May 2011

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So the funny thing about doing research around pubic hair is that it quickly becomes your ‘thing’. People constantly send me odd and intriguing bits of information over the internet. I often find pubic-hair-related links and photographs posted (by friends) to my Facebook profile. I just received an email from a friend that had a song about pubic hair attached. I’m not complaining by any means – I sort of love that whenever anyone I know thinks of pubic hair, they also think of me (though on second thought…hmmm).

I was out on Saturday night and ran into a woman who I’d met a couple of times before. She introduced me to the woman she was with. She looked familiar, but I couldn’t place her. But she remembered me: “You’re the one who studies pubic hair, right?” Evidently we’d met once before and she never forgot it. Heh.

And then yesterday I went to see a health professional I see on a fairly regular basis. Right at the end of my appointment she told me, in a hushed and slightly horrified voice, about going to a “Passion Party” on the weekend (for those of you not in the know, you can read more here).

Apparently the group were transfixed by a particularly complicated looking device when she made a flippant comment in its direction: “um… it looks like it would get caught in your pubic hair.”

She was met, she reported, by stunned silence from the other (mostly younger) women. “Ewwww!” one of them then declared. “You have pubic hair?”

The conversation, I was told, degenerated from there into a conversation about intimate grooming. My storyteller (who is in her early 40s) told me that was one of only three women in the room who would admit to having pubic hair. The rest of the group, she said, talked about how repulsive they found it and couldn’t fathom why anyone would hold onto it.

I just shrugged. After all, this is the kind of thing I hear a lot…(and it was hearing about just such a conversation that kick-started this project initially).

(Got thoughts on this topic? I’d so love to hear them. Please feel free to drop me a line or leave a comment in response here!)

 

 

So I’ve still got spa-culture on my mind. Today it’s kids and spa culture – or how we train girls in body control.

A couple of months ago, the internet was abuzz about a woman who was injecting her 8-year-old daughter with Botox (for supposed ‘lines’ around her otherwise pageant-perfect smile) and taking her for leg waxes.

Got a few minutes to spare? Here’s an interview ABC News did with the mother and daughter:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auzvSkIk7xg

At one point, the little girl tells us that she doesn’t think it is “lady like to have hair on your legs,” (although she also says that the pain from waxing was so terrible that she doesn’t think she wants to do it again).

In this case, the mother justifies her actions because her kid does the kiddie beauty pageant circuit. If television programs like Toddlers and Tiaras are anything to go by, it’s a strange world where little girls get spray tans, fake teeth and eyebrows waxes before parading around in custom made gowns for a panel of judges.

Watch the show here:

http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/tv/toddlers-tiaras

But it’s evidently not just the pageant set who are teaching their daughters about the joys of chasing the beauty ideal.

At a spa in Texas, girls as young as two are apparently settling in to spa culture. For them, it’s a chance to “feel like a princess.”

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/19513736#19513736

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19510304/ns/health-kids_and_parenting/t/spa-treatments-kids-raise-waxed-eyebrows/

In a related article I found on the MSNBC website, I learned that pre-teen girls are evidently being taken for ‘virgin waxes’ by their mothers. Though they may not yet have a pile of ‘unwanted’ hair to contend with, the parental reasoning is that waxing it away before it makes a full-on appearance is a way to save the young woman from having to deal with pesky hair as an adult.

As the article states: “One New York City salon, Wanda’s European Skin Care Center, boasts on its Web site that children 8 years and older can get discounted waxing for “virgin” hair. “Virgin hair can be waxed so successfully that growth can be permanently stopped in just 2 to 6 sessions. Save your child a lifetime of waxing … and put the money in the bank for her college education instead!” the salon proclaims.”

Apparently the article’s author couldn’t get the spa owner to agree to an interview, though she did learn that they see 200 “kid clients” a year, and that “kids should start waxing at 6 years old.”

Oh, sigh.

Here’s the full article if you’re interested:

http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/26182276/ns/today-today_fashion_and_beauty/t/too-young-preteen-girls-get-leg-bikini-waxes/

 

 

 

Ah yes, the things we learn online…

Here’s a fine example: while doing my Vajazzling research the other day, I learned a new term: Vajacial.

What’s a Vajacial, you ask? Ah yes, I’m glad you did.

