AL: “It’ll make hair grow on your chest.”
The informant is a 20-year-old college student of Ashkenazi Jewish descent who currently lives in Los Angeles. He said that his grandmother would say this phrase in response to someone having to do something difficult. For example, AL said that if he were to complain to his grandmother about having to write a challenging essay, she would tell him that it would make hair grow on his chest. She also said this when someone ate something spicy.
This proverb promotes the belief that suffering makes an individual stronger. However, the contexts in which AL describes it being used suggest that it is not used to pacify the grievances of someone experiencing serious hardship. In chapter eight of Elliott Oring’s ‘Folk Groups and Folklore Genres,’ F.A. de Caro describes how metaphorical proverbs use imagery to illustrate a point more concisely than would be possible with a literal articulation. When boys undergo puberty, they grow hair on their chest, which is a biological signal that they are transitioning to manhood, the stage of life where one confronts expectations that they be strong, self-sufficient, and to provide for others. That this saying would be used to console someone undergoing something difficult or give a tongue-in-cheek justification for bad luck or misfortune reflects the widespread cultural association of masculinity with strength.
Oring, Elliott, and F.A. De Caro. “Riddles and Proverbs.” Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction, Utah State University Press, Logan, UT, 1986, pp. 175–197.