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The other day a video popped up on a friend’s Facebook feed. It featured a small image of what appeared to be a t-shirt on a mannequin. There was a big, blurry circle in the mannequin’s crotch area.

Next to it was this headline: controversial window display in Halifax, N.S. turns heads. Figuring it might involve pubic hair, I could resist clicking the link. I wasn’t wrong. (you can watch it for yourself here).

It took me to a news segment that aired earlier this week on CTV news in Halifax. Before running the item, host Steve Murphy looks at the audience and says “we caution you that some of you may find this offensive, and it may not be appropriate for younger viewers.”

Which is what made the item so extra hilarious. In short: it’s a very short news item about an “art installation” that’s getting “mixed reviews” in a store-front window on Barrington Street in downtown Halifax. Apparently a whole whack of people are incredibly offended by it and there’s a petition circulating to have the work taken down. The news item, which is shabbily put together, clips a couple of people talking about how terrible they find it, along with a few who shrug their shoulders and say they don’t really know what it’s about. While the item fails to credit the artist entirely, it does clip the curator, Scott Saunders, who makes a couple of valid points about how there is much more offensive stuff going on  in the windows of the sex shops down the street. He says the work is about “Canadian identity, sexual politics, and the idea of Canadiana.”

At no point do we ever get to see what everyone is so upset about because of the HUGE, BLURRY CIRCLE shielding us from the display’s horrors.

Well here, ladies and gentlemen, is what the news needed to protect you from:

That’s right: a mannequin wearing a T-shirt reading “Canada: Go Beavers!” and a furry, pubic-hair-esque loin cloth. Though she is not mentioned in the controversy, it didn’t take me long to figure out that the artist is Bonita Hatcher, a NSCAD grad.

Here’s a wider view of the entire window:

(Sorry it’s so small! Halifax’s alt weekly, The Coast, posted a great photo to Instagram, too). 

Curious to know more (and so thoroughly dissatisfied by the news item), I booked a call with the artist.

Our chat was wonderful – hilarious, energizing, and informative. Bonita immediately filled in some of the blanks around the window work for me. Firstly, the news item omitted some significant details: most significantly, that the beaver featured in the lower left hand corner of the window IS COMPLETELY SHORN! That’s right – in what sounds like a painstaking process, she SHAVED A TAXIDERMY BEAVER. She then cut up a bit of an old (beaver) fur coat, adorned a particularly phallic piece of it with red ribbons, and turned it into a loin cloth. She had the T-shirt created especially. Though it’s hard to read at first, the beaver in the image is hairless.

Bonita, who is in her early 40s with a background in marine biology, was as appalled as anyone by the upset her piece had elicited among Haligonians. She said she was most fascinated by the fact that there was nothing ACTUALLY offensive in what she had created — a shorn beaver, a furry merkin, and a printed t-shirt. It was, she pointed out, up to viewers to make connections if they wanted to – and in order to do so, one had to be properly equipped (a shorn beaver, for example, has no meaning in itself unless you know that ‘beaver’ is a slang term for a woman’s genitalia).

While Bonita told me she hadn’t sought out to make a statement about pubic hair (in fact, the shorn beaver was originally part of a larger piece addressing ‘Canadiana’), normalized pubic hair removal among women has fascinated her for some time. She described re-entering the dating scene after the end of her marriage and coming to terms with what a ‘Brazilian’ was (“it took me awhile to figure out what it was,” she recalled, “I remember going ‘oh-my-god, are you kidding me?’ In my mind, if I had a hair caught in the elastic of my underwear I would cry.”

For Bonita, who only started making art as an adult has always been interested in feminist art and performance. In one of her first performances at art school, she cut off her clothes and painted herself with latex. “I got that stuff out of the way,” she laughs, later wearing a wedding dress 24-hours a day for a week in a bid to explore the idea that traditional female wedding garb serves to cover the body from head to toe and restrict movement.

I don’t even think that Bonita has a precise grasp on what she was trying to say to the world with her “controversial” window display — but she definitely managed to make a statement. The shorn beaver is visually clever, the phallic merkin, provocative. It’s not entirely clear whether we are supposed to celebrate the hairless beast and lament the loss of his fur, or whether we should be re-embracing our own Canadian short-n-curlies, but in a sense it really doesn’t matter. The work does (as Bonita intended) start a conversation that is definitely worth having.

