Monday, April 29, 2013

Naked or à poil?

Some years ago,  I read a best-selling (but apparently not very scientific) book called The Naked Ape, in which the author, Desmond Morris, made a number of titillating claims about the differences between homo sapiens and the other great apes.  Among these was the notion that the breasts of human females are preternaturally large in order to appeal continuously (rather than cyclically, as is the case with other apes) to the human male, who in order to cope with such perpetual stimulation, has therefore been equipped by nature with a disproportionately large and intractable penis (an assertion belied by the painting to the left).

But I am not going to talk about breasts or penises, so if that's what you were expecting, you can stop reading now.

What interests me today is Morris's teasing assertion that human beings are "naked," i.e., hairless.  That, of course, is good marketing but utter nonsense--because no matter how frequently we depilate, shave, pluck or submit to the agonizing indignity (both corporal and financial) of a Brazilian Wax, we remain quite subject to (and obsessed by) body hair.  OK, not as much body hair as adorns a baboon or a gorilla--but quite enough to belie the title of hairless or "naked."

And my goodness, how we fiddle with and fuss about that hair!  Too much, too little, too gray, too dark, too straight, too frizzy, too too too.

It seems that human attitudes toward hair hinge upon three main concerns--the solutions to which vary according to culture, era, and individual:  1) how much hair is acceptable?  2) where is that hair acceptable? 3) what appearance should that acceptable hair assume ?

Well, of course, everybody knows all of this, so there's no point in belaboring the obvious.  What I would like to do, in the remainder of this post, is provide some visual evidence of humanity's hair obsession:

How much?  Well, most cultures insist that nature has afforded Morris's "naked" ape too much hair.  Consequently, almost all civilizations have insisted upon limiting at least some body hair.

But where?  This seems to be a matter of wildly fluctuating opinion.  Still, a few "near" constants obtain: by and large, humans find cranial hair not only acceptable but desirable (never mind the self-inflicted baldness of monks and certain basketball players.)

Opinions about hair in other places seem to diverge according to culture and, sometimes, gender:  underarms? legs? face? pubes? anus?  They say that Julius Caesar had every hair on his body plucked regularly (his cranial hair disappeared of its own accord)--which probably made him acceptable to no one except, post facto, Desmond Morris.

And finally, if unlike Caesar, we have some remaining hair (body, cranial, facial)--and most of us do--what appearance should we give the various clumps of the stuff we have chosen to retain?  This is the "hairiest" of the questions, isn't it?, because hairstyles vary as wildly as cultures and fashion trends.  Short, long, wavy, straight, bangs, stubble, bedhead, sideburns, goatees, mustaches, bouffants, pageboys, pony-tails, mohawks, cornrows, etc.  And what color?  Blond, brunette, redhead, rinsed, bleached, highlighted, blahblahahahaha.

No, Mr. Morris:  we are definitely NOT naked apes.  On the contrary, we love passionately our various snatches of hair--even more (I'm sure of this, given the money we spend on hair-care) than our preternaturally large breasts or even our large intractable penises.  In fact, we rely upon and use the little bit of hair that we have to keep those breasts and penises stimulated and working properly.  No, no, no, we are never really "naked,"sir--instead, let us say that we are sometimes (the best of times), as the French correctly put it, à poil. 

No comments:

Post a Comment