September 2011

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Bare Boys

A friend recently sent me a link to this great article that appeared recently on the Bitch Magazine website (don’t know Bitch Magazine? start here…)

The article is called “Isn’t He Lovely: Bare Down There And Everywhere Else,” by Cristen Conger.

The well written article is about the new hairlessness among young men. The author talks about the notion of a “sanitized ideal” for men that seems to be taking the mainstream by storm. As she writes:

We’re talking hair-free, sweat-free, odor-free; in other words, the same unrealistic standards peddled to women for so long, à la leg and underarm shaving. And like the hairless female ideal, it isn’t just the most visible fur that men are tending to these days; statistically, men groom their pubic hair more than any other type of body hair (sans beards).

Though I haven’t formally embraced looking at male body hair practices (I’d love to though… just give me time). The article does point out (and rightly so) that while the increased pressure for me to depilate is sort of disturbing (in the sense that any widely normalized, readily embraced mechanism of body control is), men don’t face nearly the same levels of stigma that women do should they decide NOT to embrace the practice.

And again, the article asks some of the same questions I have around women’s pubic hair grooming habits: will the trend persevere as men age and settle down, or like with women, is the trend very much a short lived practice tied in with youthful, commitment-free sexuality.

I remember one of the young women I interviewed telling me about one of her regular ‘hook up’ partners, and the fact that being hairless was, in a sense, part of the ritual:

“It’s definitely more appealing,” she told me. “There was this one guy.. we were hook up buddies, I guess. I invited him over, and he was like ‘oh, I just shaved for you,’ and I was like ‘oh, cool…oh, I just waxed too.’ It was like, I did this thing for you. It was a positive thing…you know what I mean?”

There must be something in the casualness of the hook-up that is balanced by the ritualized grooming practice: it seems to acknowledge that ‘I know that we have this meaningless, strings-free intimate relationship, but I still did my part before showing up’.

You know what I mean?

 

 

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Sorry for the silence — I’ve been distracted by a million and a half other tasks these days. I was in Ottawa, Ontario on Monday for a meeting, and as I made my way there, I saw the most interesting poster taped to a pole.

GROWING OUR PITS FOR TITS! it crowed in bright pink and orange. Naturally, I stopped.

The poster was advertising a new fundraising campaign encouraging women to grow out their armpit hair for (you guessed it) breast cancer research. Using the name “Unshaven Mavens”, to two organizers Malorie Bertrand and Amie Beausoleil want women to go au natural for the month of October, while raising money for the Rethink Breast Cancer charity.

Here’s how it works: on Saturday, October 1st, 2011, participants will apparently gather for a “Pit Start & Clean Shaven Day”, wherein they will “shave their underarms clean of any and all hair.” For the next four weeks, all participants will grow out their armpit hair “for the world to behold”. Progress will be celebrated (and photo-documented) at “weekly pit stops” at an Ottawa bar. The rules are pretty simple: “no shaving, trimming, shaping, bleaching allowed. We’re aiming for Sarah Silverman growth here.” The month-long growing frenzy will culminate in a “Red Carpit Bash” where in women will win awards for their efforts (both in raising funds and in growing hair).

Now, if you’re thinking “hmmmm… female body hair being connected with cancer fundraising,” then you aren’t alone. For those of you who have been reading along, you’ll know that I was fairly critical about the ‘Julyna’ campaign that was staged in Toronto in July (the goal of which was for women to groom their pubic hair into a shape and keep it that way for the entire month, while soliciting donations to support cervical cancer research. You can read more about what I think about it here).

The organizers have argued, on their site that since the armpit area can serve as a place for early detection of breast cancer, it makes sense to draw attention to it with a campaign. As the site suggests, “unshaven mavens will be a diverse group of women who all share at least two things in common — a desire to make a difference and the ability to not take themselves too seriously.”

The organizers appear to be operating with a much smaller scope. In an article on the Apt 613 blog last week, the organizers admitted they only had 11 people registered — a far cry from the numbers the Julyna gals were able to pull in. But of course, growing out your underarm hair, while daring in these hairless times, is still nowhere near as titillating (or as controversial) as etching your pubes in a cute shape.

I like the fact that this campaign is actually public — unlike Julyna, where you kept your fundraising efforts in your pants — and would cause quite a stir if young women everywhere began embracing armpit hair. I also like the fact that overall, the endeavour is not ickily tied to female sexuality in the way that Julyna is.

I look forward to hearing what you think (and to hearing how the campaign goes). Just another gimmick? A viable female alternative to Movember? Let me know…

 

 

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According to this article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, “the vagina is becoming big business on American TV”. That’s right, people: turns out there is money to be made in yonder genitalia.

