Body Depilation in Males: A New Body Image Concern?

Article excerpt

Key Words: body hair removal, body image, body depilation

Removing body hair is not new in western cultures. However, historically this behavior has been culturally sanctioned primarily for females (Tiggemann & Kenyon, 1998). Men, conversely, have not been noted as hair removers, perhaps because the presence of body hair has been indelibly associated with masculinity (Basow, 1991; Basow & Braman, 1998; Lewis, 1987; Tiggemann & Kenyon, 1998). In one of the few studies to explore attitudes about body hair, Lewis (1987) found that the presence or absence of body hair generally does not affect men's masculine identity. In a more recent study, Basow and Braman (1998) examined attitudes of both male and female college students to identify the cultural reactions to women who did not remove their body hair. Both males and females made negative attributions toward females who did not remove hair; unfortunately, male hair removal was not evaluated in this study. Naturally, society is central in determining "culturally appropriate" behaviors such as the acceptability of body hair removal or reduction for one or both sexes. Therefore, while body hair removal might be simply the acceptance of socialized norms for females, it is a rejection of those norms for males. An evaluation of the factors underlying male body hair removal might contribute uniquely to an understanding of male appearance concerns and body image.

Body image research has traditionally focused on the concerns of females (Thompson, 1990). However, in recent years, it has become apparent that men also have issues with appearance. Research indicates that men's body image concerns may center around different aspects of appearance than women's, with a focus on muscularity rather than thinness (Thompson, Heinberg, Altabe, & Tantleff-Dunn, 1999). For instance, Thompson and Tantleff (1992) found that men desired a larger and more muscular chest size than they currently possessed. Pope, Gruber, Choi, Olivardia, and Phillips (1997) suggested that men's obsession with muscularity might approximate pathological levels. These researchers found that some bodybuilders met criteria for a body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). BDD is a somatoform disorder found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 1994) with the essential feature being an excessive preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in appearance, which causes significant distress or impairment in functioning. Common complaints include localization on the body such as a wrinkle on the face or the shape and/or size of the nose; however, the criteria also allow for a simultaneous focus on several body parts. Therefore, the possibility of "hair growth" considered to be excessive at various body sites is not beyond this diagnosis. Phillips and Diaz (1997) suggested that cultural norms and values might influence the content of BDD symptoms such as the particular site or aspect of body concern.

The recent surge in interest in men's body image was the basis for the current investigation. Anecdotal reports from various sources had suggested the presence of a potentially new form of body image concern that might warrant investigation: men's removal of body hair from atypical body sites. Popular press accounts have superceded empirical examinations of this phenomenon (Gomes, 2001; Smith, 2000; Stuever, 2000). Such accounts and anecdotal cases suggest that body depilation may occur not only in athletes, predominantly bodybuilders and swimmers, but also in a broad cross-section of men in society. An initial exploratory investigation was undertaken to examine some qualitative and quantitative facets of this relatively new body image phenomenon. Specifically, the goals of this initial study included seeking information from participants on (1) their frequency of depilation, (2) reasons behind their engaging in this behavior, (3) the methods used to reduce and remove hair, and (4) social and affective correlates of depilation to determine whether there might be conceptual similarities to body image disturbance. …