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:
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:
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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).
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’.
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.
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!”
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).
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.
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.
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…)
I suppose it was inevitable: pubic hair as fundraiser.
Yes, indeed: seems the Canadian Cancer Society has decided to make pubic hair the focus of its new ‘awareness raising’ campaign.
Following the success of the ‘Movember’ movement (wherein men grow mustaches in November to raise money and awareness for prostate cancer), a group of women have decided to make their “down there” hair the focus of a fundraiser for cervical cancer.
They are calling it “Julyna”.
According to the event’s website (http://julyna.com/index.html), “the rules for Julyna are simple.” For the month of July, women will exercise “creativity and personal wellness” by sculpting their pubic hair into a specific design and wearing it that way for the entire 31 days.
Of course, the website reminds us, there is lots of room for creativity:
“Women don’t have to leave it au naturel, or choose a standard pattern like “The Charlie Chaplin.” They can make something up. Get creative! Not only do we hope that Julyna raises funds for cervical cancer, but also that the added attention drawn below the belt will inspire women to take care of this area in other ways, i.e. through scheduled Pap tests or by discussing the HPV vaccine with their family doctors.”
It’s not entirely clear how you’re suppose to raise funds — I guess you tell people you’re carving up your pubic hair in honour of cervical cancer and people give you money. who knows.
The website even acknowledges that it could be tough to get money for doing something that people can’t see, but they’ve got an answer:
“First of all, people give money to marathon runners and it’s rare that they will actually see him/her running. Secondly, do you really need proof of the handy work to give money to a cause that will ultimately result in saving the lives of many women? That’s right, I didn’t think so! So to all you philanthropists out there—get creative and get generous. And, if you don’t want to style your hair for money, please donate to the cause by sponsoring someone who is participating in Julyna this year.”
The site includes a page of helpful pubic hair design suggestions (http://julyna.com/designs.html) which include the The Arrow (yup), the Charlie Chaplain (a tiny moustache), and the Barbara Bush (presumably unkempt), The Rising Sun (radiating stripes) and the David Suzuki (in honour of the Canadian scientist/media personality).
Apparently ‘Julyna’ came about as an idea after a bunch of women were lamenting (over dinner at a snazzy restaurant in a swanky part of Toronto) about not being able to partake in ‘Movember,’ when they came up with the brilliant idea. As recalled on the website:
“Wouldn’t it be great if we could grow out our mustaches?” one of us said after a sip of her pink panther. “Well, I’m sure I could grow one,” another laughed. At that very moment there was a suggestion, “Why don’t we start a charity to raise money for cervical cancer? What about calling it muffember, or bevember, or vulvember…?” The names kept coming but it wasn’t until many months later that we came up with the term “Julyna.” The cause was obvious–as all of us knew someone who had experienced cervical cell dysplasia or cancer. Hence, Julyna was born and the rest is history.”
Now I’m all for fighting cervical cancer, but there’s something about this fundraiser that feels kinda icky to me.
For one thing, there’s a big difference between wearing an ironic Movember-style mustache and carving up your intimate bits in a “wheee! isn’t this fun and sexy?” kinda way. It feels like the fundraising equivalent of a bunch of nice middle class white women learning to pole dance, or taking a class in lap dancing as a means of ‘getting in touch’ with your sexuality.
After all, the men who grow moustaches for ‘Movember’ likely wouldn’t normally sport them– whereas the target audience for ‘Julyna’ probably practice intimate grooming on a regular basis. Now, however, they get to do it for a good cause.
I’m inclined to think that you would be hard pressed to get a bunch of men waxing their bits in cute ways as a public fundraiser.
And yes, I’m all for celebrating vaginas and encouraging women to get annual pap smears (the goals of this fundraising campaign), but there’s still something troubling about ‘Julyna’. Maybe it’s the fact that this little media stunt seems to be further commodifying women’s bodies – this time in the name of tee-hee-I’ve-got-a-little-secret-in-my-undies-and-it’s-wearing-a-Charlie-Chaplain-moustache fun.
It’s all a little too cute for me.
I mean – why not go all out and encourage women to grow OUT their pubic hair for the month of July? Wouldn’t the sight of pubic hair pushing past the edges of bathing suits be the truest celebration of Julyna?
I know, I know – I can hear you now: “this is a blog about pubic hair — why the period talk?”
Here’s why: because reading Kissling’s book about periods actually made me think a lot about women and their relationships to their own body hair.
Kissling’s interesting premise is that though it’s a regular phenomenon for half the world’s population, periods are typically seen as icky and gross — a troublesome interruption in the month that must be dealt with (ideally) in secret (god forbid your males friends should catch a glimpse of a tampon in your purse!).
What Kissling argues is that our periods have been sold back to us by corporations who capitalize on those negative attitudes in order to “sell us solutions for nonexistent problems.” She argues that although the hygiene industry has been good for women in some ways (ie. we have readily available, inexpensive and easy-to-use products which allow us to function ‘normally’ even as we’re shedding our uterine lining), the commercialization of an otherwise normal bodily process has also done us a disservice.
That’s because the capitalist agenda has women compelled to be constantly in pursuit of “freshness” — the preferred state, we readily learn, for women to exist in. I’ll quote Kissling here (from her conclusion):
“In the commercial world of so-called feminine hygiene products, menstruation is portrayed as a literal and figurative stain on one’s femininity. Women are urged by advertisements to “stay clean, stay fresh, stay free,” as if their freedom depends upon their freshness. The freedom (if not freshness) in women’s everyday lives enabled by modern menstrual products is truly transformative, but freedom is never really free, at least under consumer capitalism. To enjoy the liberty granted y products that reduce discomfort, relieve pain, and increase freedom of movement, women must participate in the construction of their own Otherness. In using these products, women are compelled to buy into the idea of the menstruating woman as one of tainted femininity.” (p. 124)
Kissling uses existentialist Simone de Beauvoir to investigate this idea of Otherness — something she describes as being an artifact of a male-dominated society wherein women learn to feel “an alienation from their own bodies.” As Kissling writes, “a properly socialized woman develops a sense of herself as object, an Other that is both venerated and feared, as she internalizes her society’s dominant ideologies about women.” (p. 3)
It helps explain why women feel such shame and disgust at the idea of their own periods. Our monthly bleeding is marketed to us as a “hygienic crisis”. Talking about ads for menstrual products, Kissling writes:
“It is a hygiene crisis that one must clean up, in secret, so that one’s public projection of ideal femininity is not damaged or polluted.” (p.12)
Kissling quotes another scholar, Tomi-Ann Roberts, who makes this wise observation:
“One of the obligations that women have in a culture that sexually objectifies their bodies is to conceal the biological functioning of their bodies.” (p.20)
And that’s where we come back to pubic hair.
Women learn early on to treat themselves as objects. And getting rid of body hair, whether it’s on our legs or between them, is just another way of doing that.