A Man of Infinite Chest

electriccorset copy

IN 1871, Charles Darwin published The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, and with it sparked controversy that exists to this day regarding the social, cultural, and political significance of human sexual dimorphism; ie, the physical differences (beyond reproductive organs) between developed males and females. To all that my response is, Vive La Différence! Who cares? About the social, cultural, and political significance of, for example, the human female breast? Isn’t it enough that they are what they are?

No, it isn’t enough. Not anymore. Before Darwin, humans certainly worried less about “why," and were content with “because.” In simpler times, humans were simply grateful for the secondary sexual characteristics that emerge during puberty. Well, some of them, anyway. Most would agree that axillary (armpit) hair, for example, simply can’t hold a candle to breasts (which doesn’t seem like a very good idea in general). But all those differences in human secondary sexual characteristics—breasts, body-hair distribution, muscle development, fat distribution, pelvic dimensions, overall size, weight, facial features, etc—must have evolved for a reason. And we have to know why. 

Because evolution suggests that nothing is really left to chance via natural selection. The stunning difference in the size and shape of female versus male breasts, for example, must be adaptive. There must be a practical survival advantage that selected for women with larger breasts. The question is particularly vexing because, in this case, form doesn’t follow function at all. The truth is that breasts, for all intents and purposes, do nothing but get in the way when they're not actively being put to use. No other female primates even come close to human females when it comes to relative breast size. And women with small breasts are at no disadvantage whatsoever in terms of breast feeding. So why? Why all that extra tissue? Theories abound.

My all-time favorite theory was proposed at a biology lecture I attended back during my bright college days. The topic of the hour that day focused on human sexual dimorphism in general; but, predictably, all attention turned to solving the eternally enigmatic mystery of the human breast. (Imagine, if you will, two droll professors moderating an auditorium containing approximately 400 young students with nothing but womens' breasts on their brains.) A few suggestions seemed at least plausible...sort of. I remained silent on the matter. Then one young woman rose to her feet and suggested, with a straight face, that the shape of the mature human female breast was aerodynamically superior to the relatively flat male chest and therefore breasts provided women an advantage over men when running. Several students nodded in silent agreement. None of whom, I would presume, went on to become rocket scientists. The obvious absurdities attached to that theory are far too numerous to ponder here. But decades later, a friend included me in the distribution list of an e-mail message containing a photo I dearly wish I could have produced in that lecture hall, lo those many years ago. 

I can, and will, offer visual proof positive that at high air-speed velocities, human female breasts behave more like parachutes than ballistically efficient missile heads. Thrill seekers, of course, are disposed to engage in all manner of wacky, ill-advised antics. I would certainly count nude skydiving among the stranger recreational diversions I’ve heard of. A quick online search of images using the terms “nude skydiving” will bring you up to speed on that novel fad. But clicking on this link should take you to a copy of the image I received a couple years ago that once and for all busts the breasts-as-windbreaking-missile-heads myth. (Brace yourself. The image isn’t obscene, but it is rather bizarre.)

If you’re nutty enough to remove all your clothing and jump from a perfectly good airplane, you’ll also want to make sure you get plenty of pictures of yourself on the way down…and then post them on the Internet. Terminal velocity of a human being face down in a spread-eagle free-fall dive is approximately 120 miles per hour. You can hardly devise a more figure-unflattering stunt than to subject unupholstered breasts to the sustained head-on blast of a 120-MPH “chestwind.” I would not have posted that picture.

My own theory departs somewhat from evolution and leans more toward intelligent design. In the beginning, Adam was already designed, manufactured, and deployed—a work of Godly art—when Eve went on the drawing board. The woman, of course, would necessarily bear biologically complementary design features that differed fundamentally from the man. But Eve would also have to be stacked together in such a way that Adam would want to talk to her. Knowing a thing or two about Adam, God crafted Eve with special attention to esthetics and special attributes he knew would appeal to the man. I think he saved the breasts for last. He put a lot of thought into function and nailed it the first time. Then he turned his attention to form, and decided that sometimes more is more. He took his time here, then with a twinkle in his eye, he began pumping them up, and up, shaping them gently as he went, paying special attention to symmetry and texture...stopping only when they reached perfection. Then he stepped back, hands on his hips, took a good long look, and said…”Oh yeah. That’ll work just fine.” And there you have it.

