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Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that (impending faculty strike aside) the end of my Master’s degree is in sight. I’ve been writing this blog as part of my research project, along with a weightier paper that is sort of bogging me down these days.

As passionate as I feel about the issues I feel lurk around the edges of discussions about body hair (issues of gender performance, self-esteem, sexuality, societal expectations on young women, etc etc etc), there are days when I just can’t find the will to get focused. “PUBIC HAIR!” I sometimes think to myself, “AHRG!”.

But then I get emails like this. And it all feels like it’s been (and continues to be) time well-spent:

I just wanted to write you a quick email to thank you for writing your blog.  I am a young woman going into my third year of university (also at Queen’s!) and pubic hair maintenance/removal is not something I’ve ever really seen or heard discussed before. I’m very glad I found the discussion on your blog.  I know I’ve internalised a lot of messages from magazines, movies and books about female pubic hair as unattractive and gross, and these messages made me very confused and insecure because I started to wonder what everyone else was doing ‘down there’, and about what I should be doing as well (and also, what guys expected). Your blog helped me to realize, though, that I’m not the only one feeling that stress/pressure, and also that the pressure to wax it all off is perverse, and unnatural, and very problematic.  Thank you for that!  Also, your blog helped me to bring up the topic of Brazilian waxes when my Mom and sister and I were on a road trip earlier in the summer!  It was the first time I’ve ever discussed pubic hair with anyone, and I know I wouldn’t have been able to bring it up if I hadn’t had your blog to reference. So thanks for that too! (PS, my mom was completely shocked about the popularity of Brazilian waxes and also that some guys refuse to have sex with women who have pubic hair).

Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing and for reminding me that it’s worth the effort. This is why we need to keep talking, writing, sharing. There’s still lots of work to be done!

 

 

 

 

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If you haven’t seen this yet, have a look: Dan Savage (the popular American sex columnist) talks to a group of students about pubic hair. It’s quite hilarious (he’s pro-pubes):

 

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1. Older women and Brazilian Waxing:

Earlier this week I went to a small party where I met a met a most fabulous woman. Older than me, she was honest and open and hilarious. Predictably, we got talking about pubic hair.

“I’m just trying to get my courage up to go get a Brazilian wax” she said nonchalantly.

I raised my eyebrows.

Seemed this dynamic, post-menopausal woman had started experimenting with pubic hair removal at the urging of her daughters, who are in their twenties. She was surprised (and pleased) to find that she loved it.

She told me that while her partner (male) didn’t have a strong preference when it came to her pubic hair, she found that she preferred the feeling of being hairless. She was absolutely, without a doubt, oozing the kind of confidence that older women can claim when they realize they only have themselves to impress, doing it for herself.

I was impressed.

My hope is that I have a chance to interview her in more detail soon… stay tuned.

2. This fabulous website (and this great article):

I recently discovered the Adios Barbie website, which is billed as “the body image site for every body”. Their website says “at adiosbarbie.com, we create articles, campaigns, events and other cool stuff that inspires a body and self-loving world.”

Here’s a link to a great article by Quinn Davis called “The Naked Clam and Other Preposterous Pubic Hair Problems.” Read the whole article here.

3. Pubic Hair as Marmoset:

As I’ve written, with pubic hair being my current thing, people send me all kinds of interesting related stuff over the course of a day.

Today I got a great email from a friend who had come across a review of a new memoir by Caitlin Moran (the British broadcaster and newspaper columnist) called “How To Be A Woman” in the English Times Literary Supplement. It contained the following observation:

“Likewise, pubic hair is there to be enjoyed and Moran calls for the return of the sort that looks, when she is sitting down naked, ‘As if the woman has a marmoset on her lap’…”

His email prompted me to seek out more info, which is how I came across this expanded quote from the book:

“In recent years I have become more and more didactic about pubic hair – to the point where I now believe that there are only four things a grown, modern woman should have: a pair of yellow shoes (they unexpectedly go with everything), a friend who will come and post bail at 4am, a failsafe pie recipe, and a proper muff. A big, hairy minge. A lovely furry moof that looks – when she sits, naked – as if she has a marmoset sitting in her lap.”

–Caitlin Moran, How to be a Woman

I will certainly have to seek it out.

 

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I just wanted to draw your attention to a piece of commentary in Monday’s edition of British newspaper, The Independent. Written by Mary Ann Sieghart, the article is entitled “Time to overturn the tyranny of porn”. In it, she raises all kinds of important points, like why Christine Lagarde, the new head of the IMF, is being judged for her ‘sexiness’ in the media.

As Sieghard rightly points out:

“it’s no longer enough to be successful in your chosen field: to be a good lawyer or economist or minister. You are expected to look gorgeous too. Yet who would ever expect the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to be sexy (let alone the sexiest man in the world)? Or the head of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick?”

