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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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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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Those of you who are new to this blog may not be familiar with the series of drawings that Toronto-based artist Julie Voyce has been doing especially for The Last Triangle. She’s finding her inspiration in what she reads here, and then lets her imagination roam, coming up with ideas and images that push boundaries.

I haven’t posted one of Julie’s images for some time now, but I am very pleased that I am able to feature one today.

In creating this image, Julie says she was inspired by something I wrote about virgin waxing — and her imagining what it would be like if all the kids who got virgin waxes as kids grew up to realize they wanted to re-embrace their body hair after all.

Julie writes:

Here it is! The Future! Newly Created Consumer Demand!

It is the year 2035. Millions of little girls were given the virgin wax treatment, and as they grew up, they found they really wanted to have pubic hair!

They became angry because they weren’t given a choice!

A hair dresser by the name of Steinberg Rosamund Lenoir (Rosy L is her nick-name) invents the fashion trend that becomes all the rage! Why have a little hair when you can have a whole lot, thanks to the miracle of super growth injections in any colour desired.

Just shoot yourself up anywhere you want to have fur (in any hue!) and watch that beautiful hair grow, grow, grow!

Pictured here: the distribution most women favour: a little bit of mystery, a little bit of cheek…a whole lot of elegance!

 

For more of Julie’s drawings, click on the Julie Voyce tag in the tag cloud to the left…

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Earlier this week I introduced you to Ben, a queer-identified female-bodied man who had some really interesting things to say about around his relationship to pubic hair. If you missed the first part of the conversation, you can read it here.

Ben, 21, uses a wheelchair, and though he is becoming increasingly aware of how much he can do on his own, has had personal support workers (PSW) help with his hygiene since he was a teenager. It was a PSW who first encouraged him to remove his pubic hair. His mother had strong inclinations against the PSW’s opinion that removal was more hygienic. Ben says the tension between those two forces was challenging to manage — but says he never really felt he had true autonomy over his own body. “It was one force saying I should, and one for saying I shouldn’t… and then finally the one force saying I shouldn’t became stronger,” he explained to me.

But then recently, he reclaimed some power with an experience with a female-bodied sexual partner who liked his body as is was — and who modelled a particular degree of comfort with her own body. “I slept with someone who had a bush like me — and that was the turning point.”

Ben says he did try shaving before that turning point. “I had a boyfriend in high school, and I lost my ‘official’ virginity to him…and I sort of shaved.. or just like, tidied up for him. I liked being pretty for him. That was something I enjoyed.. it was an excuse for self-care. It was a way to feel good about my own self and appearance,” he explained, admitting that knowing someone else was looking — in a sexual way, and not in a its-my-job-to-give-you-a-shower way did make a difference.

Ben, who was then 17, says he kept the pubic hair removal process secret, trying discreetly to sweep the hair under his bed. “I have a lot more use of my arms when I am lying down, as compared with in the shower,” he explained with a laugh, “so I would dry shave in my bed and then try to hide it.”

Ben says the shaving felt like a necessary part of becoming sexually active. Before they were intimate, “(my boyfriend) said (my pubic hair) was exotic. He was ok with it, but I knew generally that when I was sexually active I might want to do something about it.”

Ben says he didn’t take it all off in the end, but tidied things up, best as possible to please his partner. Though the boyfriend never complained about the hair “he also didn’t touch it. He would get past it very quickly.”

Everything changed for Ben once he had a (female-bodied) partner who not only didn’t mind hair, but actively liked it. “This person would engage it it.. and I was like ‘oh, this isn’t something that you deal with, you actually kind of like it!’, and that was cool.”

Because Ben says he doesn’t really know what gender he identifies with, he says he doesn’t always know whose rules he is “supposed to play by in terms of that stuff, either.”

For me, that’s why Ben’s story is so fascinating. Blurring the lines around gender performance, he has experienced being in the world in different ways. Because of his disability, he has also had different forces impact his own body grooming practices. He is conscious of the messages many younger people seem to have internalized about pubic hair being undesirable. But it sounds like having had a partner who wasn’t judgmental about hair (and was, rather, celebratory!) also provided an important point of comparison (and body confidence).

We should all be so lucky.

 

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As regular readers will know, as part of my research I’ve been conducting interviews with people (mostly young women) about their views on their own body hair. I want to tell you about one of the most interesting I did recently.

The interview was with a 21-year old called Ben who identifies as queer, and as a female-bodied man or CAFAB (Coercively Assigned Female At Birth). We agreed to do a formal interview after having an interesting conversation as two strangers one afternoon. I told Ben about my blog, and he said a whack of smart things that I wanted to follow up on.

One of the first things he said when we met for a formal interview was this: “I completely buy the idea that we/they are… being sold this (pubic hair removal) thing, but I don’t buy the idea that it’s what men want on the ground level. I think it’s what a certain system wants.”

Ben has, from the sounds of it, a healthy sense of self and body. He had good body image modeled for him by a mother who was comfortable being naked (and who had “a mound of pubic hair. I had no real point of comparison.”) When he was 12 or 13, Ben says that his mom started to shave his armpits for him, “which I didn’t want, but it was a body odor thing, not a hair thing.”

