Are hairy men attractive or are smooth men more attractive? Opinions on this vary widely. After the beard hype, is chest hair coming back as a sign of masculinity?

“Real guys” are hairy and show it. At least that’s how it used to be in film and television. Think of “James Bond” legend Sean Connery or “Magnum” series hero Tom Selleck.

The ’90s saw the arrival of hairless lingerie models and celebrities like Mark Wahlberg and David Beckham. And today? Instagram is teeming with bare washboard bellies. On the other hand, archaic masculinity must be demonstrated again. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shows off his chest steeled in a tight camouflage T-shirt after Russia’s attack. French President Emmanuel Macron, on the other hand, posed openly with visible chest hair during the election campaign. Is a return of the broad, wild man’s breast announced in 2022 – as a counter-movement to the past decades?

“Not only the hairy man’s chest, but also the clean-shaven as part of a well-trained body is a stylization of masculinity,” says masculinity researcher Toni Tholen from the University of Hildesheim. How men deal with their chest hair – like many other things – is subject to constant, consumer-oriented change.

Is “remasculinization” coming?

The literary scholar Tholen considers it possible that “against the background of a socially and politically induced remasculinization” hair could be used more as a “dominance marker” again. In any case, the man’s chest is traditionally a central body region for modeling masculinity.

“Compared to previous decades, the male body is becoming increasingly aestheticized,” agrees psychologist Ada Borkenhagen, who is currently working on the book “Am I beautiful enough? Beauty craze and body modification» works. In the 70s, for example, hardly a man thought of taming his hair growth on his chest, stomach or back, says Borkenhagen. “Men were allowed to stay the way they are.”

It’s very different nowadays, says the professor from the Magdeburg University Clinic. At the same time there is a trend towards so-called body positivity, which wants to overcome unrealistic and discriminatory ideals of beauty. For men, for example, it’s about pride in round shapes, red hair or lush hair.

Male body hair is quite unpopular in Germany

Body hair in particular is always an issue for men. In Germany it is quite unpopular. This is the result of a representative survey by the opinion research institute YouGov on behalf of the German Press Agency. Only every twentieth finds chest hair “very beautiful” – for both women and men it is only 5 percent. There is also no significant difference between East and West. 17 percent find it “not nice at all”. The rest are quite undecided: 21 percent find a hairy breast “rather not pretty”, 11 percent “rather pretty” and 39 percent “partially/partially”. The rest didn’t specify.

A bit above average when it comes to finding chest hair beautiful are women between the ages of 35 and 44 and young men between the ages of 18 and mid-30s. Chest hair is most rejected by those in their mid-forties to mid-fifties. These are theoretically the people who were confronted with the hairy Hawaiian private investigator and crime hero “Magnum” during their childhood or adolescence in the 80s. A connection with TV sizes from this time is completely unclear.

Borkenhagen: Chance for a comeback of the chest hair

Psychologist Borkenhagen sees the wave mode of fashion as a chance for a comeback for chest hair. The hair on the chest – albeit no longer as a wild mat as it used to be – could therefore replace or at least supplement the beard as a new sign of masculinity.

Just as the full beard hype once began in the gay scene, according to the expert, the love of well-groomed and coiffed (i.e. trimmed, trimmed, cleverly shaved) chest and stomach hair could soon become a trend among heterosexuals as well. For gays, the technical vocabulary (e.g. “Happy Trail” for the hairline between the navel and pubic hair – in German the “happy trail”) seems to be more widespread.

In any case, masculinity researcher Tholen also sees the “trend towards meticulously groomed chest hair” as an indication of the stylization of masculinity. In neoliberal society, it is common practice to view one’s own body as part of ongoing self-cultivation. “You could therefore say: The trend to show more chest hair again – similar to beard hair – is incorporated into the mechanism of male self-optimization.”