bodies on display

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I just came upon a really well-written and interesting post written by a young woman who has wrestled with the question of how and why to love her own pubic hair. Interestingly, she doesn’t love it, but she doesn’t love that she doesn’t… her writing on the issue is really great — raw and real. These are the confessions and the conversations that make the internet so amazing.

A second, similar entry on the Feminist Dating website — called “A Bushy Dilemma” — is also worth a read. Both articles raise all kinds of issues around socialization and body-hatred (an important issue that never seems to go away, no matter how we wrestle with it).

The site itself doesn’t seem to be particularly active, which is a shame, ’cause it’s got some good stuff on it.

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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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Vulvapalooza!

Well… I have become a very bad blogger, indeed. Sorry about that. You give the girl a Master’s degree, and then bam.. she gives up on you and stops posting regularly. You, my readers, have been on my mind, but my mind has also been pulled in a million other directions lately. I’ve started a new job in a new city, I’m moving, I’m trying to sort out the “what’s next?” questions… you know. Life – it’s busy.

But I haven’t forgotten about pubic hair! Every day, things pop up, crying for attention on the blog. And every day slides past without me getting to posting. So – here we got again! Though I can’t promise daily posting, I will do my best to keep the conversation alive here at The Last Triangle.

Today seems like a good day for me to direct you to a site a new Danish friend of mine sent me. The project, called ‘Kussomaten’ was initiated by a feminist group in Denmark. Women basically sat in a booth and had their genitalia photographed. The goal of the project (and this is crucial to note), was not pornographic – it wasn’t about taking under-skirt photos for arousal purposes. Instead, the goal was to highlight the diversity among female bodies — something I know I’ve written about in this blog before (especially whenever the issue of labiaplasty rears its sanitized head).

So: if you’re reading this at work, or are in a room with a bunch of people you’d rather not see you look at a screen full of vulvas — don’t click on this link now. If you aren’t, or you’re fine with opening a discussion around labial diversity, here’s the link:

http://kvindekenddinkrop.dk/kkdkpix.html#

It’s a fascinating site — the diversity really is amazing.

Looking forward to your comments!

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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.

 

 

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Those of you keeping up with this blog regularly will know a couple of things about it: 1) that I am keeping it as part of my Master’s thesis research, and 2) that I am most driven by the question of how we got to the current state of the widespread normalization of pubic hair removal among young, North American women.

Obviously, that statement cuts a wide, generalizing swath: there are all kinds of variations among body hair practices in this part of the world, and they are all impacted by a huge number of forces, including things like (but not limited to) race, class and religion, as well as factors like exposure to pornography and the tendency to read fashion magazines.

But obviously, pubic hair removal is not a new phenomenon for women. Though now widely hailed in mainstream culture as the preferred manner for dealing with the pesky, pheromone-laden stuff stuff, pubic hair has come and gone from fashion over the years.

As Merran Toerien and Sue Wilkinson write in their 2003 article “Gender and Body Hair: Constructing the Feminine Woman” (published in Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol. 26, No. 4) “accounts of women’s hair removal come from ancient times and diverse cultures, including ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, the Tobriand Islands, Uganda, South America and Turkey.”

According to a 2009 article by Sarah Ramsey, Clare Sweeney, Michale Fraser and Gren Oades called “Pubic Hair and Sexuality: A Review” (published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2009) most of what we know about early pubic hair practices has been gleaned through art. In Ancient Egyptian art, women are depicted with “small triangles of pubic hair, with bronze razors placed in tombs for the afterlife.” They also write that “relics from Ancient Greece clearly illustrate body shaving of some form, and Sharia law advised the removal of all body hair.”

Female pubic hair doesn’t make an appearance in European art until the late 19th Century when the Spanish painter Goya added some discreet fuzz to his work “The Naked Maja.”

Francisco Goya, The Naked Maja c. 1800-1803

Before then, nudes tended to be completely hairless — though the reasons for this aren’t entirely clear. Art critic John Berger, however, does have some thoughts (which do seem to make sense).

In his book Ways of Seeing (first published in 1972 after a television series of the same name), Berger makes all kinds of (sort of obvious, but still relevant) statements about how “women are taught, from their earliest childhood, to survey themselves.”

“She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another.” (p. 46)

This, he reasons, then affects how women function in the world. Men, he suggests, “act” where women “appear.” “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. the surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.”

Ok- thanks Mr. Berger (I’m sure your saying to yourself). But what does this have to do with art — or pubic hair, for that matter?

Well as Berger explains (and certainly, he’s not the first or only) the nude women depicted in the vast majority of European paintings (the stuff we all growing up uncritically understanding to be ‘great art’ regardless of our gender) are “performing their nakedness” for an audience of male spectators. Citing art historian Kenneth Clark, Berger writes “nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display.”

The spectator (for whom the nude is on display) is presumed to be male (as female viewers, our looking is quite different). She may not have her clothes on, but her nakedness has nothing to do with her own sexuality. Instead, she is appealing to his sexuality. She is just a body, an object, a beautiful thing to behold.

And here’s where it comes back to pubic hair. As Berger writes:

“In the European traditional generally, the convention of not painting the hair on a woman’s body helps towards the same end. Hair is associated with sexual power, with passion. the woman’s sexual passion needs to be minimized so that the spectator may feel that he has the monopoly of such passion.) Women are there to feed an appetite, not to have any of their own.” (p.55)

Gustav Courbet, L'Origine du Monde, 1866

With that in mind, it’s interesting to consider this painting by Gustav Courbet. ‘L’Origine du monde’ (the Origin of the World) was painted in 1866. Hugely controversial at the time, it is largely considered to be the first portrayal of female pubic hair on an adult body in European painting.

Of course, while this body has hair, she has no head or other body parts. Rather than a coy look towards the viewer, she is reduced to her genitalia…

 

 

 

 

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