July 2011

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2011.

1. Older women and Brazilian Waxing:

Earlier this week I went to a small party where I met a met a most fabulous woman. Older than me, she was honest and open and hilarious. Predictably, we got talking about pubic hair.

“I’m just trying to get my courage up to go get a Brazilian wax” she said nonchalantly.

I raised my eyebrows.

Seemed this dynamic, post-menopausal woman had started experimenting with pubic hair removal at the urging of her daughters, who are in their twenties. She was surprised (and pleased) to find that she loved it.

She told me that while her partner (male) didn’t have a strong preference when it came to her pubic hair, she found that she preferred the feeling of being hairless. She was absolutely, without a doubt, oozing the kind of confidence that older women can claim when they realize they only have themselves to impress, doing it for herself.

I was impressed.

My hope is that I have a chance to interview her in more detail soon… stay tuned.

2. This fabulous website (and this great article):

I recently discovered the Adios Barbie website, which is billed as “the body image site for every body”. Their website says “at adiosbarbie.com, we create articles, campaigns, events and other cool stuff that inspires a body and self-loving world.”

Here’s a link to a great article by Quinn Davis called “The Naked Clam and Other Preposterous Pubic Hair Problems.” Read the whole article here.

3. Pubic Hair as Marmoset:

As I’ve written, with pubic hair being my current thing, people send me all kinds of interesting related stuff over the course of a day.

Today I got a great email from a friend who had come across a review of a new memoir by Caitlin Moran (the British broadcaster and newspaper columnist) called “How To Be A Woman” in the English Times Literary Supplement. It contained the following observation:

“Likewise, pubic hair is there to be enjoyed and Moran calls for the return of the sort that looks, when she is sitting down naked, ‘As if the woman has a marmoset on her lap’…”

His email prompted me to seek out more info, which is how I came across this expanded quote from the book:

“In recent years I have become more and more didactic about pubic hair – to the point where I now believe that there are only four things a grown, modern woman should have: a pair of yellow shoes (they unexpectedly go with everything), a friend who will come and post bail at 4am, a failsafe pie recipe, and a proper muff. A big, hairy minge. A lovely furry moof that looks – when she sits, naked – as if she has a marmoset sitting in her lap.”

–Caitlin Moran, How to be a Woman

I will certainly have to seek it out.

 

Tags: ,

I just wanted to draw your attention to a piece of commentary in Monday’s edition of British newspaper, The Independent. Written by Mary Ann Sieghart, the article is entitled “Time to overturn the tyranny of porn”. In it, she raises all kinds of important points, like why Christine Lagarde, the new head of the IMF, is being judged for her ‘sexiness’ in the media.

As Sieghard rightly points out:

“it’s no longer enough to be successful in your chosen field: to be a good lawyer or economist or minister. You are expected to look gorgeous too. Yet who would ever expect the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to be sexy (let alone the sexiest man in the world)? Or the head of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick?”

She later goes on to consider the influence that porn in having on all of us — and gets specific in the demands it has placed on women’s fashion and body practices:

High heels stop you running for a bus. They stop you running from danger. You can’t stride out in them; indeed, you can’t even keep up with the man you’re walking alongside. In a word, they make you submissive – just as having a Brazilian makes you look like a submissive pre-teen or willing porn actress.

See the pattern? These trends are sold to us, in a hideously Orwellian fashion, as “empowering”. No, it’s not empowering to be hobbled by excruciating heels. Nor is it empowering to be encouraged to dance suggestively with a pole. It’s tacky, it’s tarty, it’s undignified and it’s wholly inappropriate unless you’ve embarked on a career as a prostitute.

This seeping of sex, and a particular type of porn-inspired plastic sex, into ordinary life is really debilitating for women. I never thought I’d sound like Mary Whitehouse – God knows I loathed her prudishness when I was growing up – but sex should be a beautiful, loving, private, natural, exciting thing between two grown-up people, not an arid, artificial, commodified, public and frankly pervy pressure on the way women are supposed to look even to men for whom they have no desire.

The whole article is definitely worth a read, if you’ve got a few minutes.

Get it here:

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/mary-ann-sieghart/mary-ann-sieghart-time-to-overturn-the-tyranny-of-porn-2319938.html

While you’re at it, I’d also recommend scrolling down to read some of the comments. These comments, posted by rt356 particularly caught my attention:

I’m 20 and every single man (excepting one) I’ve either had sex with or discussed this with (mostly in a situation similar to this, debating feminism etc) has flat out said they wouldn’t have sex with a woman who didn’t wax/shave down there. So it’s definitely a generational thing, given that the men I generally come into contact with are under 30, and have mostly grown up watching porn, anything else seems ‘weird’ or (as is often incorrectly assumed) ‘unhygienic’. Some have even admitted if they see pubic hair on a woman then they find it impossible to get in the mood.