Well apparently it’s a ‘facial’ for your intimate bits.

According to The Luxury Spot, a spa in San Francisco has been offering what is essentially a facial for your labia. Apparently it’s geared at women who get Brazilian waxes but experience “unwanted side effects like ingrown hairs, bumps, and skin irritations.”

As the article explains, “the treatment is trademarked and takes about 50 minutes to give your crotch the best non-orgasmic experience you can imagine.  It’s meant to be performed the week after your wax and involves 4 steps. Antibacterial cleansing with witch hazel, papaya exfoliation, and an esthetician that personally removes your ingrown hairs (now that’s service!) are all standard.  The treatment is finished with a calming, anti-freckle, anti-acne mask and a lightening cream.”

This, my friends, is body insecurity taken to new heights. First we’re supposed to spend all kinds of time and money (and endure all kinds of pain) getting our vulvas into acceptable hairless shape, and then we’re supposed to spend MORE money ($60!) getting a 50-minute treatment to help counter the negative effects of the first treatment?

C’mon, people. Are we OUT OF OUR MINDS?

(BellaSugar provides a decent response – and more info – here)

 

 

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So this week, the internet was (very mildly) abuzz over a new (supposed) trend in penile adornment: pejazzling. Gawker, the popular celebrity news website reported that you can now ‘Vajazzle’ your penis. Read that story here:

http://gawker.com/5803380/pejazzling-now-you-can-vajazzle-your-penis

(and hey- if that wasn’t enough for you, here’s an image you won’t soon forget:)

http://www.refinery29.com/you-know-vajazzling-well-get-psyched-for-pejazzling

For those of you who don’t keep tabs on what the Swarovski crystal people think you should be doing with your nether region, here’s the idiot’s guide:

‘Vajazzling’ is the practice of waxing away your pubic hair only to have it replaced by stick-on crystals in various patterns. Word is that this strange phenomenon is gathering something of a following (at least in North America), with fans apparently declaring that practice makes them feel like they have a sparkly secret hidden beneath their briefs.

For anyone not up on their useless pop culture, Vajazzling first hit the big time when actress Jennifer Love Hewitt appeared on Lopez Tonight, an American talk show, to promote her new biography (Jan 2010). There she famously told Lopez and the audience about having a friend Vajazzle her “precious lady” when she was trying to get over a nasty break-up. Love Hewitt made headlines by declaring that it “shined like a disco ball” , later declaring that all women should “vajazzle their va-jay-jays”.

Got two minutes to spare? This will get you all caught up:

Word is that the stick-on crystals last about five days, and that women who wear ‘em feel all kinds of special-and-sparkly.

(Don’t believe me? http://www.theluxuryspot.com/2010/02/23/i-got-vajazzled-and-had-a-camera-crew/ )

I don’t think there’s anything new I can add to this conversation on Vajazzling. After all, in a culture where women are forever being convinced that their intimate bits are gross and dirty, it makes perfect sense that we’d devise a product/service that could make everything “prettier” and more sparkly. After all, girls like sparkly things, right? right? Maybe if our vulvas are sparkly we’ll like them better, too!

(And come to think of it, maybe that’s why men are being encouraged to get in on the sparkle-fication, too…)

Speaking of which:

Hilariously, artist Julie Voyce had bedazzled some boy bits long before the splashy news about Pejazzling. Here’s the evidence:

 

 

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A friend just sent me this image — seems to sum things up nicely:


My attention was recently drawn to this little ditty which appears in the June 2011 edition of The Atlantic. It’s about the rise in genital cosmetic surgery among women. Unsurprisingly, the author draws attention to the fact that the rise in labial surgery has been explained by things like “the trickle-up effect of porn aesthetics” and the rise of pubic hair waxing among women.

Here’s a link:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/06/perverse-incentives/8489

 

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So my last entry was all about hygiene. And as I mentioned, hygiene is one of the primary motivators for pubic hair removal, at least among women.

It doesn’t take much searching to find the to-shave-or-not-to-shave hygiene debate raging on-line. Don’t believe me? See http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080120195341AAEuBId or http://www.videojug.com/filmsuggestion/is-shaving-off-my-pubic-hair-a-good-hygiene-measure for examples…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The amount of misinformation on-line is astounding.

