07/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011


My good friend Hillary Rettig, a Boston based writer and consultant, has introduced me to the term "manscaping," and I think she may also be promoting its usage.

In broadly stated terms, manscaping is landscaping, but confined to the poky geographic territory located between the soles of a man's feet and the little bald crown at the top of his head. Hillary's definition is blunter. "Manscaping," she says, "is taking some raw, unfinished, barely civilized grunter of a guy and making him fabulous."

As a man, more or less, I am inclined to think that manscaping is a fool's errand, but it is fun to know that alchemy is alive and well, and to hear that there is a woman somewhere who believes that famous grunters, like say the Reverend Jimmy Bakker or Kim Jong-il, can be "made fabulous." Frankly, it fills me with cheerfulness about my own potential.

On the other hand, I know of few successful manscaping enterprises. Jesus has made men of boys, the Marine Corp has a generally positive record, and Alcoholics Anonymous has turned a toss pot or two into decent human beings. Charles Atlas and Jack Lalane have had some success in the self-help field, but I have met Jack Lalane and he still grunts (but not in an unattractive way). Do you know of any triumphant, woman-owned manscaping operations?

Larry McMurtry writes, in Comanche Moon, that "a woman's love is like a horse's turd. It is as likely to fall on a cactus as on a rose." McMurtry, a notable failure as the object of manscaping, is certainly not devaluing a woman's love with the manure metaphor, only commenting on its indiscriminate nature. Such lack of discrimination has always been to my advantage and to every man's advantage. Let me say that McMurtry hasn't done any favors in pointing it out.

Perhaps manscaping is a work in progress. It may begin with winning the lid-up lid-down dialectic and then proceeds toward solution of more complicated problems such as fidelity, or winnowing the prescribed seven hours of NFL Sunday down to four or five. Victory in these examples hardly connotes "fabulous" however. As G.K. Chesterton commented, "The promise of progress is only that things will get better -- they will never be best."

Hillary's belief in the potential of manscaping may have something to do with the fact that she writes Historical Romances. I've never read a Historical Romance but I think they involve taking formerly lively but currently dead couples and inventing a lot of hot and bothered hoodoo between them. How hot and how bothered depends on whether these are Christian Romances or Gore Vidal, but that dose of invention is the critical ingredient.

So it is, I think, with manscaping. A case in point is Hillary's current project, which is to remake the Empress Theodora into a likeable, estimable, and competent helpmate to her husband, the Roman Emperor Justinian I. According to Procopius, a historian of the time and author of Secret History, Theodora was an epic liar and had heels so round you could stamp Wilson on them and toss free throws.

Hillary's novel -- which may be an exercise in setting the record straight -- informs us that Procopius was actually a tiresome busybody, and that his Secret History is scurrilous and misogynistic. Dame Averil Cameron, a leading scholar of the era, supports that point of view and I have been instructed that the good Dame would manscape my ass if I suggested otherwise.

Whichever version is true, we can be sure that Theodora was a lot more interesting than her husband. Justinian was, after all, just another politician, and he possessed not the faintest ambition to be fabulous. Yet, despite these irreducible flaws, Theodora was, according to Hillary, truly in love with that very dull man, and truly believed that he had the potential to be made fabulous -- a much neater trick than writing history, or making it.

You can visit Hillary at