More Dirt: Hygiene and Female Bodies

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 or 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:

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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