Pubic hair on women is (if you only had these online forums to go on, anyway): unattractive, smelly, itchy, wrong.

I, however, find some interesting conversation on a Live Journal page about pubic hair, with some particularly interesting comments posted by ‘Queensugar’ on January 8, 2011:

The massive myth that hair is “unhygienic” has come about, essentially, as a direct response to cultural pressures that demand hairless women. Generally speaking, once culture has created a demand on the human body for cultural or economic reasons, it then creates health-related “arguments” to support that arbitrary demand, or creates those arguments when the old culturalized arguments fall out of vogue.

It’s always worth noting that this issue is never once raised when it comes to male pubic hair, or armpit hair, or leg hair. But with women, all three of those hair-points are referred to as potentially “unhygienic” unless you shave them off. Female bodies are not magically “less clean” than male bodies.

Overall, there’s no single compelling hygiene reason to shave, or not to shave. Most physicians I know who are experts in female genital health advocate not shaving, due to the risk of infection or irritation and the lack of hair to wick moisture away from the skin. But these are not make-or-break issues across the spectrum.

I don’t shave. Right now, I don’t even trim. Occasionally (like, once every three or four months) when I have a partner in my life I shave it all off for funsies, but my husband moved to the U.S. awhile ago and I don’t plan to do anything at all to “keep” my pubes for the foreseeable future.

Then she adds (in a follow-up post):

Oh, as another note: I always find it interesting — and I myself have done this countless times — that when women don’t shave their pubes, they often express the reason for that as being “lazy.” This is usually said tongue-in-cheek, but I find it really interesting at this word has become so common to use in conjunction with not shaving the pubes.

(the full dialogue can be found here: http://vaginapagina.livejournal.com/19330510.html)

Seems to me that ‘Queensugar’ nails it: women who don’t get on-board when it comes to body maintenance are not only dirty — they’re lazy, too.

In my reading, I’ve spent a lot of quality time with an article by Magdala Peixoto Labre called “The Brazilian Wax: New Hairlessness Norm for Women?” The 2002 article takes an in-depth look at a (then) developing trend towards the mainstreaming of the Brazilian wax. One of Labre’s concerns is that it is “contributing to the construction of women’s sexual organs as dirty and unattractive.

As Labre writes:

“In a sexist culture, women are not only socialized to be narcissistically obsessed with their bodies, but also are constantly reminded that their bodies are deficient to begin with (Bartky, 1990). As noted by Ussher (1989), the female body has been constructed in a derogatory light — women are made to feel embarrassed by the look and smell of their sexual organs.” (p126)

And now, almost ten years after Labre first published that paper, we’re embracing the idea that the vagina is ‘unclean’ more readily than ever.

Even “Spring Cleaning Should Start With a Brazilian Wax” (right ‘Shine’ magazine?).

Got thoughts on this whole hygiene issue? I’d love to hear ’em.

 

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One of the aspects of the pubic-hair-removal question that I’m particularly interested in is the question of hygiene. It’s an issue that has come up again and again in both my reading and in conversations with women.

I know we’re a cleanliness-obsessed culture, but when people tell me this issue isn’t worth getting worked up about because it’s merely a question of ‘hygiene’ (ie. it’s not a ‘feminist’ issue), I can’t help but think twice. Because I definitely think it’s a lot more complicated than that.

I spent part of yesterday flipping through a book by Elizabeth Shove called Comfort, Cleanliness + Convenience: The Social Organization of Normality. While the bulk of the book is devoted to issues of consumption and convenience as they relate to homes, cleaning practices (think laundry and housework), and the rise of the bathroom, she does spend some time considering body practices — particularly as they relate to bathing and showering. It definitely got me thinking.

Obviously, there is an easy connection to be drawn between cleanliness and morality in contemporary culture. After all, ‘dirty’ is a loaded word, implying all sorts of social ills that have nothing to do with being unclean. We are a dirt and germ-obsessed culture. We can beckon squirts of antibacterial hand sanitizer from dispensers in public places. We douse our floors and countertops with chemicals in a bid to banish microscopic bits of grime. We wonder about people who don’t take daily showers.

