Capitalism

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Well, with summer’s start tomorrow I know we’re all freaking out about getting ready for bathing suit season right? What, no? Ok, you’re right: bathing suit season is low on the list of things competing for space in my mind right now. This is the time of year, however, when the mainstream media like to post helpful tips and tricks for getting ready for the aforementioned “season” – and for women, that usually involves some kind of well-intentioned piece about how to whisk away “unwanted” hair.

That’s why I was amused (and sort of pleased) to see an article in the Toronto Star called “My First Brazilian Wax“. Written by Victoria Ptashnick, the article charts her first foray to the salon for a full Brazilian – ie. a wax after which very little is left to the imagination. Victoria doesn’t break any ground with her tale – it’s charming and funny and pretty much exactly what you would expect – but I did think it was refreshing to see a young woman opting out of what appears to be the dominant pubic-grooming practice of her age. In a video added to the site yesterday, Victoria answers reader questions about her article and experience. She is very clear about one thing: her future will not include intimate waxing.

Speaking of intimate procedures, I recently learned about “ball ironing”, sometimes known as “tightening the tackle” (apparently) in a brief article on an offshoot of the NY Magazine’s website called ‘The Cut’. According to the article, the thin testicular skin gets wrinkly and discoloured with age, so men can now pay good money (and lots of it) for a procedure that “involves using lasers to remove hair, erase wrinkles, and correct discoloration on the scrotum.” Will we ever run out of things to worry about?

 

 

 

 

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Yes, that’s right: when you spend your spare time thinking about the political significance of public hair, you never run out of fodder for party small talk. Nor do you ever run out of things to make you mad. Here’s the latest thing — send to me by a number of friends/readers/allies.

Seems besides having intimate bits that are too hairy, it’s also possible to have genitals that are “too brown.” At least that’s what the people who produce a new product aimed at Indian woman. Evidently, the product is some kind of intimate wash that also helps to make your vulva “many shades fairer”. Curious? Here’s the television ad:

http://youtu.be/9Tx9vVVMWw0

Predictably, our protagonist is sad with her ordinary vagina, but is radiantly happy once she’s doused it in chemicals. I’ve written before about the notion of the vagina as being “dirty” until all its protective hair is whisked away. This is a product that actually exactly embodies “your vagina is dirty” mentality. That graphic, with the product lightening an animated groin seems to say it all. Sigh.

Huffington Post’s got a good article on the top. Have a read here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/04/12/vagina-brightener-indian-feminine-hygiene-product-promises-to-make-genitals-many-shades-fairer_n_1420052.html?ref=canada-living&ir=Canada+Living

And as I’ve written before, I love it when readers get in touch. I had a nice little note from Emily recently, who got in touch to tell me about a recent experience she had reading Cosmopolitan magazine.

Here’s what she wrote:

I was at a friend’s house the other day and found something in a magazine that seemed relevant to The Last Triangle. 

Looking at Cosmo is like looking at a car crash. I know I’m going to be horrified by what I see, but if there is one there, I still look. The image I attatched is a snap of “99 sex questions answered”. I know not to expect much from Cosmo, but it was still upsetting to see that when one’s lover has a preference for pubes, this publication is encouraging her to leave him the bare minimum. Oh, the implications. 

She also sent along this snapshot:

As Emily points out, the problem with this is, of course, that at no point is the poor woman told that her boyfriend would probably be just fine with nothing more than a little trim. But the only option this mainstream mag can offer up is the landing strip: a (probably) salon-driven grooming practice requiring pain, money, time, effort.

As I’ve said a million times: I believe women should be allowed to do whatever they want with their bodies, as long as they know what the options are. Magazines like this would have all young women believe there are only a few ways of being in the world.

 

 

 

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Hi all-

Firstly, let me apologize for disappearing on you for months like that. As I may have explained back in November, my life recently got a major overhaul. I moved to a new city, started a new job (which wasn’t going to be full-time, but now is), and have been busily working at building myself a community and a life in this new place.

I haven’t forgotten about you, though. It’s just that the days keep blurring together…and while I’ve been whole-heartedly intending to post new stuff to this blog, somehow the months have slipped by.

I’m grateful, too, to the friends and regular readers who have been continuing to send me links and letters (yes! I got a fabulous letter IN THE MAIL from a reader!) full of ideas they think I’d be interested in sharing. When a friend wrote recently to say “I miss your blog”, I knew it was time to take action: I either had to give up on the site altogether, or I had to kick it up a notch and start posting again. This is me opting for the latter.