Her comments kind of blow my mind, but then I’ve heard similar things anecdotally. These are strange times, indeed…

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: , , ,

I’m going to keep things brief today because (as you may know if you’ve been following along) I’m trying to hunker down and get an academic paper written these days. Though it’s been a challenging exercise trying to streamline everything I’ve been reading/thinking/talking about in the last little while, it’s been interesting/exciting, too.

Today I’ve been re-reading a great article by Magdala Peixoto Labre called “The Brazilian Wax: New Hairlessness Norm for Women?” which was published in 2002. It’s a really smart piece — and though it’s not a new piece of writing, it really seems to support thing kinds of things I have been hearing from young women as part of my research. I’ve also been revisiting an article by Merran Toerien and Sue Wilkinson called Gender and Body Hair: Constructing the Feminine Woman (2003) which also has all sorts of interesting things to say.

One of the arguments I’ve mentioned (because it comes up again and again) as a reason that people are opposed to full pubic hair removal for women is because it makes them look like little girls. Now while I think the issue is a lot more complicated than that, I can certainly understand why there is a knee jerk reaction around it. It’s easy to see how hairlessness can be equated with youth, and as such, with the way little girls look before they become women.

As Toerien and Wilkinson write, “given that body hair may be understood both as a signal of (sexual) maturity, and as a symbol of masculine strength, the requirement for women to remove their hair may thus reflect the socio-cultural equation of femininity with a child-like status, passivity and a dependence on men”. (p. 338)

Labre writes this:

“By rendering women childlike, the Brazilian wax can be viewed as supporting women’s submissiveness, inferiority, and dependence on men. At a first glance, the Brazilian wax may seem to increase women’s control over men by enhancing female attractiveness and power of seduction. Instead, the practice reinforces the idea that women’s main role is to attract men while at most providing women with access to secondhand power or power achieved via control of men.” (p. 126)

I think I’ll leave it there for now and get back to the paper… but there’s lots here to think about. I always love hearing people think about the stuff I post — so please feel free to comment or send me an email.

 

 

 

Tags: , , ,

Sorry I haven’t had a chance to post in awhile. I’ve been busy trying to wrap my head around this academic paper I’m writing (or not writing, as the case may be). I’ve also been doing more media stuff around ‘Julyna’ — most recently, on CBC Radio in Halifax.

You can listen to the item as it ran on the city’s afternoon show, Mainstreet (hosted by Stephanie Domet) here — it’s about 13 minutes long (click this link twice to get to the player):

‘Julyna’ discussion on CBC Radio’s Mainstreet

I look forward to hearing what you think!

 

Tags: ,

Seeing as pubic hair is my current area of interest, my friends and colleagues hit me up with pubes-related stuff any chance they get.

Most recently, a couple of friends directed my attention to a recent podcast that was produced as part of the Stuff Mom Never Told You series.

For your amusement, this image has been lifted from http://laughoutloud.us/photo/mow-the-pubic-hair-tattoo/

Over the course of a chatty, 20-minute-long podcast called “Why Do Women Remove Their Hair Down There?”, two young-sounding women, Kristin and Molly, talk up the idea of pubic hair removal. They cover all the basics in a very superficial way (though what else are you gonna do in a 20-minute summary?) — from the history of hair removal among women, to citing studies about contemporary hair removal practices. All in all, the piece isn’t particularly critical — mostly, the refer to articles and chat in generalities about pubic hair removal.

If you’re interested in having a listen, go here:

http://podcasts.howstuffworks.com/hsw/podcasts/smnty/2011-07-11-smnty-remove-hair-down-there.mp3?_kip_ipx=598193178-1311179908

One friend who suggested I tune in to the podcast wrote me with some of her concerns about their generalizing. She raised an important question around one of the studies that Molly and Kristin cite near the end of the study. Here’s what my friend wrote:

“They cited one study saying that 18-24 year olds are responsible for most of the hair removal, but talked about them growing out of it or trying different practices when they got older. I thought that it would only be possible to know that if they did a longitudinal study. Instead, I thought that 18-24 year olds could be part of a new standard of pubic hair removal, one that could very well continue as they got older, resulting in completely waxing 50-year-olds in 25-30 years from now. What do you think?”

