Academic stuff

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hi all –

Just a quick note to say that even though I haven’t been writing much, I’ve been thinking up a storm. I sometimes feel like I don’t have much new material to offer up when it comes to discussing the specifics of pubic hair. I do, however, continue to feel passionately about questions of gender representation and body control, among other things.

That’s why I am particularly thrilled to be able to announce that I will be presenting at the fourth Body-Image and Self-Esteem Conference, which is presented bi-annually by the National Eating Disorder Information Centre. It takes place on May 9-10, 2013 in Toronto.

The conference is billed as a “unique opportunity in Canada to learn more about current research, evidence-based practices and innovative outreach in a multi-disciplinary, action-oriented environment.”

I’ll be giving a 90-minute (gah!) session on body hair, body image and self-esteem with a focus on… you guessed it… my favourite short-n-curlies.

Here’s the whole program!

If you want to come, early-bird registration for the conference ends on Friday, March 22, 2013.

If you’re in T.O, or not too far away, or interested in this kind of thing, please do consider joining us!

 

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I love it when people send me little bits of pubic hair related news and gossip. Today I got this (which I presume refers to something a professor did in a second year english class earlier this week).

From the Facebook group called “Overheard at Queen’s” (a university in Kingston, Ontario):

Wendy Reid
ENGL 292
Berg: (drawing female stick figure on the board, adding pubic hair) Oh, you don’t have that anymore do you? (erases hair).

Like · · Follow post · 45 seconds ago near Kingston, Ontario

So firstly, allow me to apologize for my total AWOL status — all I can tell you is that I’ve been busy. As you are probably already aware, I started writing this blog as part of my Master’s thesis project, which I backed it up with a longer-than-anticipated paper (in which I included excerpts from the blog and comments from readers like you). The paper was a bit of a slog for me, but I got through it.

Last Thursday, before a committee of three, I defended my project and successfully earned my Master’s degree (I’ve been decompressing ever since!). I want to thank all of you for your thoughts and encouragement around this project and the kind of stuff I have been writing.

But even though I’ve earned the degree, I’m not yet ready to give up on the blog or on thinking about the politics of pubic hair. This issue isn’t going away. There’s lots more to say.

That said, as I ease myself back into the working world, I would like to change things up a little bit. Up until now the primary voice you’ve been reading is mine. Sure, I’ve interviewed people and included their opinions in my entries — but at the end of the day, it’s all been mediated through me and my experience.

What I want now is more variation and input from readers. I’d love to have more guest writers expressing themselves here. I need more variety in the voices we’re hearing from: I’d love to have more input from men, from women of colour, and from people who challenge the boundaries of gender. If you’re feeling shy about your writing, feel free to dash something off and submit it to me for editing. It’s your ideas and experiences I am after — not perfect writing.

I promise to post more frequently than I have done for the last few weeks! And I really look forward to hearing from you and to including your experiences and writing in my posts. (You can submit your writing to mdault [at ] meredithdault.com)

 

 

 

 

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.”

eek.

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.

 

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So here’s the deal:

I’m a graduate student at Queen’s University, in Kingston, Ontario. I’m currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Cultural Studies — a relatively new interdisciplinary program (we’re the first cohort) that allows us to complete a project as part of our research. The idea is that rather than pursuing research that remains hidden away in the ivory tower, our work will have a little more reach, engaging with community audiences as well as those in academia. As such, we’re being encouraged to pursue non-traditional research, and to pursue a ‘project option’ if we so desire.

As such, I’ll be maintaining this blog for the rest of my time in graduate school. Its contents will be included as part of my academic work (though I’ll be writing a paper to support this work). What I’m hoping is that this blog becomes a forum for very real dialogue on the topic of body hair (I’m particularly interested in pubic hair, but it’s all relevant!) as it plays out both in the vast world of popular culture and in the lives and body practices of individuals. I’ll bring in some theory where I can (this IS an academic blog, after all!), and we’ll all (I hope!) learn something in the process.

I’d be grateful if you’d check in from time to time and lend your voice to the conversation…