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Sorry I haven’t had a chance to post in awhile. I’ve been busy trying to wrap my head around this academic paper I’m writing (or not writing, as the case may be). I’ve also been doing more media stuff around ‘Julyna’ — most recently, on CBC Radio in Halifax.

You can listen to the item as it ran on the city’s afternoon show, Mainstreet (hosted by Stephanie Domet) here — it’s about 13 minutes long (click this link twice to get to the player):

‘Julyna’ discussion on CBC Radio’s Mainstreet

I look forward to hearing what you think!


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Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will be familiar with Toronto artist Julie Voyce’s work. She has been creating a special series of works inspired by my writing here at The Last Triangle. Though we were on a brief art-hiatus here on the blog – Julie is back with another fabulous drawing.

This fine young woman is celebrating ‘Julyna’ (or so Julie tells me) with a “neat little American wax,” and “Henna embellishment extending beyond the pubic area” (that’s because the campaign’s organizers have suggested that Henna or Vajazzling are good options for those women who may no longer have much pubic hair due to laser hair removal, etc).



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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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If you’ve been following along, then you already know that I was a guest on Vancouver’s talk radio station, CKNW, on Saturday night. The producer was in touch a couple of days before to clarify what we’d talk about and to let me know when they’d call, etc etc. But it was after I learned that the show would also be interviewing the founder of Julyna, Vanessa Willson, that I started feeling weird. All of a sudden (and even though the producers assured me otherwise) I had the strange sense that I was being led into an on-air cat-fight about an issue I didn’t think it was worth fighting about. I was close to bowing out.

Before I did, however, I decided to drop Vanessa a line directly. I clarified my position and told her that my intention wasn’t to go on the air and attack her or her campaign — I was merely going to raise a few critical points related to the normalizing of pubic hair removal, and talk about my blog/research. I also left her my phone number.

To my great surprise, she called.  Even more surprising (since we’d be been painted as such opposing forces in the media), we had a really great chat.

Vanessa Willson and Jessie Behan, two of the Julyna team

What I realized right away is that in the same way that I was painted into a corner by the media, Vanessa has been, too. While the campaign made her out to be a slightly ditzy, Sex-in-the City-esque character who came up with the idea for her campaign while sipping a girly drink in a Toronto restaurant, she was a far more thoughtful and considered interview.

I realized that there were major pieces missing from the Julyna story we were being told.

A nurse based out of a downtown Toronto hospital, Vanessa is quick to acknowledge her own openness when it comes to talking about the kind of stuff that might make others squirm. “I talk about sex a lot,” she laughs on the phone. “I’m like the guy on the Family Guy who says pervy and inappropriate stuff. That’s how the Julyna conversation started.

You can read more about that conversation here.

But here’s what you haven’t heard (and it changes things profoundly):

Vanessa, 29, runs in a circle of women who don’t, generally, have pubic hair. Most of them are dedicated waxers. “The most anyone has is usually the landing strip or the Charlie Chaplin,” she explains, “and most of them have nothing.”

So in suggesting to her friends that they etch shapes into their pubic hair in support of cervical cancer, Vanessa was being far more radical than I (or anyone else) could have understood. After all, in order to participate in Julyna, Vanessa’s most-hairless friends would have to do something kinda radical: they’d have to grow IN their pubic hair.

And in fact, her original proposal was even more unexpected.

Her original proposal was that everyone GROW OUT their pubic hair and NOT TOUCH IT FOR THE ENTIRE MONTH OF JULY.

(that’s certainly a far cry from what the media has portrayed, and is, in fact, closer to what I suggest in the Huffington Post story)

But as Vanessa explains it, the grow-it-all-out idea was quickly shot down.

“The reaction I got was ‘absolutely not’,” she laughs. “Even the committee members said ‘we’ll do it because we’re ballsy women, but nobody else is going to do it’.”

Vanessa says that’s when they decided they had to take a different approach.

“You have to work with what you’ve got,” she explains. “What we have is a society of women who are self-conscious and have been since the beginning of time. But you have to work with what you have. So we though, how can we get women on-board? That’s why we changed it so that women had options, from not touching it, to taking it all off.”

(Because they didn’t want women who are permanently hairless (thanks to laser hair removal) to feel left out, they are suggesting women can even get Vajazzled or decorated with henna.

“That’s what makes it great,” she says. “Just like ‘Movember’ (which encourages creativity in moustache grooming), women can be creative.”

Obviously, Julyna isn’t totally off the hook. I’ve still got a few issues with the campaign (mostly related to using titillation to link women’s bodies with cancer research). But as I told Vanessa, I am impressed at how well she’s done considering that she only came up with the idea in November and didn’t really get the campaign going until March. She’s put a tremendous amount of energy into the project and had no idea it was going to blow up in the media — or generate the amount of controversy — the way it has. As she explained it, she’s a nurse, not a PR maven.

And at end of the day, Vanessa started her campaign in the spirit of pubic-hair celebration. “I am asking women to bring it back,” she says with a laugh.




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?



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