It’s no secret to those who know me that I have a preference for hirsute men. My husband keeps a small beard most of the time because he knows I like it. He also has hairy arms, sideburns, and a chest full of dark, snuggle-tastic hair. He’s beautiful.
In particular, it’s all about the hairy chest for me. I don’t know where this preference originates. I wonder whether it’s primal, part of my DNA, harkening back to the days when hair was necessary to warmth and survival. Maybe it’s because chest hair, peeking out from the crevices of a shirt, is mysterious and alluring. Maybe it’s because I’m hairy, too. Maybe it’s because chest hair eventually leads to this thing called, um, a happy trail.
Maybe. Maybe it doesn’t matter. I like hairy chests and I cannot lie.
There was a time in our culture when you didn’t see a lot of hairy chests. Beefcakes were smooth and waxed. My Ken doll never had hair squiggles down there or anywhere. Male models are almost always hairless. Brad Pitt, arguably the biggest heartthrob of my teenage years (the 90s), was hairless and sweaty in Fight Club. And remember the famous waxing scene from The 40-Year-Old Virgin?
Thankfully, things have been changing of late. First there was Wolverine, then Don Draper, then all the fellas in Anchorman. And if the latest Superman movie is any indication, hairy chests may be back in a big way.
I don’t want to toot my own horn (toot toot), but I think I may have had a hand in this Hairy Chest Revolution. If I may be so bold: I’m pretty sure Mark Ruffalo and I kept the momentum going.
Let’s rewind a few years, back to 2011. I was a youngin’ then, not even in New York for a year. The actor Mark Ruffalo was coming to New York City to participate in a Times Talk at the New York Times. The talk was going to be centered on his upcoming directorial debut, Sympathy for Delicious.
Now, I’ll just admit right up front that I really really really like Mark Ruffalo*. I like him as an actor. He was excellent in Zodiac and Shutter Island and We Don’t Live Here Anymore and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and more. He’s Oscar nominated. He also starred in one of the best worst movies of all time. So my wanting to go see him talk was purely out of intellectual curiosity for his craft and had nothing whatsoever to do with this photo:
Anyway, I bought tickets. I arrived at 4:30pm for a 6:00pm show. I was first in line. Actually, I was the only one in line for about 45 minutes. Because I was there so early, security wouldn’t let me into the building. It was April, the air still chill. I wondered when everyone else would arrive, certain they wouldn’t get a seat.
Those losers, I thought, shivering on the sidewalk.
By the time the doors opened at 5:30, my husband had joined me, and there was a respectable line down the block. The ticket takers wrangled us. I ran into the auditorium, down to the front. I was a few feet from the stage, rapt.
My husband found me in the first row. “You didn’t have to run,” he said, panting.
The lights dimmed, an announcement made. Enter stage left, the Mark Ruffalo, dapper and lit up and waving like he knew us. We cheered. I think I giggled. Then he sat down and the reporter started in with questions.
For the next hour, I paid attention to the interview, invested in what he had to say. Truly, I did. He talked about his upbringing in Virginia Beach, his brain tumor, and his anti-fracking efforts. He talked about how he co-wrote the script for Sympathy for Delicious with his best friend, who also starred in the film. Talk turned to his upcoming role in The Avengers, starring as The Hulk. It was all fascinating. Mark Ruffalo appears to be a wonderful human being.
But in another part of my brain, a ticker tape ran: I’m ten feet from Mark Ruffalo. I’m ten feet from Mark Ruffalo. I’m ten feet from Mark Ruffalo.
About an hour into the interview, the reporter announced that she would be taking questions from the audience. Questions! From the audience! Microphones were set up in the aisles and a few folks lined up in an orderly fashion.
My husband turned to me. “You’re going to ask a question, aren’t you?”
“I don’t have a question.”
But then the oddest thing happened. I stood up anyway. Without knowing what I was going to say or do, I moved to line up behind a microphone like the others. I couldn’t feel my legs. I couldn’t even see Mark Ruffalo anymore. A bright, shining light guided me up the aisle.