I think she nails it with her question. I find it hard to believe that a young woman disgusted by her own pubic hair at, say, 18, is suddenly going to come to terms with it at 45.

As part of my research, I interviewed a woman who runs a very popular salon which very much caters to the undergraduate student body here in Kingston. While she did say that the majority of her clients were young women, she said she did have women coming to see her for Brazilian waxes who where in their sixties and seventies. She told me that she didn’t think 60 year old women were coming in to do it because they were seeing it modeled in porn or any such thing. She truly believed they were coming in for waxing because of a desire to want to be “clean.”

The same woman suggested that older women tended to come in for waxing if they were starting new relationships (suggesting a natural tie-in to sexuality), or if they’d be urged to try it at the behest of their daughters.

Obviously, we’ll have to wait to see what the outcome is, but as I’ve written before — there was a time when women didn’t remove armpit and leg hair… and that’s pretty much unheard of in dominant North American culture now. Though anecdotally I’ve heard that pubic hair is “making a comeback” in mainstream pornography, I do find it hard to believe that women will modify their own body practices to reaccept something that many have already dismissed as ‘unclean’.

Anyone got thoughts on this?

 

 

 

 

Tags: , , ,

Yup, here we go again.

This time it’s a commercial for Summer’s Eve ‘cleansing wash and cloths.’ This video has been raising a few virtual eyebrows in the blogosphere for being stupid, sexist and generally dumb (oh- and for perpetuating the idea that women should be buying extra products for cleaning their genitals, because in our hygiene-obsessed culture, apparently plain old soap and water won’t cut it.

Here’s the commercial, followed by a transcript I’ve lifted from Melissa McEwan’s post on the Shakesville blog.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxW_ZCd64tg

A woman of color in an animal skin dress holds up a baby swaddled in hide against the backdrop of the aurora borealis in a night-scape on a mountainside as “primitive” drums play. “It’s the cradle of life,” says a female voiceover. The music takes on a male chorus as the scene changes to a Cleopatra-like character lifting her arms into a V atop a pyramid over a cheering crowd. “It’s the cradle of civilization,” says the voiceover. The music takes on an action beat as the scene switches to a fight between two Asian men in a bamboo forest, as a mysterious Asian woman watches them. “Over the ages and throughout the world, men have fought for it,” says the voiceover, as the scene segues to a jousting match in Merry Olde England as a princess gazes on, “battled for it, even died for it.” One knight knocks the other off his horse, then raises his faceguard to look at the princess, who smiles at him. “One might say, it’s the most powerful thing on Earth.” The music crescendos, then immediately dies to muzak as the scene cuts to a grocery store, where a modern woman of color is standing in an aisle, holding a Summer’s Eve product in her hand. “Hmm!” she says, as if it’s a revelatory new product, looking at the bottle, then putting it in her cart. “So, come on, ladies,” says the voiceover, now in a conversational tone. “Show it a little love!”

Cut to a screen showing the products, labeled “Hail to the V.” “Cleansing wash and cloths, from Summer’s Eve,” says the voiceover. “Hail to the V!”

(Definitely read McEwan’s writing on this for more interesting stuff)

There’s nothing capitalism likes better than selling people (especially women) products they don’t need. A particularly effective way to do that, of course, is to make them feel really insecure about their bodies so that they feel obliged to buy stuff (what do you think the quest for the perpetual quest for the perfect pair of jeans is all about?).

And since these ads selling us ‘intimate cleansing products’ have been around for awhile (anyone remember this one?) you’d think we’d all be up to speed on the this-is-dumb-we-don’t-need-to-buy-products-to-make-our-vaginas-more-fresh-thank-you-very-much arguments.

But advertising and popular culture is powerful, and we’re surprisingly good at internalizing the messages we get.

American philosopher and cultural theorist Susan Bordo writes about these kinds of ideas (and because I’m writing an academic paper at the moment, I’m going to use some of her ideas here). In her 1993 text Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body, Bordo talks about the body being a “medium of culture.” She references Michel Foucault’s ideas about the body as a “direct locus of social control” — a “docile body” (ie. not a raw, natural body, but one that is “regulated by the norms of cultural life).

A douched body is most definitely a “docile body”. So, too, is a perpetually waxed one.

Bordo points out (and remember, she wrote this book in 1993, so things are probably more extreme now), that women are spending “more time on the management and disciplining of our bodies than we have in a long, long time.” She draws a connection (as others have) between the fact that as more opportunities for women open up in the public sphere, our body practices become more and more rigorous.

