hygiene

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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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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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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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I may be on holiday at the moment, but it doesn’t mean I’ve given up thinking about pubic hair. In fact, I spent last night at a bar talking to a couple of smart women about that very topic. Every time I have such a conversation, I’m grateful for how much young women are willing to share when it comes to discussing their bodies and sex. I inevitably laugh or feel moderately horrified (though less-so these days) by what they tell me.

Yesterday was particularly fun because of the ages of the two women I spoke with. One was 24, and a regular pubic-hair-remover. The other was 38, and non-remover (their body practices seem to be generally in accordance with my previous research). Our ‘interview’ was conversational, over snacks and wine… a fun discussion, more than anything.

The conversation was a follow-up to one I’d once had with the 24 year old (I’ll call her Angela) around the issues of body hair and body hair removal. She’d said something along the lines of “growing up, I always just understood it’s what women had to do: remove their leg, arm pit and pubic hair.”

Naturally, I was curious about where young women get those kinds of messages — and hence the follow-up chat.

Angela is funny and blunt, and one of the first things she said yesterday was “I remember I once saw pubic hair dye at Winners, and I thought ‘weird… who has pubic hair?”

Angela grew up in Halifax and works in the media. She recently broke up with a long term boyfriend and has been experimenting with more casual liaisons for the last year or so. With an undergrad degree in Cultural Studies, she also has the education and theoretical background to be able to think critically about the world. But when it comes to her own body, Angela knows what it takes to make her comfortable with it.

“No guy has ever asked me to get rid of (my pubic hair),” she told me, explaining that she started removing it herself when she was about 15 — six weeks into a relationship with her first boyfriend, and just before things got sexual.

“I had tried shaving it off before, but I’d never been consistent (until then). But (my boyfriend) wanted to go down on me, and I was like.. shit…I have to do something about this. And it wasn’t ‘cause he was like, you’ve got to clean that up. I just felt it would be cleaner, and more pleasant for him. And it wasn’t explicitly said, but it was for me to be more comfortable.”

She says it was pretty ubiquitous among girls her age by then — in fact, Angela says she can only remember one friend sporting full pubic hair when she cast her eyes about the change room after gym class in grade 10. “I was like…whoa.. surprised. Because nobody else in the change room was rocking that.”

But while it’s easy to imagine that the pressure to remove comes (explicitly or not) from men, Angela says that’s never been the case. As she explained it to me, “no guy has ever asked me to get rid of it.” She did admit, however, that she thought it would be “shocking” for a guy her age (24) to see pubic hair.

“I can intellectualize it all I want,” she laughed. “We can bring up Foucault…or any cultural theorist, but when it comes to shower-time, I’m hacking it off.”

It was the presence of the second woman (aged 38, who I will call Claire) who really helped illustrate the profound change in body practices between the two generations.

Claire laughed (for example) when Angela presumed that our generation had had thong underwear when we were young (I laughed, too). In fact, while Claire remembers growing up with the idea that pubic hair removal was an unusual practice (she remembers seeing a film as a young teenager that made her feel it was a little deviant), Angela knows it as normal.

When Claire and I asked her how she first understood that she was supposed to remove her pubic hair, she pointed to advertising.. especially ads for La Senza underwear and the like. “You buy the same panties as the girl in the ad, but they look different on you, because you’re packing something,” she explained. That’s when Claire and I laughed again, because we couldn’t think of many examples of women in their underwear that we would have seen growing up, except maybe those depicted in the Sears catalogue. Ours was, after all, a pre-internet world.

I’ve often wondered how age will impact things for young women currently growing up without ever seeing your pubic hair. Will they allow it to grow in when they’re older? Is it (as some have suggested) merely a youthful fancy that will pass like all fashions?

After talking to Angela, my guess is no.

“You get used to seeing yourself in a certain way,” she told me with a shrug. For Angela, removing her pubic hair is just another way of performing femininity. “Why do I put highlights in my hair, or why do I wear skirts? Or why do women wear high heels? I think women do a lot of things to ourselves that really don’t make sense.”

