking painful,” says Jamie, 40, who chose to remain anonymous for privacy, like others in this piece. “I got a salon recommendation from my sister, because this wasn’t a talked about thing with any of my male peers. It was something I wanted to keep private.”

Why? As an actor, Jamie felt a pressure to fit in with the industry’s beauty expectations. “I guess you could say I was ‘follically blessed in the chest’ and whenever I took my shirt off people’s reaction – both personally and professionally – would be, ‘Oh my god, I did not expect that, wow your hair!’” he says. “I once had a fellow actor tell me I needed to get ‘rid of that shit’ when I was on a job. People’s expectations started to get in my head.”

Marianna Vlachos, a senior practitioner at Pulse Light Clinic believes men have become more image-conscious with the rise of social media. “A lot of men are just as image-conscious as women,” she says. “Male grooming has become an entrenched part of modern culture, and a great deal of men see hair removal as a way of maintaining their look or image.” She notes there’s been a significant rise in men wanting laser hair removal – her clinic sees 80 to 100 men per week. 


Jamie agrees that social media – and reality TV – has played into perceptions of the male body in recent years. “People put stuff on social media isn’t always the reality of their situation. I definitely felt  pressure to adhere to an aesthetic,” he says. “Initially I wanted everything gone completely, but it’s grown back slightly and I'm actually glad. I've grown to like my hair, but I do feel more confident that I have less of it.” 

Then there’s the partner preference debate. Yeliz Delbi, director and beautician at HB Therapy for 17 years, says some men come to her because their partners have requested it. “Though the most common reason is because they’re going on holiday,” she says. “‘Men often come in for a back, chest or sometimes even leg wax. Men make up 35 percent of my clientele now, which is a big change to when I first started.”

Why I Love Hairy Men

But do women actually prefer hairless chests? Jamie says his partners enjoyed stroking his chest more when he had hair. The YouGov Body Image study found the biggest haters of chest hair were actually men themselves – with 31 percent of men thinking men look better with very/somewhat hairy chests, compared to 40 percent of women.

Engineer Tom, 29, has been shaving his chest hair for just over ten years and insists he shaves very much for himself. “I feel a little bit dirty when it’s long and uncut, in the same way I would if I had messy head hair or my beard was out of shape,” he explains. “Occasionally if I’ve let it grow long and had a couple of buttons undone, I get comments that I’m trying to show off my hairy chest. I do think it’s a little odd that people take notice of it, but I never felt pressured.” 


Tom actually feels shows like Love Island are great for making male grooming more accepted. “I’m so far removed from the ‘Love Island culture’, but I do think it’s good those shows are normalising males taking care of their bodies and the way they look,” he says. “I think it’s important to look and feel good in the skin you’re in regardless of gender.”

But Love Island and heteronormativity aside, there’s a long history of changing attitudes to hair in the gay community, too. Chest hair can be a symbol of masculinity and testosterone, but after the AIDS crisis many men morphed their physiques through bodybuilding – then got rid of their body hair to enhance their muscles. By the late 80s, the subcultures of bears, twinks and cubs took off: Bears typically means lots of body hair and celebrated bigger bodies, whereas twinks are celebrated for being more youthful and hairless.

“I can be described as a twink, but I don’t feel pressure to remove hair because of this,” says Czech Republic-based David, 28, who started plucking hair from his armpits at 15 and chest at 21. “I just personally like the look and feeling. I put on my favourite podcast and spend 25 minutes in the bathroom doing something which makes me happy in the long run.”

Whether you’re into the Geek Adonis aesthetic or not, it seems like the look is here to stay for a while. That’s not to say we won’t swing back into Big Bush Energy at some point, but the rising use of laser might mean those who can successfully achieve it will be few and far between. Whether that gives you a chance at becoming a statue in the V&A, though, is for history to decide.