I spent part of yesterday interviewing two young, bright, beautiful women about their pubic hair practices. Both in their late teens (and friends for years) each young woman had a very different take on how she chose to maintain her pubic hair — one preferred full (waxed) removal, the other was more critical of such practices, and (save a little trimming) tended to stick to au-natural. They both had such interesting things to say – I’ll try and get some of that conversation up here in the next few days.
In the meantime, I just came across an interesting journal article on pubic hair removal in the SIECCAN Newsletter (which is part of the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality) by Lenore Riddell, Hannah Varton and Zoë G. Hodgson. Called “Smooth Talking: The phenomenon of pubic hair removal in women,” the article explores the “motivations and practices” behind pubic hair removal in women. As part of their study, the authors (who tend to come at the issue as nurse-practioners and authorities on women’s health, rather than cultural theorists) had 660 women (aged 16-50) answer surveys and then tallied the results.
In the introduction to their article, the authors point out that “it is now unusual for clinicians in the authors’ urban setting (Vancouver, Canada) to examine any woman under the age of 30 who still has all of her pubic hair.” They go on to explain that “anecdotally, clinicians report more pubic area rashes, razor burn, wax burns, and generally irritated pubic skin than ever before.”
While the entire article is interesting, I was particularly interested in the points these authors make around women’s health and healthy body practices.
As I’ve discussed before, this article also points to the fact that a great number of women remove their pubic hair because of belief that somehow their bodies are “cleaner” if they do. “This is an interesting finding considering the lack of evidence to support pubic hair being dirty or unhygienic,” they write.
They suggest that pursuit of cleanliness may be tied to the good old pursuit of the “American dream” of wealth and success. “After all,” they write, “the removal of body hair requires the resources of access to water, products, and times,” all (when you come right down to it) global luxuries.
The article cites a study (produced by an American laser company) which indicates that “American women spend more than $10,000 over a lifestime and greater than 58.4 days in their lives using shaving products in managing unwanted hair.” (Figures which don’t include time and effort getting waxed or otherwise maintained).
I’d like to quote Joshua (who commented on one of my recent blog entries) on this issue. He wrote to me with his reasons (off the top of his head, he noted) to avoid body hair removal (and “arbitrary beauty standards in general):
|One reason is that throughout the course of our lives it is a monumental waste of time. I don’t know how much time the average women spends shaving, applying makeup, painting their fake nails, etc, but with life being all too short as it is, can’t we find something more meaningful to do with our time?
Second, it is a waste of limited resources that could be put to better use, or just simply left unused. How many oil spills, mined out mountains, and deforested rain-forests are acceptable to trade for social conformity? Because, unlike we are taught to believe, our decisions – purchasing and otherwise – have ramifications larger than ourselves.
Good points, I think.
And now, just going back to cleanliness with some final thoughts:
Because while many seem to view pubic hair removal as a ‘cleanliness’ issue, the authors of “Smooth Talking” suggest otherwise. Instead, they write that “several studies on preoperative genital shaving as compared to other methods of hair removal have consistently found increased bacterial infection rates related to shaving.”
“Microabrasions, contact dermatitis, and skin disruption due to methods of pubic hair removal may also increase the potential for the transmission of viruses (including HIV, hepatitis, herpes simplex and human papilloma).”
(I also keep thinking back to Roger Friedland’s smart article wherein he draws a connection between an increasingly always-sexually-ready ‘hook-up’ culture with a hairless “purified” vulva. Thinking about it in this context, I can’t help but note that the young women who are partaking in no-strings sex — and thus already more vulnerable to STIs — may in fact be made extra susceptible due to their grooming practices).
To top things off, Riddell, Varto and Hodgson write that salons and esthetician services in Canada remain largely unregulated — meaning that there’s no guarantee that the pot of hot wax your esthetician is using to do away with your pubic hair hasn’t been double-dipped into, etc etc.
Lots to think about next time you wield a razor in the general direction of your nether regions or lie back with your legs spread at the ol’ salon.