She’s definitely got that part right.

 

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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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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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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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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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I spent part of yesterday interviewing two young, bright, beautiful women about their pubic hair practices. Both in their late teens (and friends for years) each young woman had a very different take on how she chose to maintain her pubic hair — one preferred full (waxed) removal, the other was more critical of such practices, and (save a little trimming) tended to stick to au-natural. They both had such interesting things to say – I’ll try and get some of that conversation up here in the next few days.

In the meantime, I just came across an interesting journal article on pubic hair removal in the SIECCAN Newsletter (which is part of the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality) by Lenore Riddell, Hannah Varton and Zoë G. Hodgson. Called “Smooth Talking: The phenomenon of pubic hair removal in women,” the article explores the “motivations and practices” behind pubic hair removal in women. As part of their study, the authors (who tend to come at the issue as nurse-practioners and authorities on women’s health, rather than cultural theorists) had 660 women (aged 16-50) answer surveys and then tallied the results.

In the introduction to their article, the authors point out that “it is now unusual for clinicians in the authors’ urban setting (Vancouver, Canada) to examine any woman under the age of 30 who still has all of her pubic hair.” They go on to explain that “anecdotally, clinicians report more pubic area rashes, razor burn, wax burns, and generally irritated pubic skin than ever before.”

eek.

While the entire article is interesting, I was particularly interested in the points these authors make around women’s health and healthy body practices.

As I’ve discussed before, this article also points to the fact that a great number of women remove their pubic hair because of belief that somehow their bodies are “cleaner” if they do. “This is an interesting finding considering the lack of evidence to support pubic hair being dirty or unhygienic,” they write.

They suggest that pursuit of cleanliness may be tied to the good old pursuit of the “American dream” of wealth and success. “After all,” they write, “the removal of body hair requires the resources of access to water, products, and times,” all (when you come right down to it) global luxuries.

The article cites a study (produced by an American laser company) which indicates that “American women spend more than $10,000 over a lifestime and greater than 58.4 days in their lives using shaving products in managing unwanted hair.” (Figures which don’t include time and effort getting waxed or otherwise maintained).

I’d like to quote Joshua (who commented on one of my recent blog entries) on this  issue. He wrote to me with his reasons (off the top of his head, he noted) to avoid body hair removal (and “arbitrary beauty standards in general):

One reason is that throughout the course of our lives it is a monumental waste of time. I don’t know how much time the average women spends shaving, applying makeup, painting their fake nails, etc, but with life being all too short as it is, can’t we find something more meaningful to do with our time?

Second, it is a waste of limited resources that could be put to better use, or just simply left unused. How many oil spills, mined out mountains, and deforested rain-forests are acceptable to trade for social conformity? Because, unlike we are taught to believe, our decisions – purchasing and otherwise – have ramifications larger than ourselves.

Good points, I think.

And now, just going back to cleanliness with some final thoughts:

Because while many seem to view pubic hair removal as a ‘cleanliness’ issue,  the authors of “Smooth Talking” suggest otherwise. Instead, they write that “several studies on preoperative genital shaving as compared to other methods of hair removal have consistently found increased bacterial infection rates related to shaving.”

“Microabrasions, contact dermatitis, and skin disruption due to methods of pubic hair removal may also increase the potential for the transmission of viruses (including HIV, hepatitis, herpes simplex and human papilloma).”

(I also keep thinking back to Roger Friedland’s smart article wherein he draws a connection between an increasingly always-sexually-ready ‘hook-up’ culture with a hairless “purified” vulva. Thinking about it in this context, I can’t help but note that the young women who are partaking in no-strings sex — and thus already more vulnerable to STIs — may in fact be made extra susceptible due to their grooming practices).

To top things off, Riddell, Varto and Hodgson write that salons and esthetician services in Canada remain largely unregulated — meaning that there’s no guarantee that the pot of hot wax your esthetician is using to do away with your pubic hair hasn’t been double-dipped into, etc etc.