Through the pursuit of an ever-changing, homogenizing, elusive ideal of femininity — a pursuit without a terminus, requiring that women constantly attend to minute and often whimsical changes in fashion — female bodies become docile bodies — bodies whose forces and energies are habituated to external regulation, subjection, transformation, “improvement”, writes Bordo.

“Through the exacting and normalizing disciplines of diet, makeup and dress — central organizing principals of time and space in the day of many women — we are rendered less socially oriented and more centripetally focused on self-modification. Through these disciplines, we continue to memorize on our bodies the feel and conviction of lack, of insufficiency, of never being good enough.”

Loving our bodies, we are not.

(Cut to the black woman shopping for Summer’s Eve products in a grocery store)

So while the Summer’s Eve commercial may be singing “Hail to the V”, the actual message that’s being internalized is (again, predictably) your untended vulva is gross and disgusting.

And it’s working.

And it’s extremely applicable to normalized pubic hair removal:

A young woman (a regular waxer) recently told me about her reasons for pursuing a practice that was painful and that she couldn’t afford.

“I guess I feel cleaner,” she said. “I like having no hair.” And then she paused. “I guess…vaginas are really…”. She struggled to find the right words. “When you have no (pubic) hair, it’s just less embarrassing. I feel like vaginas are…weird.”

(And yes, I did point out that keeping it bare might make it seem MORE weird than if it were blanketed in hair).

Vagina insecurity = 1

Body confidence = 0

Once again, waxing wins.

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Seems a celebrity worshipping-fashion-sex-hair-horoscopes-etc blog, The Frisky, has come up with a few cute names for female pubic hair. Their “30 Unapproved Names for a Woman’s Bush” includes everything from ‘Fur Pie’, ‘Vagina Sweater’ and ‘Bearded Clam’, to ‘Hairport’, ‘Hairkini’ and ‘Cat Fur’.

Regretfully, I have nothing more to say about this.

 

 

 

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will be familiar with Toronto artist Julie Voyce’s work. She has been creating a special series of works inspired by my writing here at The Last Triangle. Though we were on a brief art-hiatus here on the blog – Julie is back with another fabulous drawing.

This fine young woman is celebrating ‘Julyna’ (or so Julie tells me) with a “neat little American wax,” and “Henna embellishment extending beyond the pubic area” (that’s because the campaign’s organizers have suggested that Henna or Vajazzling are good options for those women who may no longer have much pubic hair due to laser hair removal, etc).

Enjoy!

 

Tags: , ,

Although I did have a couple of great talks with Vanessa Willson, the founder of Julyna, earlier this month, I have to rant a little again today.

That’s because I just found this ‘Julyna’ PSA online:

I find it so dumb and so problematic, that I hardly know where to begin!

So presumably, a bunch of (young, fit, mostly white) men and women are playing Red Rover. The men, moustached (presumably in a tribute to ‘Movember’) are playing on one side, fully clothed. The women are, we eventually realize, naked from the waist down (Women naked? In our culture? say it ain’t so!). The two teams call out to one another using their ‘hair styles’ — (ie. “Red rover, red rover, we call handlebars over”. Guy with distinctive facial hair then triumphs across the space between the two lines). Things get gross and weird, however, when the men call out “Red rover, red rover, we call LANDING STRIP over” and a semi-naked woman (the details of their lower halves have been digitally obscured) runs across the field.

Seriously, people: I know you’re probably just trying to be funny with your little PSA, but a whole generation of young women have already internalized the cultural expectation that they sport little more than a landing strip in their day-to-day pubic hair practices. These young women already hate their bodies and already feel so pressured to look and act a certain way in the world.

(In fact, one very bright and beautiful 23-year-old woman recently tried to explain the weight of looking the way she does to me by calling it ‘the package’.. It is her way of describing the expectations people have of her because of her looks. “The Brazilian wax or bikini wax is part of the package,” she explained. When I asked her what else was in the package, she said “not being fat, being pretty… you know.. having the right attitude”.)

Is this little PSA really the most effective way to push your campaign? (and isn’t it weird to pit ‘Movember’ against ‘Julyna’, as if the two were in competition with one another?)

I recently spent some time rereading Naomi Wolf’s classic text, The Beauty Myth. Though it was first published in 1991, it still feels so relevant in so many ways. I can’t help but recall Wolf’s thoughts on what she calls the “officially endorsed double standard for men’s and women’s nakedness in mainstream culture,” which she says “bolsters power inequalities.”

