Who Wears Short Shorts?

** A version of this article also appears on Amateur Endurance.

So I had a friend ask me about shaving body hair before races. I thought it would make a funny article, or at the very least a mildly interesting one, so here it goes.

From what I understand about shaving, that is, cyclists, triathletes, swimmers, and other endurance athletes, shave the hair on their legs, arms, and other nether regions. Articles have been written about the pre-race rituals that swimmers do with the shaving. At the gym, you can tell the hard-core triathletes because they are completely hairless. I wonder how it increases aerodynamic efficiency when you shave your nether regions.

From the research that I’ve done through Internet searches and talking with other cyclists and triathletes, basically the only actual physical benefit to shaving body hair is that the skin heals easier IF one crashes. That’s it. So other than that, why do we shave?

I’ll speak for myself. I shave for two reasons: psychological and aesthetics.

Psychological – Basically, shaving has become part of my pre-race ritual. It builds a race tradition and becomes part of my routine. Another reason for my psyche is that you get the feeling of aerodynamic efficiency.

Aesthetics – Ok, so this is it. It’s all about personal vanity. I think it looks cool for the muscle definition. Basically for me it’s vanity. I work/worked really hard in the gym, so I don’t want my muscles, especially abs, to be covered by body hair. There. I said it.

So I actually started with waxing before I got into racing. Now that was a painful experience for the first time, à la 40-Year-Old Virgin style. For some strange genetic reason, I have very little hair on my arms and legs, but I’m the only man in my family with a hairy chest and back. In order to appreciate my efforts in the gym, I decided to remove the body from my chest, back, stomach, and shoulders about every 6-8 weeks with a wax. And those services, my friends, are not cheap, not to mention, they are not exactly pleasant either. But as my mother-in-law says: “You have to suffer to be beautiful.”

Anyways, after I got into cycling and racing triathlon, I incorporated shaving my legs. That also was not a pleasant experience as I would end up with cuts all over my legs, especially where my muscles were so huge that it was difficult for the blade to cut the hair smoothly. But again, it was mainly for aesthetics since I really didn’t have a lot of hair on my legs anyways. There was just something psychologically satisfying the day or two before a race to be hairless.

And so that brings me to the present day. For my latest triathlon, I decided to try a couple of things. I bought this hair remover gadget at the local fair. What they demonstrated at the fair was convincing, but when I tried to use it to remove the hair on my back, not so convincing. I think I had let the hairs grow too long this time, so the gadget did not remove the hair very well, leaving short stubs.

So I decided to try Nair based on my wife’s recommendation. Nair is a chemical lotion hair remover. Basically, you rub it on your skin, leave it on for about five minutes or so, and voila, the hair is dissolved. You just wipe off the residue and rinse. The Nair, despite the annoying texture and nasty smell, removes hair very well. You are left with what is better than a wax job on your skin.

Unfortunately, because I had decided to try the gadget first on my back, the Nair burned some of the skin where the gadget exfoliated, so I have a chemical burn. Anyways, I hope it doesn’t sting too much for me in the ocean during tomorrow’s race.

But I’ll be sticking with Nair. It’s cheaper, and as long as I can put up with the smell and remember not to exfoliate before using it, it definitely does a better job than waxing or shaving.

P.S. You’re not supposed to use Nair on sensitive skin areas (as in your face). For men, I wouldn’t use it either on certain male-only regions because it would sting very much!