She later goes on to consider the influence that porn in having on all of us — and gets specific in the demands it has placed on women’s fashion and body practices:

High heels stop you running for a bus. They stop you running from danger. You can’t stride out in them; indeed, you can’t even keep up with the man you’re walking alongside. In a word, they make you submissive – just as having a Brazilian makes you look like a submissive pre-teen or willing porn actress.

See the pattern? These trends are sold to us, in a hideously Orwellian fashion, as “empowering”. No, it’s not empowering to be hobbled by excruciating heels. Nor is it empowering to be encouraged to dance suggestively with a pole. It’s tacky, it’s tarty, it’s undignified and it’s wholly inappropriate unless you’ve embarked on a career as a prostitute.

This seeping of sex, and a particular type of porn-inspired plastic sex, into ordinary life is really debilitating for women. I never thought I’d sound like Mary Whitehouse – God knows I loathed her prudishness when I was growing up – but sex should be a beautiful, loving, private, natural, exciting thing between two grown-up people, not an arid, artificial, commodified, public and frankly pervy pressure on the way women are supposed to look even to men for whom they have no desire.

The whole article is definitely worth a read, if you’ve got a few minutes.

Get it here:

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/mary-ann-sieghart/mary-ann-sieghart-time-to-overturn-the-tyranny-of-porn-2319938.html

While you’re at it, I’d also recommend scrolling down to read some of the comments. These comments, posted by rt356 particularly caught my attention:

I’m 20 and every single man (excepting one) I’ve either had sex with or discussed this with (mostly in a situation similar to this, debating feminism etc) has flat out said they wouldn’t have sex with a woman who didn’t wax/shave down there. So it’s definitely a generational thing, given that the men I generally come into contact with are under 30, and have mostly grown up watching porn, anything else seems ‘weird’ or (as is often incorrectly assumed) ‘unhygienic’. Some have even admitted if they see pubic hair on a woman then they find it impossible to get in the mood.

Her comments kind of blow my mind, but then I’ve heard similar things anecdotally. These are strange times, indeed…

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Seeing as pubic hair is my current area of interest, my friends and colleagues hit me up with pubes-related stuff any chance they get.

Most recently, a couple of friends directed my attention to a recent podcast that was produced as part of the Stuff Mom Never Told You series.

For your amusement, this image has been lifted from http://laughoutloud.us/photo/mow-the-pubic-hair-tattoo/

Over the course of a chatty, 20-minute-long podcast called “Why Do Women Remove Their Hair Down There?”, two young-sounding women, Kristin and Molly, talk up the idea of pubic hair removal. They cover all the basics in a very superficial way (though what else are you gonna do in a 20-minute summary?) — from the history of hair removal among women, to citing studies about contemporary hair removal practices. All in all, the piece isn’t particularly critical — mostly, the refer to articles and chat in generalities about pubic hair removal.

If you’re interested in having a listen, go here:

http://podcasts.howstuffworks.com/hsw/podcasts/smnty/2011-07-11-smnty-remove-hair-down-there.mp3?_kip_ipx=598193178-1311179908

One friend who suggested I tune in to the podcast wrote me with some of her concerns about their generalizing. She raised an important question around one of the studies that Molly and Kristin cite near the end of the study. Here’s what my friend wrote:

“They cited one study saying that 18-24 year olds are responsible for most of the hair removal, but talked about them growing out of it or trying different practices when they got older. I thought that it would only be possible to know that if they did a longitudinal study. Instead, I thought that 18-24 year olds could be part of a new standard of pubic hair removal, one that could very well continue as they got older, resulting in completely waxing 50-year-olds in 25-30 years from now. What do you think?”

I think she nails it with her question. I find it hard to believe that a young woman disgusted by her own pubic hair at, say, 18, is suddenly going to come to terms with it at 45.

As part of my research, I interviewed a woman who runs a very popular salon which very much caters to the undergraduate student body here in Kingston. While she did say that the majority of her clients were young women, she said she did have women coming to see her for Brazilian waxes who where in their sixties and seventies. She told me that she didn’t think 60 year old women were coming in to do it because they were seeing it modeled in porn or any such thing. She truly believed they were coming in for waxing because of a desire to want to be “clean.”

The same woman suggested that older women tended to come in for waxing if they were starting new relationships (suggesting a natural tie-in to sexuality), or if they’d be urged to try it at the behest of their daughters.

Obviously, we’ll have to wait to see what the outcome is, but as I’ve written before — there was a time when women didn’t remove armpit and leg hair… and that’s pretty much unheard of in dominant North American culture now. Though anecdotally I’ve heard that pubic hair is “making a comeback” in mainstream pornography, I do find it hard to believe that women will modify their own body practices to reaccept something that many have already dismissed as ‘unclean’.

