Debate: Julia Roberts' boyfriend says he likes her unshaved and unscented. Shame on him, says Tom Loxley, women who don't preen are a turn off. Not so, says Andrew Male. It's the male desire for Barbie clones that's unattractive

Sunday 09 May 1999 00:02 BST



Au naturel may be French for as nature intended, but when applied to personal hygiene too often those two words just add up to fancy foreign longhand for "stinks". Sure, Julia Roberts may be passing on the Chanel No 5 and letting it all sprout out but, make no mistake, this is no assertion of her independence or her sexuality.

Julia, we are told, is only obeying orders. Her boyfriend, American TV detective Benjamin Bratt, apparently insists on Julia going au naturel at all times. Nothing quite rings his bell like a woman's natural growth and odours. Whether he applies the same rules to himself is unknown, but we can safely say that he probably smells heavily of soap since he admits to taking at least three showers a day. This is not a man with a balanced approach to grooming.

I, like millions of other men, get by on a shave and a shower and we like our women to do the same. There is, of course, a whole load of politics surrounding shaving, but most women, at least among the fragrant sample I have come across, would also rather opt for a few pumps of the atomiser and swift strokes with the razor than let nature take its course.

Nature, after all, can be a pretty brutish thing. From under-groomed armpits it is a short step to growing cabbage in the ears, spinach in the teeth and nits in the hair.

Women, being generally more meticulous than men in these matters, normally know this because their mothers told them so. Men, on the other hand, know this from painful personal experience. Few could withstand the sustained exposure to sweat that boys endure in the testosterone-charged changing rooms of their teens, without forever associating the body's natural odour with the horrible business of cold showers and verrucas. Not surprisingly, they like their women to smell different, fragrant, divine.

But if cleanliness is next to godliness then hairiness is way down the table, propping up the league. In the age of the razor, tweezer and hot wax, conspicuous hair growth for a woman, other than on her head, is not a good thing. After all there is something taboo about hair in unwanted places. Just as most of us don't like to find the stuff in the bath, most Northern European men would prefer not to discover too much fuzz on a woman's legs or under her arms. Again it's to do with celebrating the difference between the sexes. Hairy women will most likely remind us of, well, hairy men.

Fortunately for parfumiers and razor manufacturers everywhere, it is fair to say Benjamin Bratt and his fellow hair and odour fetishists are in a minority. Let's face it, most men prefer a woman who involves a little Immac and a splash of eau de something in her beauty regimen. There's nothing new in men liking that. We always have and always will love the girl who scrubs up well.



So, Benjamin Bratt, Julia Roberts' boyfriend, has decided that she should unfurl her underarm hair and stop wearing perfume, opting for the great smell of sweat instead. There are two ways in which we can react to this great moment in the history of news-gathering.

Firstly, we can celebrate it. We can assume Bratt is completely at ease with his film star girlfriend's body, the smell of her skin, the taste of her sweat, the hairy bits and what she looks like when she crawls from under the bedclothes at 9am.

Then we can develop a theory. We can hold up that recent issue of GQ with the Wonderbra model on the cover or the current FHM with Gail Porter's airbrushed breasts and despair of the way in which male magazine editors, publishers and advertisers are currently crafting a female image that resembles the depictions of "ladies" that adolescent boys fill the margins of their school books with - all pneumatic breasts, triangular body, stick-thin limbs, vacant cartoon face and neat pubic triangle. This plastic ideal has little to do with real women who have hair and curves and smell of themselves rather than Lancome, Chanel and the latest astringent depilatory body cream.

I don't know why Western man's feminine ideal looks like David Bowie's bald alien in The Man Who Fell To Earth but it seems to be airbrushing out all the real, womanly bits in favour of something that looks like Lara Croft and smells of those pine-tree air fresheners so popular with minicab drivers. You see, I don't mind underarm growth, scuffed shoes or a bit of paint in the hair. I even, shock horror, like the smell of fresh sweat on a woman and wouldn't spray her with Glade if she started to perspire. Some men panic at this and assume that I'm advocating that they go out with the funny- smelling old lady who hangs out by the bins at the local train station. Not at all. If you want to go out with a mail- order latex doll who's been doused in industrial scent, go ahead. In fact, I'm sure there's a large majority of men who hold a torch for those bald orange-faced women with the rictus grins who work behind the Clinique counter of my local department store. Fine. Just don't try to turn that exciting, real, human woman with the jam on her jumper into a perfect, plastic Eliza Doolittle.

Which brings us to the main worry about Bratt. If he's told Roberts that he doesn't mind her having body hair and smelling of herself, that's great. If however, he's forcing her to go unwashed and unshaven when she wants to shave, that's just as reprehensible as asking her to go blonde and dress up like Kim Novak. A woman isn't something to be polished, painted, refitted and shown like a Max Power Ford Escort. If you want to go out with the beautiful woman who forgot to comb her hair and has Hobnob crumbs on her jumper, great. Just don't try booking her into a Wednesday afternoon makeover in you local Arndale Centre. And if you fancy the Pamela Anderson lookalike at Woolies Pick 'n' Mix, fine. Just don't buy her some black hair dye and an artist's smock. If you want a real woman, there are millions out there. If not, why waste any time? A Barbie doll should do the trick.

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