Waxed: Staff writer Gavon Laessig takes a personal journey through the manscape

Gavon Laessig in before and after photos at his chest-waxing appointment at Salon Di Marco, 733 Mass. A survey from Remington indicates that 53 percent of women prefer that men undergo chest grooming.

A gorilla, a muskox and Robin Williams — three burly animals I’ve been compared to when shirtless. Frankly, I’m a hirsute man.

Aside from occasional, youthful experiments with shaving, I’ve never been a big proponent of so-called “manscaping.” It was just too hopeless. Considering my chest looks like a Joseph Conrad novel, you would need to napalm that manscape.

I’ve also avoided manscaping because I kind of took pride in a lush chest pelt. It harkened back to the days of Tom Selleck and Burt Reynolds, when men were men and women were grossed out by those men. It was a simpler time.

Basically, due to laziness and misplaced machismo, I’m quite comfortable in my hair suit. It just fits.

So when my editor passed along a recent study regarding men and their grooming habits, my shag stood on end. Apparently women don’t like hairy men. According to this survey conducted by Remington (who would have absolutely no interest in promoting shaving), 57 percent of women think poor grooming is a turnoff. Some of the findings were understandable, such as a vast majority of women disliking back and “bum” hair (“bum” being Remington’s term).

Tara Kuba, esthetician at Salon Di Marco, 733 Mass., performs a chest wax on Gavon Laessig, Lawrence. She applies talc powder first to keep the wax from sticking.

No, what was so disheartening as a fellow who proudly sports a fur jerkin is that a majority of women, 53 percent, endorse chest grooming. Granted, it’s just a bare majority (if I intended that pun, may God shave off my tongue), but in a democratic republic like ours that’s all it takes.

I was living blissfully unaware, along with the 83 percent of men in this study, and just letting my chest chia. But elections, even those in the form of a poll conducted by a nonpartial razor manufacturer, have consequences. It was my civic duty to whack the cleavage weeds. I needed something bold. I needed the help of a professional. I needed wax.

A certain stigma?

Enter the cosmetological experts at Salon Di Marco in downtown Lawrence and the steady hands of Tara Kuba. Tara is a master wax-slinger at Salon Di Marco, and she certainly had her work cut out for her.

Luckily, I have no pride or shame, so asking for the appointment and disrobing in a small room in front of a young woman didn’t really bother me. Not that it should. For some reason, more than likely because it’s perceived as “feminine,” waxing for men has a certain stigma. It’s an obviously hypocritical position on the part of men since our culture expects women to be perpetually, prepubescently hairless. Thank goodness gay men have struck a blow for equality, leveled the field, and made hairless dude-chests sexy.

Tara Kuba, esthetician at Salon Di Marco, 733 Mass., performs a chest wax on Gavon Laessig, Lawrence. She applies talc powder first to keep the wax from sticking.

On the flip side of the anti-depilatory sentiment, guys who wax their chests can be perceived as overly — oh, shall we say — “Schwarzeneggarian.” You know — those testosterone cases who work out too much and generally use liquid tan.

Another reason men don’t wax is that that they’ve all seen the scene from “The 40 Year Old Virgin” where Steve Carell gets his hair ripped off and takes Kelly Clarkson’s name in vain. After seeing his mutilated and bloody chest, most guys are just afraid of losing a nipple.

Anyway, I’m shirtless and lying on the table at Salon Di Marco. My chest hair is so long, trimming it before the waxing is discussed. I should have seen that as an ominous sign of things to come, but being foolhardy, I dismiss the trim. A pot of hot wax and a stack of tongue depressors lay on a tray next to me. A halo lamp shines an unforgiving light on my pasty flesh. I feel like a cadaver in an operating theater. It’s go time.

Let it rip

Tara powders my chest with talc, to prevent the wax from sticking to the skin, then slathers on the botanical-based goo near my collar bone. It’s hot, but certainly not scalding. She lays a cloth strip over the matted hair and wax, pats the strip firmly so the wax will cling, then swiftly yanks.

You know that sensation when you rip off a Band-Aid? Multiply that by a quantum factor of Stephen Hawking proportions. I see starbursts. My eyes bug out, and I white-knuckle the table. Rather than screaming, my first response is to start laughing. It’s a nervous reaction. Tara must think I’m a giggling masochist. I won’t lie — that hurt like a beast.

But subsequent strips aren’t nearly as bad. You build up a tolerance rather quickly. I still hold my breath and tense up before each stroke, but you get into a groove. Tara is working so quickly that you don’t have time to pause and reflect on the radical terraforming taking place just below your neck. Nipple work still snaps you to attention, however.

In only about 10 minutes, the deed is done. My chest has been deforested. In the wake of the waxing, my torso is dotted with dozens of bloody little pinpricks — collateral damage for the sake of a sleek chest. Tara adds a soothing coat of tea tree oil, and that’s that. I’m now an inflamed, pink Ken doll from the waist up.

For the rest of the day, I can’t walk for any extended period of time. The raw chest rubbing up against the fabric of my shirt is agony. It being a cold day, my “high beams” are on, which compounds the excruciating friction. I don’t complain too much, though. A lady friend of mine suggested I imagine what it would be like to get a Brazilian. Horrifying food for thought.

It’s been a few days now, and the pain has slowly morphed into itching. I’m told this is normal and should clear up before long. What won’t clear up any time soon is the doughy, shapeless physique that no longer has a follicular sweater to hide behind. If anything, this experience has taught me I need to work out. I’m a featureless tube of bloat without the chest hair. I’m pretty sure the women in that survey might reconsider their vote if they saw me shirtless right now.

Another thing I’ve learned is that women deserve our undying respect for maintaining this kind of regimen in far more sensitive areas of their bodies. Thanks to a societal double standard, I’m allowed to be blissfully gross and hairy without much consequence. Women are frowned upon in polite society if they don’t pluck and wax and shave and laser and generally slash and burn themselves. I would tip my hat to you, ladies, if it didn’t hurt so much to move my arms right now.