But as Shove writes, “moral regimes are to some extent commodified, scripted and embedded in the tools and infrastructures on which we rely.” (p.84). She continues, writing:

“Whatever the beliefs and technologies of the day, doing what people think of as cleaning, whether of the person or of clothing, generally requires a rather high level of active participation. Cleaning consequently involves the routine reproduction not just of classificatory schemes of delicacy, propriety and gender, but also of performance.”  (p.85)

And there’s this:

“It is the every day activity of laundering or showering that convinces people there is dirt to remove.” (p.85)

After all, as Shove explains so well, views on cleanliness change. In the 16th Century, people believe the body was porous and so didn’t encourage frequent washing lest you should fill up with water. In the 17th and 18th Century, people believed that stench — from nearby cemeteries and cesspools — could penetrate the body, so the priority became in removing smell, not dirt. Perfume was thought to be an effective protection against disease.

As Shove writes, “If smell spelt danger then the best indication of hygiene was the lack, rather than the presence of overwhelming scent.” They are, as she points out, “ideas that still inform contemporary bathing and laundry practices.” (p.87)

Since one of my questions is around how we got to this place where pubic hair removal on women is becoming the dominant body practice, I think it’s important that we think about this question of how we understand hygiene — especially in terms of how it relates to women’s intimate bits.

The short answer is that it’s all constructed, people: how we view our bodies, each other, the world. It’s never just about, say, hygiene.

If you’ve been following along, you probably know where I’m going with this…stay tuned for more…

 

(Work Cited: Shove, E. Comfort. Cleanliness and Convenience: the Social Organization of Normality. Oxford ; New York : BERG, 2003)

 

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Hair is such a fascinating, complicated topic. This stuff GROWS out of our bodies! And as much as we trim, wax and will it away, it tends to grow back. When it DOESN’T grow back – like in the case of bald men – there are industries there to sell you products to encourage it to start sprouting again.

And yet, we have such different relationships to the hair on our heads and the stuff on our bodies. Hair on men’s bodies is generally taken to display a sort of rugged masculinity (although that seems to be changing).

Hair on women’s bodies, on the other hand, is called “superfluous,” “excess”, or “unwanted.” As I’ve written before, while it was generally standard to hear those terms applied to things like leg, armpit, and facial hair, pubic hair wasn’t necessarily viewed as superfluous. It was kinda your thing, to do with what you will. Now people of both genders (but especially women) seem to be understanding that doing away with your pubic hair is just par-for-the-course body maintenance.

I recently came across an interesting article in The Western Front – the online edition of the student paper for Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.

The article, written by Dr. Emily Gibson, explores pubic hair removal as “an unwinnable battle.” Dr. Gibson opens her article with “I must have missed the declaration of war on pubic hair” (see? I’m not the only one!), and then goes on to describe why fervently trying to abolish it is hard on the body. In fact, she says it can even cause harm.

Here are some of the best bits:

“Pubic hair removal naturally irritates and inflames the hair follicles left behind, leaving microscopic open wounds. Rather than suffering a recurring comparison to a bristle brush, frequent hair removal is necessary to stay smooth, causing regular irritation of the shaved or waxed area. When that irritation is combined with the warm, moist environment of the genitals, it becomes a happy culture media for some of the nastiest of bacterial pathogens, namely group A streptococcus, staphylococcus aureus and its recently mutated cousin methicillin-resistant staph aureus (MRSA). There is an increase in staph boils and abscesses, necessitating incisions to drain the infection, resulting in scarring that can be significant. It is not at all unusual to find pustules and other hair follicle inflammatory papules on the shaved areas.”

Whoa, people. If ever you needed to justify not whisking it all away, here’s the support material.

She also writes that “freshly shaved pubic areas and genitals are also more vulnerable to herpes infections due to the microscopic wounds being exposed to viruses carried by mouth or genitals. It follows that there may be vulnerability to spread of other sexual transmitted infections as well.”

Here’s a link to the original article:

http://westernfrontonline.net/opinion/17-opinion/13354-pubic-hair-removal-an-unwinnable-battle-physician-says

 

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Ack- I totally forgot about my every-other-week, original-art-Fridays! Here, for your viewing pleasure, is yet another drawing by Toronto-based artist Julie Voyce. They are all part of a series she is creating especially for The Last Triangle.

Today we feature a happy couple with well-tended hair and great shoes.

Missed Julie’s other great images? check ’em out here and here.

 

 

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