The relationship between grooming and masculinity gets tweezed out in Broderick Fox’s documentary, Manscaping, that follows three queer men redefining the traditionally hyper-masculine space of the barbershop.
Fox’s subjects are fascinating. A Black American visual artist, Devan Shimoyama, who is exploring his own relationship to barbershops through a series of collages; Jessie Anderson, a trans man who opened Big Bro’s Barbershop in Alberta, Canada to help trans and gender nonconforming folks express themselves; and Richard Savvy, an Australian fetish barber and groomer who explores and celebrates men’s relationship with their hair and bodies as The Naked Barber.
Shimoyama discusses how, as a queer man, he never felt comfortable in Black-run barbershops due to the homophobia that’s he’s been on the receiving end of, but was also shunned by white-owned barbershops who wouldn’t cut “textured” hair. His art expresses his heartbreak at being excluded and explores his relationship to his hair and helps build bridges back out to the community.
Savvy offers an intimate barbershop experience in his North Sydney studio, providing grooming services in the nude. Including an intimate waxing service in a leather sling…it makes sense, the angles are perfect to get those pesky hairs. His story shines a light on hair’s role in restrictive ideas around gender and “masculinity”.
The most enlightening story is that of Anderson’s Big Bro’s Barbershop. More than just a haircutting service, it’s a space for the transmasculine community, offering clothing and accessories to help people with their gender expression. The testimonials from clients and friends touch on hair’s role as markers of gender, such as the way having longer hair can lead to folks being misgendered, and the economic factor that even short-haired women’s haircuts cost more than men’s. Of all the stories in Manscaping, this gets the closest to really deconstructing the role of hair in male gender expression; how we construct it and what it means to those who have been denied it.
Together, these stories touch on intriguing aspects of hair’s role in those who are living, as Anderson puts it, with “intentional masculinity”. Without a broader, unifying point of view though, Manscaping doesn’t quite manage to bring the topic to a satisfying conclusion. Narrative digressions into Savvy’s porn career are interesting, but ultimately off-topic, and there is a general lack of context to establish why these spaces are considered to be so important. While the film has an emotionally cathartic finale, Manscaping ultimately serves as the start of a thought-provoking conversation rather than a comprehensive exploration.
By Chad Armstrong
Manscaping gets its Australian premiere at the Mardi Gras Film Festival, running February 17th – March 3rd 2022. Click here for session times and tickets.