Lots to think about next time you wield a razor in the general direction of your nether regions or lie back with your legs spread at the ol’ salon.

 

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If you haven’t already seen it, urge you to seek out an article that ran on the Huffington Post website yesterday.

Called “Looking Through the Bushes: The Disappearance of Pubic Hair”, the article is written by Roger Friedland, a Professor of Religion and Cultural Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

It’s probably one of the smartest pieces of journalism I’ve read on the topic of pubic hair removal in some time (and trust me folks – I read a lot of it).

Friedland introduces us to the issue of pubic hair’s “gone missing” status on women by recounting a conversation with a friend. The friend’s “good-looking, sexually-active son” has never seen pubic hair.

“Snatch,” the friend replies. “It’s like a princess phone. He sleeps with girls all the time. He’s never seen a woman’s pubic hair.”

In his introduction, Friedland muses that the disappearance of pubic hair “tells us something about womanhood, the state of love, the human and the relation of body and soul.” He then continues, brilliantly articulating the crux of the issue:

“Pubic practices are rites by which we construct who we know ourselves to be. What are they telling us?”

Over the course of the article, Friedland then explores some really important issues around the removal of pubic hair. Because he has spent a lot of time researching and writing around what I can only describe as “the hook up scene” among a generation of young, sexually active people, he has some insights into the issue of pubic hair removal that are new to me.

Most significantly, Friedland writes, hairless genitals on women are a symbolic indication of sexual readiness (an issue of prime importance in a sexually charged, one-night-stand driven culture).

I know I’ve written about the link between our ready access to online pornography and the absence of pubic hair on a generation of young women before – but Friedland adds to the conversation so eloquently:

American women are, in fact, striking a pornographic pose, one that first appeared in the hard-core porn films that have increasingly shaped the sexual imagination of legions of young men. The eye of the hard-core porn camera hovers over female body parts; it’s a visual excess of physical acts with a minimum of sentiment. It is not a love story. Porn displays pubeless bodies to emphasize the organs — the female genital slit (and the erect male shaft) — and thereby defines the standard of erotic desirability. As nether hair disappeared on screen guys increasingly wanted sex with girls who looked like the porn stars they’d fantasized about. They asked and women struck the pose.

He touches on the chronology of pubic hair removal in porn (starting in Penthouse magazine in 1970) and creeping more regularly into mainstream images by the 1980s.

Friedland also describes the connection between the eroticization of young female bodies and the rise of the feminist movement in the 1970s:

Two things happened just before the pubic hair disappeared. The timing is not arbitrary. I will reverse the sequence. In the 1970′s the female teen body became an erotic fetish. In 1974 Larry Flynt began publishing Barely Legal, with frontal shots of eighteen year-old girls. In 1976, an underage Jodie Foster played a 12-year-old prostitute in Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver; in 1978, Brooke Shields did the same in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby. Both were underage when they played these parts.

As feminism encouraged women to avoid being the object of gaze while triumphantly embracing their body hair, “the female teen fetish went mainstream.” As Friedland writes, “this eroticization of young girls recaptured the pure feminine, the subordinate, hairless virginal female against whom a man was clearly a man.”

We often hear that we are now living in a “post-feminist” era, where young women are (theoretically) reaping the benefits of (ahem) living in a free and equal society (cough). One of the ways it sometimes plays out is through a recently modified script, where young women seek casual sex rather than eternally looking for love and babies. Friedland suggests that it is the Brazilian wax that becomes part of this “new erotic repertoire, a perpetual reminder that you are always ready for action.”

(Interested in reading more about hook-up culture? Try “Hook-up Culture’s Bad Rap,” a smart article by Kate Harding that was on Salon.com last year)

Clearly I should stop writing and you should all turn to Friedland’s article ASAP. Before I do, however, let me leave you with one of the most spot-on sentences (describing the hygiene issue around women and oral sex) I have read in a long time:

“Hairlessness, like the vaginal mint, advertises that a vagina has been purified for male taste.”

Thanks, Roger Friedland, for getting it so right. (Now we just have to figure out how to fix things…)

 

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