Ben only has limited use of his hands/arms, and uses a wheelchair to get around. He has grown up having help from others in order to perform many day-to-day tasks, including many aspects around his own body care and grooming.

Ben says he remembers feeling upset by his mother’s tending of his armpits. “I was also confused, because it was not like her to try and compel me into some kind of feminine norm.” Though Ben says he ultimately gave his mother consent to perform the grooming, he says it was “elicited aggressively.” “It was like, I was persuaded, but I really didn’t have a choice,” he explains.

At one point, Ben switched from having his mother tend to his body grooming, to have a female personal support worker (PSW) — a paid stranger — do the job. “I was more comfortable with that, really, than with having my mom do it,” he explains. But Ben says that on more than one occasion the PSW commented inappropriately on his pubic hair — which was as yet untended. “They would be dressing or undressing me, or showering me. And they would like, ask me why I didn’t shave. Or suggest that it would be a good idea. But my mom was really against it. And so then I was able to say no to them because her authority trumped theirs.”

What I find particularly interesting about Ben’s story is in the fact that his coming of age involved the input of a stranger functioning in an intimate capacity. Ben talks about the PSWs being “put off” that nobody was doing any pubic hair removal. Without that intermediary, Ben might not have had any sense, at that age, of what his body was supposed to look like, and had little privacy around his own body/body practices.

“Various people would talk to me about how (having pubic hair) was unhygienic,” he explains, “which is so the opposite of true.” One worker was even aggressive about it — and finally (because he had a crush on her), he let her do it.

Though Ben says he has been realizing how much of his own grooming he can actually manage himself, he was taught “1984 style” that he couldn’t. “I just accepted that, and it’s not entirely true.”

Removing pubic hair to please someone else is not so different from what I’ve heard from a lot of other people about what motivates their body hair practices. In Ben’s case, it was initially to please someone who was saying ‘this is how your body is supposed to be,’ (someone who may have have internalized those messages herself through media, etc) if he didn’t entirely agree with the premise. Ben says that he was partly motivated by the fact that the practice would include touching – which he thought he wanted, but soon found he didn’t.

Ben said a whole whack of other fascinating stuff, which I intend to get posted soon. I think there is a lot to consider around his insights on privacy, body practices and gender, and like with the rest of my interviews, I am so grateful that he has been willing to share his stores and experiences with me. More soon.

 

 

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Although they may not seem like immediate bedfellows, body fat and body hair are surprisingly compatible issues — at least when it comes to talking about female bodies. But that’s not always how they’ve always been seen.

Culturally, body weight is often seen (as least in the world of feminist scholarship) as an issue which (quoting Karin Lesnik-Oberstein) “regulates and controls, or produces (the terminology will depend on theoretical orientation), the female body.”

But where there has been lots of writing, analysis and critical discourse about weight, body hair has mostly been seen as a non-issue by feminist scholars.

Though normalized hair removal for women is one of the most fundamental means of body control we’ve got in this culture, it simply hasn’t garnered the same kind of attention that body fat has.

If it’s mentioned at all, as Lesnik-Oberstein points out in her fascinating book ‘The Last Taboo: Women and Body Hair’, it is often seen as the issue solely of concern to a certain kind of feminist:

“In fact, it is one of the ways in which (popular or academic) feminists may define, and distinguish themselves from,‘extremist’ feminists: ‘extremists’, then, are, apparently (there are several versions) man-haters and/or separatists, lesbians (seen negatively), bra-burners, women who wear no make-up, do not shave and see themselves as ‘victims’ of the patriarchy, and – often presented as the most damning charge of all, especially by popular writers on feminism – are not ‘fun’.

But as she points out, feminists exploring issues around body weight (and there are LOTS of them) aren’t forced to align themselves along the same kinds of lines. Instead, body weight activism is “accepted as both an area of serious concern for feminism, and by the same measure it is used as a legitimisation of the continued seriousness and relevance of feminism itself in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries: as long as women can so visibly be seen still to be controlled, damaged or even killed by their attempts to comply with a patriarchal ideal, feminism cannot quite so easily been seen as superfluous or superficial by those who would wish to claim it as such.”

In other words, freeing women from the demands of constant body control – at least when it comes to weight – is a legitimate concern in feminist scholarship. Body hair barely ever comes in those conversations, even though women may hate their natural (unshaved, unwaxed) legs and armpits as much as they abhor their fleshy bellies or thighs. In each case, the body in question doesn’t measure up to the (culturally created) ‘ideal’.

But here’s where it gets interesting. As Lesnik-Oberstein explains, culturally ‘fat’ women are seen as ugly and unattractive (because the goal is thinness, right?) — but they’re still undeniably seen as female. “Hairy women, on the other hand, are monstrous in being like men, or masculine,” she writes, meaning people are less sympathetic to the cause, because they’re harder to categorize. They “transgress the boundaries of gender.”

Now, nobody is saying everyone should rush to grow out their body hair in order to put the issue back on the feminist map. But it’s definitely interesting to consider the common issues at play when considering body fat and body hair: they’re both used to control and regulate female bodies.

At the end of the day, fat culture keeps women preoccupied with (and disgusted by) their bodies in the same way that body hair does. It keeps women hating themselves and buying things to try and fix what they perceive as ‘problems’.

In other words: it all counts.

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