As I floated from my seat, it occurred to me exactly what I needed to say to him. I needed to tell Mark Ruffalo something very, very important. He needed to hear this message on behalf of humanity.
I was up. His eyes turned to me. I swallowed before finding my voice.
“Hi, um, this isn’t so much a question as a request. Um, could you please, when you’re playing The Hulk, not shave your chest?”
The audience snickered. I saw my husband sink down in his seat.
Mark Ruffalo, after a brief moment of what might have been shock, said, “Marvel, do you hear that?”
But I was serious. I stayed right where I was and made a stern face.
This was no longer just about his attractiveness or my preferences. This was about a hairy chest revolution. It was about letting hair be free. Not hiding it. Not conforming. Celebrating it. And what character better embodies that kind of natural freedom then a guy who can’t control his anger and turns green?
Seeing that I wasn’t going to budge, Mark Ruffalo said, “Um, that’s really not up to me.”
This is where is got a little awkward.
Because after he said that, I still didn’t move. I made another face – this time, something along the lines of How could you? Mark Ruffalo, being the kind man that he is, either didn’t like to see me in so much distress, or he just wanted me to step away from the microphone
He acquiesced. “I won’t shave my chest.”
“OK. Thank you,” I said.
“Cause it doesn’t feel good,” he added.
Someone in the audience shouted out, “This is New York,” as though that explained the likes of me.
“It’s New York,” he said. “That’s right. I won’t shave my chest because it’s New York. OK.”
“Thank you,” I repeated. I backed away from the microphone, my chest hair hostage-taking a success.
“All right. I gotta live up to that.”
(By the way, you can listen to the whole exchange here. I’m about one hour and 25 minutes in, during the questions portion.)
I sat back down. “I had to do that,” I said to my husband. “That was for you, too.”
“Hm,” he replied.
The very next week, to my delight, I had tickets to the New York premiere of Sympathy for Delicious. Mark Ruffalo was again going to give a talk after the movie, this time joined by his cast mates, including Orlando Bloom.
In the theatre, I sat next to a delightful young woman who was in love with Orlando Bloom. “I jumped out of a moving car once when I saw him on the street,” she said to me. I knew I was in good company.
The movie itself was decent, the performances even better. The cast spoke for about twenty minutes and left. We filed out of the theatre. I thought that was the end of it. But just as I headed for the front door, the man himself stepped out of a back room, smiling. People swarmed him. They asked for his autograph and to take pictures, they wanted to talk. He entertained everybody’s requests. I can’t imagine that level of intense social interaction with strangers.
By the time I reached him, Mark Ruffalo had been pawed at and drooled over but was cheery and handsome nonetheless. He smelled faintly of lavender. He smiled at me when I stepped up.
“You’re my favorite actor,” I said-whispered. “Can I get a photo?”
“Sure,” he said.
It was clear he did not remember me from the week before. I gathered my strength.
“Do you remember last week at the Times Talk when someone asked you not to shave your chest?”
I gulped. “That was me.”
He laughed, gave me a sideways glance. “Ohhhhhh.”
Just like that. I was an anecdote now.
“Yeah. Sorry if I embarrassed you.”
“You really should keep your chest hair. For humanity,” I said. My argument needed work.
He laughed. “OK.”
I took two blurry photos. Then he was whisked away by someone else.
More than a year later, I sat in a dark theatre waiting for The Avengers to begin. I waited, wondering. When he first comes on screen, Dr. Bruce Banner is his normal, beautiful self. But when he gets angry, watch out. The skin turns, the clothes fall off. Someone says something stupid, probably Loki or that other space guy. I don’t remember the plot. But it doesn’t take much to make The Hulk angry. So he got mad.
And there he was, a handsome shade of emerald. Shirtless.
With hair on his chest.
Coincidence? I don’t want to take all the credit, but I will say, on behalf of Mark Ruffalo and myself, “You’re welcome.”
*Mark Ruffalo: if you or your people happen across this article, I have a really, really, ridiculously good script for you. Promise. You can contact me here.