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Life out here by Bret Kofford: Kids: Don't eat those Tater Tots!

March 20, 2002

The female health club employee came into the gym to take photos of the basketball players in action. My multi-tattooed friend/basketball rival Ike acted like he was going to take off his shirt for the photographer.

Being nothing if not a sixth-grade mentality copycat, I did the same.

"You're going to have to take off that other shirt, too," Ike said with a visible mix of surprise and disgust after spying what I had under my T-shirt. "The hair one."

I cursed my father. Years of instruction from dad and dutiful following by a compliant son had made me a social pariah. And this was far from the first time I had been socially outcast because of my body hair.

How society had changed. How Pop had led me to a life of social condemnation in this new millennium.

"Eat your peas," Pop would say. "They'll put hair on your chest."


"Eat your soda crackers," Pop would say. "They'll put hair on your chest."

"Eat your Fish Sticks and Tater Tots," Pop would say. "They'll put hair on your chest."

"Eat your Beef Stroganoff Hamburger Helper," Pop would say. "It will put hair on your chest."

"Are you sure you want that last piece of chicken?" Pop would say.

As a lad I knew no one knew any more about body hair than this guy. He ate everything in sight and had hair everywhere, except the top of his noggin, so his philosophy seemed to be accurate. Not only did he have a bearskin rug on his chest, he had a wolverine pelt on his back, a raccoon tail coming out of his nose and a couple hamsters coming out of his ears.

My dad loved his everywhere hair. He thought it spoke to his manhood, as did his snakeskin cowboys boots, his leisure suit and his fat money clip.

And in those days, the glory days of the 1960s and '70s, having a preponderance of body hair was considered a sign of machismo, a sign of virility. The remarkably hirsute Burt Reynolds posed nude on a bearskin rug in Cosmopolitan and became an even bigger star as a result. Other stars in those days had hair popping up through the unbuttoned tops of their shirts and the cuffs of their shirts. We're talking real men — Mike Connors on "Mannix," James Garner on "The Rockford Files," Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly on "Hollywood Squares," and later, Tom Selleck on "Magnum P.I." In the disco era of the '70s, nothing was considered sexier than a man with a wild chest of hair and a shirt open to his waist who had gotten an "A" in his Hustle class.

I remember when I got my first chest hairs at age 16 or 17. It was a proud time. For months I would wear a nearly mesh shirt to school a couple times a week, hoping someone might notice my march into manhood.

My classmates finally told me they were tired of seeing my "flabby chest" through my "stupid mesh shirt," never mentioning either of my chest hairs. I was not discouraged, though, because I knew I was getting on a glorious path.

Eventually, armies of hair invaded my chest and colonized all of it, even setting up populous settlements into the southern hemisphere of my stomach and sparsely settled outposts on the northern poles of my arms, back and shoulders.

My dad through heredity had given me bad knees, a tendency toward roundness and male pattern baldness. But through his sage words alone he had given me plentiful body hair.

My father had given the same advice about eating well to get hair on the chest to all his children, including my sister, and even though all of us boys were healthy eaters, the practice only paid big dividends with me his youngest son. (Well, it worked well for his daughter, too, and I'm proud to say my sister has found a carnival life is a good life.)

But just as I reached full body hair bloom, body hair became repugnant in our society. Hairy men were considered "gross," "disgusting," "sweaty," "animalistic" and "Dan Hedaya-esque." Vain men started shaving their chests to attract the newfangled chick of the '90s. (I know that because I watch "Blind Date.") By the mid-1990s I had stopped wearing tank tops because I didn't want people to look at me and say, "And we thought we would have to go to the San Diego Zoo to see the simian display."

Many factors might be cited for such condemnation, but I blame this whole change in modern society's sensibilities on that Rico Suave guy (though I have to admit I blame most of our societal ills on that Rico Suave guy). The sentiment already was starting to sway against hairy guys, and then he turned the world against us for the foreseeable future as day after day on television he would bust all his dance moves with his six-pack stomach and baby-butt-smooth chest (not that I found him attractive or anything). Suddenly it was no longer popular to resemble our ancestors, the Johnsons, the Wilsons, the Neanderthals.

And the tide has not come back in for hairy men. I'm sure the current generation of dads now tells its portly little offspring, "Eat that Happy Meal, Justin, and it will surely keep the hair off your chest."

Let's hope that his dad's advice doesn't turn Justin into the social pariah it did me.

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