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Poldark is a hairo for ‘real men’

I have a confession to make. I hate period dramas. The heaving of the bosoms, the rapscallion anti-hero flailing about, the liberal use of lace. But I was cheered by the news that Poldark has been re-commissioned for a second season after hitting viewing figures of 8.1 million.

What am I happy about? Certainly not the prospect of more quasi-fan-fiction articles speculating on actor Aidan Turner’s love life. But because Poldark, with his “because he’s worth it!” waves of hairy locks and bum fluff chest, has entered the heart-throb Olympics and has come out with a gold medal. He represents a new breed of hairy #realmen.

It marks a welcome change in the male sex symbol status quo, where the lacquered torsos of David Beckham, Mark Wright and Ryan Gosling have seen “hotness” being equated with looking like a 10-month-old baby.

Burt Reynolds in Deliverance in 1972. Photograph: Everett/REX Shutterstock/Everett/REX Shutterstock

Understandably, the idea of the “furry sex symbol” will, for some, always have associations with that deceptive, fusty decade: the 70s, the trend currently permeating fashion and TV. Think Burt Reynolds in Deliverance or Gene Hackman’s cranky cop in The French Connection. The hirsute eye candy of the 70s was representative of the era’s unwashed and unfiltered frisson of dangers lurking in the shadows. It was about an outlaw masculinity mixed with an outdoorsy sensibility.

Freddie Mercury on stage at LiveAid. Photograph: Nils Jorgenson/Rex Features

But somewhere in the 80s – possibly when Freddie Mercury’s spider creep of torso hair stole the show at Live Aid and Alec Baldwin’s upper body fur coat vied with Joan Cusack for Best Supporting Role in Working Girl – hairiness became deeply uncool. Unless you were Madonna in the bathroom scene from Desperately Seeking Susan, being young and free was also about being hairless.

Consequently for the “hairies” among us it was best if we covered our grotesque yeti-like form, unless we were willing to back, crack and Immac our way to social acceptability. There was never one specific Damocles moment at school, I just had a general sense of unease and that hairiness was not the body type norm. In changing rooms I was alwaysfearful of revealing my secret that – shock, horror – I have body hair!

A hairless David Beckham on pitch during a World Cup qualifier in 2009. Photograph: Tom Jenkins

So thank goodness for Poldark. He has shown the world how that it’s possible to be a hairy sex symbol and not look as if you’re about to be cast in the new Guy Ritchie flick. This newly realised hairy archetype has moved on. He’s urbanised and deceptively well groomed (Poldark himself is a member of the guyliner clan), echoing something GQ’s style director Robert Johnston tells me. “The popularity of the beard has made being hairy more acceptable – but it’s a different kind of hairy,” he explains. “Beards are now styled to an inch of their lives and similarly Poldark’s chest hair is so obviously clipped.”

Johnston traces the rise of this post-metrosexual hairy male as far back as 2002 when Tom Ford joined YSL and brought out the M7 aftershave. The adverts featured a nude model who had a few more hairs on him than Michelangelo’s David. “Suddenly everyone was like: ‘Look, he’s hairy!’”

An advert for Yves Saint Laurent’s M7 aftershave

While the ripple effects of that were perhaps not felt overground, it does feel as if Poldark could usher in a new era for us hairies. Best case scenario: being hairy is no longer equated with a retroactive thuggishness and blocking up the drain. Most likely scenario: I don’t have to call ahead to warn everybody that I might come into the office wearing a short-sleeved shirt.

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