Apparently, those of us who grew up with “more graphic language and sexual images in the media” can talk openly about vaginas, rather than skirting around the issue with cute euphemisms (perhaps like generations past?). We are (apparently) also more relaxed about our bodies, so we’re less embarrassed about talking bodily-functions, etc.

But it’s the numbers that are most interesting. According to the article, “ad spending for feminine hygiene products, including tampons, panty liners and cleansers, was up nearly 30 percent to $218.9 million in 2010 from two years ago.”

That’s a lot of money.

I’m fascinated by that increase: what, exactly, has changed? Are we really that much more open about our bodies, or does one or two racy, boundary-pushing ads pave the way for a whole bunch more? (and now it’s been totally normalized. Or have we merely run out of ways to ‘shock’ audiences?).

Interestingly, the article (which explores pubic hair dye and Vajazzling) doesn’t mention the impact that the normalizing of pubic hair removal has had on women (nor the pot loads of money to be had in making them feel insecure about their untended, ‘natural’ bodies).

And at the end of the day, it’s kind of more of the same old thing. The last quote in the article is from Rhonda Zahnen, a principal at The Richards Group (the company responsible for this horrible TV ad), who says predictable things about how excited this is about the fact that people are now “talking about feminine hygiene”. “We just wanted to be sure that the conversation is focused on celebrating and empowering women,” she adds.

(I, personally, feel empowered to hate Zahnen’s ads).

To me it makes perfect sense that the vagina would be having its day: as we all know, the giant money-making machine is always looking for new targets.

The whole vag-spectacle is only empowering, however, if we use the attention for good — choosing to love our lady-bits, rather than feeling ‘empowered’ to subject them to hot wax, labiaplasty, or generalized body-hate.

 

 

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I’ve pondered this question before, of course: what is it that men think when it comes to women’s pubic hair? Because from what I’ve heard after talking to a lot of younger women, many remove their pubic hair because they understand it’s what the men they sleep with like. Of course, generalizing is never hugely productive, but many of my conversations have gone like this:

Female Interview Subject (aged 19): “I think… guys prefer no hair… or at least the majority of my friends who are guys.”

Me: “how do you know that?”

FIS: “You ask them. Or, like, I’d say, ‘I’m going to get my va-jay-jay waxed today, what are you doing?”

Friend of FIS: She’s so open! It’s so easy for her to get information like that!

Me: And what do they say to that?

FIS: They’re like…’oh, cool.’ It’s chill. But if I ask them, they say it’s better without hair.

FoFIS: You have a lot of (girl) friends – do they all get waxed, too?

FIS: yeah, I think they do.

Guys: please write and let me know what your preferences are when it comes to pubic hair. How did you develop these preferences?

I was interested to come upon this article online this morning, when I was vaguely trolling around in search of interesting pubic-fodder for consideration.

Posted a couple of years ago on the website Your Tango: Smart Talk About Love, the article is called Male Perspective: Women, Grow Out Your Pubic Hair. Though the author, John DeVore, doesn’t divulge his age, he does (with humour and eloquence) tell us about his preferences when it comes to women’s intimate bits.

His is a plea for women to re-embrace their natural selves in a world that he fears would sooner have us become a “hairless race of squeaky smooth dolphin people.”

I think his point here is interesting:

“it’s not just the weird underage girl thing; aesthetically, a hairless hoo-ha is kind of antiseptic. It doesn’t look … human. The vagina almost becomes like an object, and that’s just not any fun. Sex is not an à la carte buffet of different body parts, and I know dudes who are obsessed with the physical appearance of the nanny. It’s a strange fetish, since how it feels is more important to me than how it looks.”

It’s a point worth considering, since many would argue that pornography has acclimatized us, culturally, to appreciate the body in turn-on-able pieces chunks (something women have been guilting of doing — reducing our bodies to a collection of parts, mostly flawed — for ages).

Naturally, the comments in response to this article are great — from men defensively defending their right to prefer things hairless (almost as if they hadn’t got the point of DeVore’s article at all), to this right-on comment from a female reader:

I love this guy!!!! 

One thing I can’t understand is a generation of women that is supposed to be so sexually liberated and free would let themselves be pushed into getting rid of pubic hair. It’s part of your sexuality. It’s there to attract attention to your genitals. It protects you. It hurts to get rid of it. There are health risks to your genitals from waxing.

I know there are some women who want to be hairless, but I suspect most are just doing it to look nice for your boyfriends. We’re humans and we’re animals. We have hair.