So – here goes. Consider me back. I won’t be posting every day, but I’ll do my best to post whenever I come upon something relevant and/or interesting.

Today, I’m going to start here:

This is a pair of women’s underwear by a company called ‘House of Holland’ — these are the “Full Bush Cheeky Short”. A quick glance through their lingerie collection reveals that the company’s tastes tend towards the slinky and sexy…so my guess is that this suggestion of full bush is meant to be a cute joke… an homage, perhaps, to the hair that is likely never allowed to rear its pesky little (curly) head(s).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, for those women who just want to state it like it is, there’s always this option:

These are the “Bald Cheeky Shorts”. I’m inclined to think that the designer probably imagined these as being an updated version of the famous “days of the week” underwear — only perhaps in 2012,  the idea is that you can use your briefs to declare the state of your nether regions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fun? Offensive? As always, I’d love to know what you think.

And if you’ve got any ideas about stuff you want to see posted here, feel free to send ‘em my way. I’m looking forward to being back in touch…

 

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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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Oh, Boys…

You’re facing pressures of your own, no? Though I’d argue that it’s less common to hear of a guy being seen as dirty or disgusting for leaving his pubic hair au-natural, I’m reading/hearing about men facing an increasing amount of pressure to go hairless.

Poking around on the internet this morning, I came across a website selling (surprise!) hair removal products (anyone see a theme when it comes to hair removal?) for men.

I was particularly taken by the narrative they were doling out: that in removing their pubic hair they would be more attractive to the opposite sex, and that, in general, things would be more ‘hygienic’ — essentially the same arguments women seem to be readily internalizing.

This site not only tries to sell men on the idea of whisking away their pubic hair (“Back in the day having a hairy chest and body was sexy but these times have changed. Women now find smooth, clean male bodies more attractive. But pubic shaving isn’t just about impressing the oppisate sex but also about personal hygiene”) but then it actually tries to sell them a fancy electric “bodygroomer”, as well as a special powder for the inevitable post-shave itching:

Here are some pubic shaving tips for guys who are ready for their first pubic shaving experience:

- DO NOT use a razor blade

- DO NOT use an electric shaving machine

- DO NOT use regular body soap

- DO NOT use after shave

So how do you properly shave your balls? Easy, the one and most important tool you need to avoid cuts and enjoy your pubic shaving experience is the Philips Norelco Bodygroom.

Sigh.

Of course you do. WHAT A SURPRISE.

(Seriously, people – how has it happened that we’re all caught up in this? I’d love to hear what you think).

 

 

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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.

 

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Sorry I haven’t posted in awhile. It hasn’t been intentional – I’ve just arrived at the bit of this project where I’m supposed to start working on an actual hand-it-in-to-pass-or-fail-esque theoretical paper and it’s been sucking some of my energy.

I’ve been thinking, however, about pubic-hair printed clothing – and not in an abstract way. It turns out that a Finnish Label, Tärähtäneet Ämmät (or, apparently, “Crazy Slappers” in English) have designed underwear printed with pubic hair on the front of it.

Here’s an image (lifted from The Fashion Police.net, “the fashion blog for people who don’t follow fashion”):

Amusingly, the company also makes (terrifically named) leggings (“Hairy Leggings”)…

and  a chest hair-endowed undershirt for men:

I can’t quite decide what spirit these garments were first conceived in, but I like ‘em (especially the hairy leggings). I like the idea of acknowledging what used to be (and remembering what was) or what might still reign were it not for our crazy human urge to control our natural bodies.

 

 

 

 

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Well, unsurprisingly there’s been lots of buzz about “Julyna” these last few days. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? See my last blog post). Seems there is nothing the media likes more than an opportunity to talk about pubic-hair-shaving when it’s in a “awww…but it’s for a good cause!” context.

In fact, yours truly even got to discuss the issue with a reporter from The Globe and Mail, Canada’s ‘national’ newspaper (I’ll post the article when it is published).

I found out about “Julyna” when I got a flurry of emails and Facebook posts from friends who figured it was something I might be interested in (and indeed, I was!). That’s because when you study something like pubic hair, it’s easy to back yourself into a tidy (well-groomed?) little corner. Anytime anything vaguely related to the hair the grows in the nether regions of the adult human body comes up…I spring to mind.

Last night, for example, I got a great message from a friend (thanks, Pia!) drawing my attention to a new publicity stunt that Gillette is trying out in Germany.