Terminal velocity of a human being face down in a spread-eagle free-fall dive is approximate 120 miles per hour. You can hardly devise a more figure-unflattering stunt than to subject unupholstered breasts to the sustained head-on blast of a 120-MPH “chestwind.” I would not have posted that picture.

Now that we’ve settled the breast issue, I’d like to turn to another vexing secondary sexual characteristic, and the crux of this article—hair. We’re all aware that the distribution of hair on males and females starts to diverge considerably after puberty. Remember, we’re talking about distribution. In general, women have just as much hair as men, it just doesn’t seem that way. The fine downy hairs on a woman’s forearms, for example, are as plentiful as the longer coarser hairs easily seen on a man’s forearms. The same with legs, etc. In fact the number of hair follicles on men and women is similar all over. 

Owing to cultural influences, we fuss quite a bit with our hair, certainly the hair on our heads. And, in the US anyway, women generally shave axillary hair and remove the hair from their legs…at least. Men shave their faces, or they don’t, or they shave their faces in any number of different ways to achieve a particular look. Some men shave their whole bodies. Except in the case of an Olympic swimmer hoping to minimize drag as much as possible, I can’t imagine why a man would denude himself of body hair. To be sure some men (and women) are embarrassingly hirsute, and I can understand their desire to trim back and avoid that conspicuous simian look. But remember Darwin. Natural selection suggests our hair, and its peculiar distribution compared with any other mammal, is a product of evolution. It is as it is for various reasons. We're just having a devil of a time figuring it all out.

Much speculation exists as to why we have hair…here and there, but not everywhere. All sorts of reasons have been proposed as to why humans have axillary hair, why men have long facial hair, why women don’t, and why men and women have…have hair… I can’t. I can’t go there, and it’s not important or relevant to this article. What concerns me most is not the natural distribution of hair in mature and maturing humans, rather it’s the strange things that happen hair-wise as we continue to age. You know what I’m talking about. 

Male-pattern baldness, for one thing; a bullet it appears I’ve dodged. Even so, how does male-pattern baldness factor into the evolutionary process? Then there’s the eyebrows. Years ago I began to notice insubordinate hairs in my eyebrows, growing to excessive lengths and breaking ranks with the others. Did ancient human males with haywire eyebrows somehow enjoy a survival advantage over those with neat eyebrows? Did females find them more attractive? I just don't see it. But I can see things getting worse.

I’ve reached a point in my life where I think, as an aging male, it is prudent to start looking for wayward hairs in places youngsters generally needn’t worry about…yet. They notice odd hair growth in their elders and think, “Eeew! Gross! Thank God that will never happen to me.” Yeah…that’s what I thought too, you ignorant whelp. You’ll get yours! And you too, missy; your string-bikini window of opportunity is smaller than you think. Trust me. So let us both enjoy your thong years for as long as we can. And then pray to God you’re able to recognize when they are over. The trip downhill is closer than you think, kids, and it is “gross.”

Years ago I began to notice insubordinate hairs in my eyebrows, growing to excessive lengths and breaking ranks with the others. Did ancient human males with haywire eyebrows somehow enjoy a survival advantage over those with neat eyebrows? Did females find them more attractive? I just don't see it.

How gross? I now find myself using multiple mirrors arranged so that I can inspect my ear canals…for hair! How does ear hair qualify as an adaptive trait in men? If everything about us is a product of natural selection—survival of the fittest and all that—how is ear hair helpful? But so far, so good for me. I’ve seen no alien hairs starting to sprout from within my ears. From within my ears. But I’d been looking for hair in all the wrong places and suffered a bit of a shock last week.