 

 

 

 

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I have to thank Betty, a reader in France, for sending me today’s link. She wrote to let me know about a French artist who has been making plush vaginas (or “doudouchattes”) complete with real fur (she also makes meat-shaped plush things, along with voodoo dolls):

http://ledoudouduboucher.ultra-book.com/portefolio

And nope- not one of these fuzzy little cuties is hairless. That could be because, as Betty points out, “here in France we are not so much victims of the pubic hair related depreciation of the woman, but soon without doubt we will be.”

Trust the French to bring us stylish little vaginas we can actually cuddle up to.

 

 

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A reader, Chy, recently sent me a link to her blog, Without Borders. On Friday, August 5, she wrote a lengthy, eloquent post about her decision not to remove her leg or facial hair. The entry, which is accompanied by photographs, is courageous — and I hate that I’m saying that.

Because Chy isn’t doing anything that we might normally think of as courageous: risking her life to save another’s, walking a tightrope across a vast space, speaking up when nobody else is. She’s just letting her hair grow. That should be a normal act, not a courageous one.

But in a culture where female hairlessness is normal, photographing your legs au natural takes a good deal of bravery, indeed. In not only pointing out, but then choosing not to remove the hair on her face, Chy takes it one step further. She dares people to comment, defiantly asking questions about what it means to be perform gender.

After all, in North American culture, body hair has come to be viewed as one of the easy-to-read distinguishing characteristics between men and women. Men have body hair, while women (regardless of how biology may throw that assumption into question) are smooth and hairless. Right?

In their essay “Gender and Body Hair: Constructing the Feminine Woman,” scholars Merran Toerien and Sue Wilkinson consider the effort required in “producing an acceptably feminine appearance,” in contemporary North American culture, pointing out that the “process of conforming is made more complex by the assumption that femininity should appear ‘natural’. The result: a cycle of effort to maintain the illusion that femininity is effortless,” requiring that women make both the “effort to be hairless and make the state of hairlessness appear ‘natural’.

That’s how we’re all kept busy, hiding any evidence of hair growth, embarrassed by our underarm stubble, keeping our shorts on at the beach if we’ve been neglecting our bikini lines. The message: keep it under control, ladies, or keep it covered.

In choosing to hold on to her body hair, Chy defiantly reminds the world that this, in fact, is what women look like if they choose not to spend time waxing and plucking and otherwise asking the body to conform to a societal norm. As she writes:

I am most proud of my decision and what I look like when I am in the presence of children.  Every child or young adult who sees me and notices my body hair has evidence in their lives that women are not all hairless (which I believed when I was little and had me feel alone). The more I love my body as it is, the more I can hope to rupture the assumed agreed upon limits of beauty.

There was a time, of course, when it seemed more acceptable to bear your hair (like, say, during feminism’s long-departed second wave). Lately, as I’ve been exploring in this blog, every last inch of hair (whether it’s in your pants or on show below your knees) seems to need banishing — and more disturbingly, many young women seem oblivious to the fact that hanging on to it is an option at all.

The more we are exposed to alternative ways of being in the world (including hairy ways of being in the world), the more we’ll be able to see that there are lots of different options when it comes to being attractive.

For now, the newest generation of trailblazers should be commended for their courage…

 

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In honour of the long weekend (and the fact that it’s the last true weekend of summer), we’re going to keep things short and light today.

Here, for your viewing amusement is a video featuring a quest for a ‘Triangle Shaped Bush’ (sort of fitting here, because as we know, they are becoming an increasingly rare sight!):

(thanks to Amanda for the link!)

I’ll get back into the more serious stuff next week. For now, have a pubic-hair laugh and enjoy the weekend.

 

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The internet never ceases to amaze me.

Here, for your amusement/interest is an online discussion about pubic hair. It’s called “Your Opinion on Pubic Hair” and it includes the voices of people pro and anti-hair on both men and women.

Some of the highlights include

No hair on a girl whatsoever!!! I dont allow it! I wouldnt hesitate to get a can of deodorant and a lighter to flame off a hairy gash! Urgh! I dont want a welcome mat laid out for me!!!!

and

I personally like pubic hair. I prefer it, as it helps the wetness of a girl to be spread a bit better so when I go down, it’s not like “look at all of these clumps of my white stuff.” Not to mention, having hair down there actually helps to keep out bacteria from entering your vagina ime. Moreover, whenever I’ve shaved or trimmed thin, I feel wet… all… the… time. Your clit rubs on your pants, making it very uncomfortable in public. I have hair and prefer hair. Looks more natural that way.

I’m always just a little amazed that people take the time to post their opinions on these kinds of forums.. but then, I guess I do write a WHOLE BLOG on the topic. There’s certainly lots to consider here.

 

 

 

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