Anyone got thoughts on this?

 

 

 

 

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Whew – so it’s been quite something being the main voice of opposition to the ‘Julyna’ campaign. Hilariously, the story was picked up yesterday by the Huffington Post. Here’s a link:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/01/julyna-canadian-cervical-_n_888554.html

I’m doing a spot on CKNW radio in Vancouver tonight – hopefully it all goes smoothly. You can listen live here: http://www.cknw.com/ I’ll be on at 5:45pm Pacific/8:45pm Eastern.

I was also interested to note that the Globe and Mail’s clever columnist Katrina Onstad has opted to write about the politics of body hair removal today. Her essay asks questions about why pubic hair removal is becoming normalized among young women (my favourite question!). She writes:

“But for women, waxing seems to have shifted from choice to routine necessity, less pedicure than toothbrushing.”

She questions why we feel so compelled to whisk away everything when it comes to body hair, along with why we so readily buy into the kind of body-hatred that seems so intimately tied to normalized waxing.

A few more well-expressed thoughts:

“If waxing is just one page of the sex playbook, then okay. But when a beauty treatment goes from playful to imperative, when the real, hairy body no longer has a place in the masculine (or feminine, if we’re headed that way) imagination, when pain and money become the standard – then sexy is dead. The salons and spas become part of what psychoanalyst Susie Orbach calls “the merchants of body hatred,” peddling an endless bodily discontent.”

You can read the whole article here:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/relationships/news-and-views/katrina-onstad/yes-women-have-body-hair-why-has-removing-it-become-a-beauty-norm/article2080049/

I noticed that her column generated a few hateful comments on the Globe and Mail website, so if you like what Onstad has to say, do consider giving her a thumbs-up online.

Oh- and if you’re interested, I’m going to be talking about ‘Julyna’ on the radio tonight, along with the event’s founder, Vanessa Willson. We’ll be live on CKNW in Vancouver — you can listen live by going here: http://www.cknw.com/

 

 

 

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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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I don’t usually get a whole lot of mail (I get even less now that Canada Post is on strike, meaning mail service is down to about three days-a-week), but today was different. This morning I opened up my wee black box to find a small brown enveloped addressed to me.

I was thrilled. That’s because I already knew what it was.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a woman thanking me for my writing on this blog. Her note really made my day – not only because it was complimentary, but because it was a solid reminder that there are actually people reading and relating to the stuff that I write.

“It is a beacon of light in the sea of message boards discussing pubic hair as it relates to hygiene,” she wrote. She then explained that this blog had been “instrumental” in her own search for “peace around the topic,” which she said had got her “fired up enough that I made a ‘zine.”

Because she mentioned The Last Triangle in her ‘zine, she told me she wanted to send me a copy.

And that’s what I received this morning.

Needless to say, her ‘zine, “Lady Gardens” is an incredibly charming little publication (I almost wrote ‘publication’, which is an entirely different sort of beast…) Complete with hand-drawn text and illustrations, her little ‘zine explores some of the issues around pubic hair (similar to stuff that I talk about here) and then polls women in her life for their views on the topic.

She starts off by telling us about a male friend who once mentioned that “nearly every girl he’d been with had been hairless.” That nugget of information then prompted her research — starting with Google where her search using “why has having no pubes become so fashionable” begot her the usual discussion on “whether or not ladies should shave or wax.”

“It wasn’t until I stuck in the term ‘gender politics’ that I unearthed anything worthwhile,” she writes, then describing happening on this site, The Last Triangle. “Her blog was exactly the kind of resource I was looking for.” (Isn’t that such a great thing! I was so touched to read that — and she actually refers to my blog throughout her publication).

If you’d like to read more, you can buy the ‘zine online. Here’s a link to Etsy where (if you’re in the USA) you can buy it (I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do if you aren’t).

http://www.etsy.com/listing/75443484/lady-gardens-zine?ref=sr_gallery_1&ga_search_query=%26quot%3Blady+gardens%26quot%3B&ga_search_submit=&ga_search_type=handmade&ga_category=books_and_zines.zine.nonfiction&ga_facet=

I’ll say it again – it means so much to me that people are reading and engaging with the content – whether they send me evidence or not. I’m so glad these conversations are happening!

More soon.

 

 

 

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My attention was recently drawn to this little ditty which appears in the June 2011 edition of The Atlantic. It’s about the rise in genital cosmetic surgery among women. Unsurprisingly, the author draws attention to the fact that the rise in labial surgery has been explained by things like “the trickle-up effect of porn aesthetics” and the rise of pubic hair waxing among women.

Here’s a link:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/06/perverse-incentives/8489

 

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