Lisa Steele

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I know, I know. I’m a little slow on content so far. But it’s coming. I did a couple of interviews today, and am feeling like the project is starting to gel.

I’ve realized, however, that what I haven’t written yet is any kind of introduction. What I think I need to write here is a little something about why I’m so interested in pubic hair –or, specifically — about pubic hair removal as a normalized body practice.

I think I’ll start now by giving you a little background. Because while many of you reading will be well aware of the fact that many many women remove their pubic hair as a regular practice, a good number of you will be as freaked out as I was when I first found out.

In fact, that’s probably a good place for me to start writing today.

So: here’s how I came to pubic hair (and it’s increasing absence on young female bodies) as a research topic:

Last year, I worked as a teaching assistant for a first year film class at Queen’s University. We were showing the students a video called “Birthday Suit with Scars and Defects” made by Canadian artist Lisa Steele in 1974.

Still from Lisa Steele's 1974 video work, "Birthday Suit with Scars and Defects"

The video opens with the artist standing nude before the camera’s unblinking eye. Then, over the course of the 12-minute video piece, Steele tells the audience the story of each of the scars on her body.

Only we didn’t get that far.

A glitch in the tape brought up the house lights before we’d made it into the meat of the piece, and before long, the room was buzzing. That’s when one of the younger teaching assistants leaned over and changed everything for me.

“They must be freaking out,” she said, gesturing at the group of nearly 300 first year (ie. 18-year old) students seated behind us. Lisa Steele’s naked self was stil frozen on the screen.

“Why?” I asked (little ms. naive).

“Because of the Seventies bush,” she explained with a shrug. And that’s when she explained that pubic hair on women has become far from fashionable. In fact, it’s become seen as downright dirty and disgusting. Even more appalling, she told me about young men she knew who wouldn’t sleep with girls who had pubic hair because they found it so repulsive.

Needless to say, I had a lot of trouble concentrating on the rest of the video.

In the weeks following, I began to investigate, trolling the internet and journal databases, and bring up the issue with anyone I thought would be up for it (yes, I’m a hit at parties). What I discovered was extremely revealing.

Pubic hair, it seems, is on the wane. In the last decade or so, pubic hair removal — or at the very least what I will call extreme trimming — has become a mainstream practice among a growing demographic of North American women (and possibly women in other parts of the world, but for now my research is focused here) who now view it as ‘icky’, ‘gross’ and, most revealingly in our cleanliness-obsessed culture: dirty. Its removal from the female body among younger women (some of whom begin whisking it away as soon as it makes an appearance) is quickly becoming as normalized as leg or armpit hair removal — a practice so ubiquitous among North American women, that we barely remark on it.

Women who champion pubic hair removal (I’m generalizing here, but it seems to be mainly women under 25 or 30) talk about how “clean” and sexy they feel when hairless — and I want to be clear, that I’m not disputing them.  When it comes to body practices, I am definitely of the each-to-her-own school.

But I would argue that the widespread normalization of the practice of pubic hair removal has more sinister implications for the progress of women. For me, the practice symbolizes the ultimate commodification of the female body — hence the title of this blog: The Last Triangle.

The female pubic region has become a place where capitalism and body control now co-mingle, giving women one more body issue to worry about, a whole new set of esthetic services to enlist, and a whack of specialty products to buy. That’s because we’re managing to sell women on the idea that the curly little strands associated with physical and sexual maturity are unclean and unruly, unsexy and untamed. Exactly what women aren’t supposed to be.

Expect more along these lines shortly. And please do add your comments! Half the fun of the blog-format is having input from readers!

 

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