(Ah yes, another day, another marketing campaign…)

According to Bella Sugar, Gillette’s marketing people in Germany have apparently left thousands of beach towels lying around on the grass in public places in that country. The towels feature silhouettes of distinctly male and female figures in striking hues.

What’s odd is the cut-outs.

The areas on the otherwise silhouetted bodies that would normally bear hair (on the female body: armpits and pubic area / on the male: armpits, chest and pubic area) have been cut out, allowing the grass to push through in fresh, green defiance.

The towels also features the logos for Venus and Fusion, gender-specific brands of shaving gel/cream.

From what I understand, the sight of all that grass rearing its unkempt head through the strategically placed holes is presumably supposed to compel you into self-grooming action. After all, you don’t want to risk looking like you’ve got…uh…GRASS growing on your body.. uh… right?

It’s a truly bizarre campaign being foisted upon a country that’s generally been kinda cool about women flashing the odd au-natural armpit.

More than a few people have noted the absence of grass-leg hair on the towel-woman’s body (though one supposes it was easier to be selective and create three holes, rather than cutting away the entire silhouette in a statement of you-know-this-is-all-supposed-to-be-hair-free-right?).

As Bella Sugar’s Associate Editor, Miriam Lacey, put it, “I mean, the fluffy grass looks so nice and fresh that it almost makes me want to stop shaving…”

(And if anyone in Germany is reading this, please let us know how the campaign is going! Have you seen any towels? What’s the response been? Are people, inspired by these towels, furiously mowing their ‘lawns’? Send word…)

 

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Someone sent me a link to this fascinating little advertisement over the weekend. In it, our weary, satin-clad protagonist must rip up a dusty grey carpet and haul it down an impossibly long flight of stairs. Got a minute? Watch it here:

The ad, we soon learn, is for laser hair removal. The suggestion is that unless we get our hair permanently whisked away by lasers, we women are forever doomed to drag hugely heavy, dusty shag carpets down impossibly long flights of stairs for all eternity… uh.. I mean are forever doomed to shave and wax and pluck away our ‘unwanted hair’ until we die.

The things we do in the name of beauty…(at least this ad acknowledges that hair removal is a drag…)

 

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Hi all – sorry for the radio silence over the last few days. I’ve been busy reading and thinking and trying to figure out where to take this conversation next. I’ve started doing formal interviews, too. This morning I interviewed a woman who has been working as an esthetician for 35 years. I’ll be offering up some of the best bits of that conversation in an upcoming post.

For now, I wanted to draw your attention to the wild world of YouTube — most significantly, to this commercial for a ‘bikini trimmer’. If you’ve got a quick moment, have a look at this:

This is a commercial that evidently ran on television in the United Kingdom (though I haven’t been able to discern exactly when). It has since enjoyed tremendous popularity here on the interweb.

It some ways, there’s nothing to say, right? It’s at once totally appalling and wonderfully hilarious.

I am particularly fascinated by how un-subtle it is:

I love that we start in a staid living room where our main character sits trapped between two bushy ferns, cuddling a particularly fluffy cat (be sure to note the shorn feline she’s holding in the final scene). She then bursts into the outside world (hair down and dressed in a flouncy skirt and bright pink topic) rarin’ to clip her topiary along with a collection of bubbly neighbours.

We then learn that “some bushes are really big” (black woman) and that “some gardens are mighty small” (asian woman) — but never fear, because “whatever shape your topiary, it’s easy to trim them all.”

In other words ladies: you can do whatever you like with your shrubbery, as long as you do something. Selling women on the idea that they should “never feel untidy” is pretty much at the crux of what I’m on about in this blog: that the unkempt woman is unacceptable. Buying the “Quattro for Women” bikini trimmer, however, oughta get you fixed right up.

(I love that one of the posted comments in response to this video is “This is the hint of? all hints to leave on your girlfriends (sic) facebook. lol” Ah, technology: facilitating communication between the sexes for, oh, a handful of years or so).

Oh- and while I’ve got your attention — the American market got a similar but more subtle ad. This one is for the “Schick Quattro Bikini Trim Style”. Have a look:

I love that they encourage us to “Free Our Skin” by buying their product — again, drawing a not-particularly-subtle link between consumption and freedom.

And obviously, women aren’t the only ones being honed in on by the consumption machine. I recently came across this little ditty aimed at (presumably young) men:

It’s interesting to compare how markets tap into male and female insecurities when it comes to intimate grooming. With women, the focus is on feeling tidy and together. With men, it’s about “making the tree look taller”.

More soon.

 

 

 

 

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