A few thoughts (from Wolf) on the impact (for example) of normalizing naked breasts:

“The practice of displaying breasts, for example, in contexts in which the display of penises would be unthinkable, is portrayed as trivial because breasts are not “as naked” as penises or vaginas; and the idea of half exposing men in a similar way is moot because men don’t have body parts comparable to breasts. But if we think about how women’s genitals are physically concealed, unlike men’s, and how women’s breasts are physically exposed, unlike men’s, it can be seen differently: women’s breasts, then correspond to men’s penises as the vulnerable “sexual flower” on the body, so that to display the former and conceal the latter makes women’s bodies vulnerable while men’s are protected.”

Wolf later writes this (seems pretty apt right about now – hence the bold font):

“To live in a culture in which women are routinely naked where men aren’t is to learn inequality in little ways all day long.”

On that note, I recently spoke with a vivacious, pretty young woman (age 19) who broke my heart when she told me this:

“I hate my body. Every five seconds I’m thinking about how much I hate it. And when I eat something I’m like…Oh my gosh…What is this going to do? So I feel like when I get (Brazilian) waxed, I feel like it’s something I can control like, really easily. It’s an automatic response.”

I asked her if it was fair, then, to say that she was doing the Brazilian waxing for herself, rather than for the guys she has sex with.

“Yeah,” she answered, “but I think it’s both. It’s a little bit for the guys, because having them like it makes me feel good about myself. So…I guess it’s for me, too.”

Enough said, no?

‘Julyna’ is a silly campaign that has, rightfully, generated lots of criticism, even it’s founders were well intentioned and still say they just want to promote a good cause.

But making a video that not only plays on female nakedness and vulnerability, but actually has men calling out for the ‘Landing Strip’ (a woman reduced to her pubic hair style) in a world where many women already face so many inequalities (and spend so much time and energy on body control) is just plain problematic.

 

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

So I’ve been thinking about porn again… and yeah, not in that way. I’ve been thinking again about the influence that porn is having on our sexuality in a post-internet (PI?) age. I’m not the first person who has suggested that there’s a close connection between normalized pubic hair removal among young women (and, increasingly, young men) and the fact that the the generation of people coming of age now are doing so with easy access to online pornography (where the bodies on display are, generally, sans-hair).

The stuff I’m hearing anecdotally seems to back up connection between pubic hair removal and the social glorification of the porn star. I recently spoke with a beautiful young 19-year old who talked at-length about her own grooming practices which she seemed to perform against a backdrop of profound body-hatred. Sexually active, she made unabashed comments about the fact that keeping her nether regions waxed made her feel “like a porn star.”

She later told me that her first boyfriend (and sexual partner) watched a lot of porn. “He just said he likes it better with no hair,” she said about his own expectations for her body, never conclusively drawing a connection between his love of on-line porn and what he expected his own sexual partners to look like. Though he never explicitly told the girl she had to be hairless, she understood what was expected of her.

“And then whenever I didn’t (wax), I thought… or I would feel like… oh, so he doesn’t like me, you know what I mean?” she told me, frankly. “And that was the first (sexual experience). So that’s maybe why I like it (now).”

Though she’d never been asked to think about her own body practices critically, she then made the wise observation that perhaps she’d internalized his expectations for her body and now believed she preferred her own body when completely hairless. She couldn’t otherwise explain it.

Porn is powerful – and pervasive. And it’s affecting us all more than we probably notice. So it’s worth talking/thinking about, I think.

Naomi Wolf recently published an article on the Aljazerra website called “Is Pornography Driving Men Crazy?”, where she muses about whether the widespread ability and consumption of porn in recent might actually be rewiring the male brain when it comes to sex.

(Interestingly, many of the young women I’ve spoken with don’t like pornography — or at least the mainstream stuff — but are afraid to acknowledge it for fear they might be seen as prudish or uptight. Liking porn, it seems, is cool, even when many young women say it makes them feel uncomfortable, insecure and alinenated).

And if you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend watching this brief video of a talk by advertising consultant Cindy Gallop. Fearlessly frank (and, it’s important to note, pro-porn), Gallop talks engagingly about the “creeping ubiquity of hardcore pornography” into pop culture and how it’s impacting our sexuality (especially young people):

In a bid to counter some of the pervasive porn-ideas that are impacting human sexuality today, Gallop has started a website she calls Make Love Not Porn. Here’s an example from it:

This page (in case you can’t read it) says:

“Porn World: Women Have No Hair Down There/ Real World: Some women shave, some women don’t. Some men actively prefer women to keep their hair. If you do shave, it requires constant maintenance, which can be a pain in the…Entirely up to personal choice.”

 

 

Tags: , , ,

« Older entries