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September 17, 2009

He Said/She Said: Should Your Guy Groom?

The era of the cuddly schlub is on the wane. But how much should he be primping? Here, two opposing views on manscaping.

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man vs woman competition

Photo Credit: Pulp Photography/Getty Images

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HE SAYS: Bring on the Mani-Pedi

When a mall-kiosk salesman snagged me by the hand and pleaded to examine my fingernails, I nearly yanked it back and asked him to examine my knuckles instead. But he held tight, showed me a fancy four-sided emery board, and quickly swore that he'd make my nails look better than ever. "Can you make them taste better?" I joked.

I've never been a man who spends much time futzing with his appearance. My half-assed version of grooming usually involves gnawing off my cuticles or smoothing my sideburns with spit. Not that I'm oblivious to the recent male grooming boom — there's a whole shelf devoted to hair gel for men at my local drugstore. But if I've learned anything from the high school locker room — besides how to inflict a nasty skin burn with the taut snap of a wet towel — it's that preening is for wusses. Real men don't take note of their nails unless, of course, there's dirt under them.

Which is why, for most of my adult life, I have resisted the intervention of products and professionals promising to tame my body's unruly edges: wild strands of earlobe hair, a furry unibrow, inexplicable patches of tumbleweed skin. But even I — a guy who once considered tattooing the flag of Ireland across the whole of his back — couldn't deny the impressive results that the mall salesman achieved from a few minutes of hard-core buffing. So I dropped $150 for five nail kits — Christmas gifts for my wife, sister, mother, and mother-in-law. I blamed miscalculation for the fifth kit — that one was for me.

That would have been the extent of my preening if not for that morning a few months later when my wife woke up with scratches all over her legs — the gruesome result of cuddling with her serrated-toe-nailed husband. She begged me to get a pedicure, and, having already dipped my square-shaped fingernails into the eucalyptus-scented water bowl, I relented.

I finally know what all the fuss is about. My feet, numb with neglect, came alive. My skin tingled, my toes tickled. I even let the pedicurist apply a clear polish called Nails for Males, which she claimed warded off athlete's foot. ("Medicinal properties? Why didn't you say so?") I won't lie — the experience was so transformative that I'm debating whether to confer real estate in my medicine cabinet to Nails for Males, right next to my spiffy emery board and an all-purpose lotion that treats everything from cracked heels to an itchy backside.

Now I'm letting the world know of my conversion — I worship once a month at a tidy nail salon called About Faces, outside Baltimore. But before readers rip out this page and wave it in front of their recalcitrant fellas, know this: I draw the line at waxes and peels — basically any procedure that has figured prominently in an episode of Nip/Tuck. I'm cool with plucking or shaving the strays between my brows (What?! We all do it!), and I don't judge a man cursed with a furry back who frequents a house of hair removal. But I can't get comfortable with the white-robe frilliness associated with those other treatments — unless, of course, they boast medicinal properties.

SHE SAYS: Depilating dudes? Hell no.

Let me just say it: Men should have hair. On their heads, if possible, but certainly on their bodies. I've heard arguments to the contrary — "a sweater should be worn, not grown." To which I respond: Who's more appealing, the ultra-depilated Brüno or his very hairy — and sexy — alter ego, Sacha Baron Cohen? Chest fur connotes virility, testosterone, bad-boy biker danger. In a rugby match pitting Liev Schreiber and Clive Owen against Matthew McConaughey and Robert Pattinson, I'm backing team one on leg hair alone. And I believe that, pretty-boy teenage vampires notwithstanding, most women are rooting along with me.

Unfortunately, men aren't hearing us. A recent survey of male college students by Gillette found that 80 percent have done below-the-neck depilation, with an even gay-straight split. And the trend isn't limited to hair removal: In recent years, male grooming has become a record-breaking, recession-proof industry — netting $23 billion a year, with a whopping 500 new products hitting the market last year alone, many with names that suggest a new Gatorade flavor or the latest breakthrough at NASA (instead of moisturizer, you're buying Energizing Hydro Gel; that's no razor, it's a BodycruZer!). Men's mags stoke the fervor with articles like "Your Grooming Cabinet," featuring the "36 best new products for men." I don't have 36 products in my "grooming cabinet," and no guy who likes girls should, either. The rule of male primping is one of simple relativity: A woman doesn't want to be with a guy who spends more time on his appearance than she does. He can get away with mousse, a splash of cologne, and the odd blob of moisturizer in winter. But hairspray is off-putting. Bronzer: Hell. No.

The irony, of course, is that most guys stock up on grooming products for one reason: women. Boys started dabbling (or swimming) in Drakkar Noir in junior high, just in time for unchaperoned coed parties. Now we've got the ubiquitous emo lover boys, Conor Oberst wannabes who expend as much time — and irony — cultivating their bed heads as they do their vinyl collections. When they're not trying to score, odds are they're trolling the Molton Brown counter at Neiman Marcus for an alpha hydroxy moisturizer with SPF, buying Aveda from the stylist who razors their bangs, or sitting in the next pedicure chair over because, in the words of a male friend of mine, "Why not?"

I'll tell you why not: Women want men to be tougher than that. Hairy, burly, sweaty, imperfect, with a hint of natural, dragon-slaying scent under the Right Guard. Besides, Mr. Hairy Toes, the nail salon is ours.


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