Saturday, February 20, 2016


I’ve always been weirdly concerned over my body. It’s not just the weight issue. As a kid, I wondered why I was the only one in my family with red hair. (My mind shifted from the horror of Adopted?  to the soothing sense of Adopted! Alas, it was only wishful thinking.) When I was a teen, I asked my parents if I could have plastic surgery. On my elbows. They had the nerve to say no.

Over time, I’ve come to accept my hair and elbows. (I still have a preference for long sleeves.) But there’s always something new to obsess about. And getting older offers new fodder for body self-consciousness.

As I sat on the ferry this morning, I had the misfortune of being behind a man of about seventy who shuffled into his seat and set his ski-pole walking aids to the side. He continuously stared out the window, gazing at the low fog draping the nearby islands. Lovely sight, but from my perspective, the sight wasn’t so. Ear hair. A clump of it.

I get that hair changes with age. It parts from the head and legs while sprouting with renewed vigor in the eyebrows, nose and ears. Forty years ago, maybe people were fine with that. Maybe “grow old gracefully” included let hair grow where it may. But now every hairy sprout comes under scrutiny. What is the purpose of ear hair?

According to Wikipedia, “[m]edical research on the function of ear hair is currently very scarce.” No surprise, really. No doctor wants to be a cocktail party pariah. (“Medical researcher, eh? What are you studying?”) One internet site which seems to be linked to the all-knowing cardiologist Dr. Oz of TV fame recognizes that ear hair growth comes with age and then asserts that “this hair protects you from insects that find the ear canal interesting.” Really? So this is a mutation resulting from bugs’ preference for exploring the ear canals of older men?! Does this mean everyone else is defenseless against ear bugs? Why don’t I feel grateful?

This is the manscaping era. (My word processor still underlines “manscaping” with a squiggly red line, but I think most of us are familiar with the term.) Some of us even take on our own manscaping seriously, perhaps obsessively. I get that there are varying degrees of action/inaction in terms of chest hair and even back hair. I just wonder if we could reach a universal accord related to ear hair. If you see it, trim it.

Perhaps I am the only one who frets over being seen in public with untamed ear hair. The elevator in my condominium happens to have harsh lighting. It’s a good thing though in terms of ear scanning. As the side walls of the elevator are mirrored, it only takes an up close and personal scan for me to spot ear sprouts (and a few missed whiskers from the morning shave). Last week I was stunned to see a 12-millimeter strand of hair poking up from the top of my right ear. Egad! Somehow the thing went from stubble to a full 12 millimeters! That couldn’t have occurred overnight. I’d been walking around, interacting with people in a range of setting for days—weeks!—all the while sporting a defiant ear sprout! Why had no one told me? Can we come up with a rule of etiquette about this? Maybe this is why second dates are hard to come by for me. Maybe this was the source of Van Gogh’s ear issue. The poor man was ahead of his time in terms of art and manscaping. And, well, he overreacted. (It doesn’t help to know that 12 millimeters is nothing on the world stage. As there is a record for everything—and, yes, this very fact proves that—the longest ear hair ever recorded was 13.2 centimeters though it had later grown to 25 centimeters. Apparently Guinness did not bother with an update. Perhaps ear hair growers aren’t all that competitive.)

To be honest, I cannot see the center part of the ear. I let my razor graze over the area once every week or two, but I can’t tell if it’s trimming anything. Will I even know when I have a full clump of ear hair? Do older mean see it and actually choose to ignore it? Do some people actually like ear hair?

Perhaps the more appropriate question is, Am I the only one who dislikes tufts of ear hair, also known as auricular hypertrichosis? Why can’t “ear wax” have a new connotation? I’d pay to have it done. And I think my fellow ferry passengers would be grateful.

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