I cut my own hair. I’ve been doing so for over 10 years now. I became a do-it-yourself stylist when I began to find myself inceasingly home bound due to various infirmities. I just didn't have the energy to drag myself out to town for regular trims. So I took matters into my own hands, and (fortunately) found I have a knack for it. I’ve been my own barber ever since. But I can get lazy about upkeep, and I noticed I was getting a little shaggy last week. Our Director of Domestic Tranquility happened to be out running errands one day, I had some time to kill, so I dragged out my clippers and scissors, and I went to work. Turned out to be one of my finest efforts. (My attempts don’t always yield perfection.)

Later, as I was clearing my head and shoulders of shorn hair, I noticed a few strands about an inch and a half long that clung stubbornly at the top of my right ear. I thought perhaps I might have knicked myself and a few snipped hairs became stuck in a drop of dried blood…or something like that. I put my brush aside and commenced to flick them away with my fingers…then I plucked at them, and my ear tugged back as I pulled! Because they were growing out of the top of my ear! Eeew! Gross! Whoever heard of hair growing off the top of an ear? Believe it.

ear-hair

This man is not the author!

I had to use tweezers to yank them out. The hair at my temples and the sides of my head had grown long enough about my ears that the undiscovered hairs blended in nicely with the hair on the right side of my head. I didn’t know it until I cleaned up the sides. I had been combing those stray hairs into the hairs of my scalp! What’s truly amazing is that the Director never noticed this. In fact, I still haven’t mentioned it. (She’ll be reading this presently, and that particular cat will be out of the bag.) She’s got sharp eyeballs. Believe me, if a single nose hair pokes out of my schnoz, the Director’s the first to notice…and she will notify me. If she can spot an emerging nose hair in a dense fog at 50 yards, how did she miss three…maybe four strands of top-of-the-ear hairs…roughly an inch and a half long? While I’m at it, I’ve got another question; why me?

Well…why not me? I suppose I should count my blessings. No one else saw these hairs. I know now that I need to check the entire ear, or ears, rather than just the interior. I’m therefore well positioned to avoid any embarrassing ear-hair situations. I discovered a single short, quarter incher on top of the left ear after clearing off the right ear. All’s clear now. And truth be told, it’s easier to control a few wild hairs that are pretty easy to spot (if you know to look for them) and dispose of than it is to monitor and pluck one's inner ears. So what’s the big deal? Just one more item added to my personal grooming checklist. Still, this discovery made me feel even older than I did before I started trimming my hair that day. 

Many theories regarding evolution are interesting, and some certainly seem plausible.  No satisfactory theory exists, however, to explain latent hair growth from the tips of the human ear. Ear hair simply happens. And it doesn’t really matter why. Sometimes human traits are just arbitrary. Their reasons for being might be interesting to learn, but are ultimately of limited consequence, and devoid of evolutionary significance. 

SUPPOSE scientists, laboring mightily around the clock for many years to come, eventually unravel the true mystery behind the magnificent structure of human breasts, what would that change? Are we better off for knowing what causes rainbows? They’re pleasing to the eye. Women have breasts. And let’s be honest, they’re also pleasing to the eye. Moreover, women seem to like having breasts. They often go to great lengths to enhance their presentation, using specially engineered bras, or even resorting to elective surgery. And men like breasts on women. I certainly like breasts on women. On the other hand, I intensely dislike—and greatly resent—the unwelcome appearance of breasts on me, and I wish them gone with all my might. 

Now you know my shame, and the real reason why you’ll never catch me doing any nude skydiving. 

Copyright © 2016 – 2018 George A. Rossetti – All rights reserved.
Contents of this site, including text and media, may not be reproduced without prior written consent. 
Audio and video elements of this site are property of their respective owners and are used with permission.