Somewhere to start…

I know, I know. I’m a little slow on content so far. But it’s coming. I did a couple of interviews today, and am feeling like the project is starting to gel.

I’ve realized, however, that what I haven’t written yet is any kind of introduction. What I think I need to write here is a little something about why I’m so interested in pubic hair –or, specifically — about pubic hair removal as a normalized body practice.

I think I’ll start now by giving you a little background. Because while many of you reading will be well aware of the fact that many many women remove their pubic hair as a regular practice, a good number of you will be as freaked out as I was when I first found out.

In fact, that’s probably a good place for me to start writing today.

So: here’s how I came to pubic hair (and it’s increasing absence on young female bodies) as a research topic:

Last year, I worked as a teaching assistant for a first year film class at Queen’s University. We were showing the students a video called “Birthday Suit with Scars and Defects” made by Canadian artist Lisa Steele in 1974.

Still from Lisa Steele's 1974 video work, "Birthday Suit with Scars and Defects"

The video opens with the artist standing nude before the camera’s unblinking eye. Then, over the course of the 12-minute video piece, Steele tells the audience the story of each of the scars on her body.

Only we didn’t get that far.

A glitch in the tape brought up the house lights before we’d made it into the meat of the piece, and before long, the room was buzzing. That’s when one of the younger teaching assistants leaned over and changed everything for me.

“They must be freaking out,” she said, gesturing at the group of nearly 300 first year (ie. 18-year old) students seated behind us. Lisa Steele’s naked self was stil frozen on the screen.

“Why?” I asked (little ms. naive).

“Because of the Seventies bush,” she explained with a shrug. And that’s when she explained that pubic hair on women has become far from fashionable. In fact, it’s become seen as downright dirty and disgusting. Even more appalling, she told me about young men she knew who wouldn’t sleep with girls who had pubic hair because they found it so repulsive.

Needless to say, I had a lot of trouble concentrating on the rest of the video.

In the weeks following, I began to investigate, trolling the internet and journal databases, and bring up the issue with anyone I thought would be up for it (yes, I’m a hit at parties). What I discovered was extremely revealing.

Pubic hair, it seems, is on the wane. In the last decade or so, pubic hair removal — or at the very least what I will call extreme trimming — has become a mainstream practice among a growing demographic of North American women (and possibly women in other parts of the world, but for now my research is focused here) who now view it as ‘icky’, ‘gross’ and, most revealingly in our cleanliness-obsessed culture: dirty. Its removal from the female body among younger women (some of whom begin whisking it away as soon as it makes an appearance) is quickly becoming as normalized as leg or armpit hair removal — a practice so ubiquitous among North American women, that we barely remark on it.

Women who champion pubic hair removal (I’m generalizing here, but it seems to be mainly women under 25 or 30) talk about how “clean” and sexy they feel when hairless — and I want to be clear, that I’m not disputing them.  When it comes to body practices, I am definitely of the each-to-her-own school.

But I would argue that the widespread normalization of the practice of pubic hair removal has more sinister implications for the progress of women. For me, the practice symbolizes the ultimate commodification of the female body — hence the title of this blog: The Last Triangle.

The female pubic region has become a place where capitalism and body control now co-mingle, giving women one more body issue to worry about, a whole new set of esthetic services to enlist, and a whack of specialty products to buy. That’s because we’re managing to sell women on the idea that the curly little strands associated with physical and sexual maturity are unclean and unruly, unsexy and untamed. Exactly what women aren’t supposed to be.

Expect more along these lines shortly. And please do add your comments! Half the fun of the blog-format is having input from readers!

 

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  • Meredith B

    “That’s because we’re managing to sell women on the idea that the curly little strands associated with physical and sexual maturity are unclean and unruly, unsexy and untamed. Exactly what women aren’t supposed to be.” Love this!

    Body image and, maybe it’s an interesting conversation starter for us Merediths, specifically pubic hair was something I wrote and painted about at NSCAD. Now being older, more mature and a mother my interest is rekindled. Mostly for self-absorbed reasons as I have more confidence in my body and womanliness now then ever before despite having stretch marks, a sad belly button, and no time for exotic maintenance haha!

  • Gillian

    I have thought of this question many times, It makes you wonder if this is a signal of a culture that views an adult female body less attractive than a female child’s body (who does not produce pubic hair). That somehow age and sexual ident…ity is viewed as a weakness or gross for young women One more way we our power is striped or waxed away. It seems strange to me, I grew up surrounded by empowered educated woman who fought for our way in this world, is this what they wanted us to become a culture of girls rather than women? great Blog Meredith!

  • eve

    I’m over 40, and I have, on occasion, shaved my pubes for kicks. My response to it is not that I feel more clean, but that I feel more naked, revealed. It definitely makes me feel self-conscious that I look like a pre-teen, which, to be honest, also kind of creeps me out.

    Like you, I’m from the each-to-her-own school, but for young women today the social pressure to shave, to look and feel a certain way can override the option of personal preference. The choice is not there because the “norm” is expected and to keep ones pubes isn’t just “unusual” it’s seen as disgusting. What 14 year old girl would choose to be seen as disgusting?

    The hairless crotch could certainly be a move toward the infantilization of women. Might it also stem from the the fashion world’s desire for female models to look like 13 year old boys – skinny, gangly, hipless, and hairless?

    How many young women hate their hips, their boobs, their pubic hair and everything about their bodies that hints at womanhood?

    I think our culture has a deeply ingrained fear of powerful adult women and, as women gain power in the workforce, in politics and in their own lives, this pressure to make our bodies juvenile and androgynous seems to be a direct expression of that fear.

    Maybe, like the Biblical Samson, our power comes from our untrimmed hair. 😉

  • amanda

    Great post, Meredith.

    I often wonder if pubic hair will come back in style, though, if this is just a current trend, albeit a shitty one. Perhaps the new matriarchy beckons. With bigger bush!

  • Meredith B

    Speaking of fashion and I realize it barely qualifies, a guilty pleasure of mine is America’s Next Top Model. In the early seasons of the show they film, edited and aired the contestants all getting waxed bare because Tyra Banks’ fashion etiquette. Evidently it is in bad taste to show up to a photoshoot unkempt in the bikini area and expecting hair and make up or post-production to look after this for you.

    The “rules” were imposed on all the contestants and the ones who hesitated were made to feel like they were a burden and not as “flexible” as the others. These episodes turned the removal of pubic hair into a spectacle on primetime tv.

  • Dan Joy

    I’m wondering why there is no mention of men shaving their pubes. Most young men trim. Some young men cut most off or shave it completely off. I am confident that in not too long it will be common to see the majority of young men shaving it all off too.

  • Meredith Dault

    hi all-
    I am so very grateful for all of your thoughts and encouragement — I’m going to try and address all these points in some of my upcoming posts… hopefully we can get some real conversation going around these ideas. Thanks for helping my research feel fun and interesting!

  • Jess

    Finally! I’ve been worrying about this for years. Being, for the most part, a non-shaver/plucker, I was mortified to learn that so many women feel compelled to remove so much of their hair in painful, expensive, and often toxic ways. That’s just not my reality, and none of my boyfriends has ever expected anything else, but it sounds like that’s the exception rather than the rule, sadly.

    Meredith and Eve (everyone who’s posted, really) — your comments are so insightful and inspiring. Thank you!