Bonita also let slip that she’s intended to start selling her “go beavers’ T-shirts. I can’t wait to stroll the streets of my city in it this summer. No blurry circle required.

 

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Yes, I know… in my last post I swore up and down that I was back at it, and that the posts would be coming fast and furious. And then what happened? I dropped the ball.

I certainly haven’t forgotten about you. Every day I read some interesting thing about pubic hair out there, and think “gotta update the blog” and for whatever reason, that day slips away and it doesn’t happen.

I suppose the fact is that at some point it all comes around again. The to-shave-or-not-to-shave debate rages on as it has for the last few years. Sometimes I can’t help but feel that I’ve said what I need to say – and that I’ve run out of things to add. People are going to do what they want to do (as they should!). My issue is, and has always been, that people should be made aware of what their choices are – and I guess that’s what has driven me in the past. It often seems that young people (especially women) aren’t always entirely aware that they have a choice about the body they choose to present to the world: that they have a choice about how to groom their hair, about whether they want to wear make-up or not, about whether leggings are an appropriate alternative to pants.

Pubic hair has been back in the media again lately, though.

I found the debate continuing to rage on Jezebel in an article inspired by man describing pubic hair on a woman as “fossil of human anatomy” (pubic hair as endangered species).

Apparently scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, are also finding that pubic hair grooming injuries are “on the rise” these days. Seems like a very good reason to stick with a good trim and leave full hair removal for bits of the body that are more readily accessible.

I guess I’ll leave things there for now. I look forward to being in more regular contact…

 

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I don’t know about the rest of you, but as we near the end of November, I’ve been thinking a fair bit about ‘Movember‘. Everywhere I look these days some guy is proudly sporting a moustache. While I have nothing against raising money for worthy causes, the conformity of Movember has been doing my head in. At my graduation ceremony a couple of weeks ago, I watched man after man stride across the stage and shake hands with the university admin while wearing a silly ‘stache. I couldn’t help but wonder what the photos were going to look like in, say, twenty years.

That’s why I thought this blog entry about “No Shave November” was interesting. Here in Canada I don’t feel we’ve heard a lot about it — at least if it’s happening, it’s not getting anything near the press that Movember’s getting. The idea is to avoid shaving altogether for the entire month of November — and unlike Movember, both men and women are allowed to participate.

In fact, I just found this nice little editorial on doing just that — growing out your hair — written by a young woman at Indiana University South Bend. She makes some good points and it’s worth taking a gander at.

If you’re participating in No Shave November, drop me a line. I’d love to hear what the experience has been like for you…

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As I mentioned in my last post, I am very keen on having more voices represented in this blog (not just mine, telling people what I’ve observed). I’ve been asking you to send in your own stories and am pleased to report that I’ve got a great one to start with.

This was submitted recently by “Tocxica” — I’ll let her take it from here:

I Used To Be An Avid Shaver

I used to be an avid shaver. Every other day whether I needed it or not, all of my “hair down there” would be ritualistically culled by my mighty Venus razor. Why? Simple, that’s just what you did. As a child of the 90’s I grew up with the mindset that pubic hair was dirty and unattractive. Who told me this? Well…no one in particular. But it just was. Right? You never really spoke about it. Boys did, but not girls.

Porn was the cause of both my systematic shearing of my pubes and later my refusal to ever shave again. I was twelve when I first discovered the nasty secret of the curly hair that would someday soon be overtaking my lower parts. Some boys from my class were crowding around a magazine and on the centerfold was a nude woman with a thick bush of hair between her legs. It didn’t take long for me to overhear the disgust my classmates had for the hair, or for the jokes to set the thought into my mind that any woman with hair between her legs was a freak. I would never get hair between my legs like that. And then just a short year later, I did.

Fast forward five years and a landfill full to the brim of dull razors, while working on my senior project for school “Sex in Society” I am given a lovely copy of a French erotic magazine with full on bush. At first I was shocked. I asked the person who had given it to me if this was fetish porn. “Nope, just regular old porn.” She said with a strange, confused look on her face. Okay, so it wasn’t some weird French hair fetish porn. I began to look beyond my initial shock at seeing a woman with pubic hair on the cover of an apparently normal pornographic magazine. I noticed the beauty. Why had I spent my entire adolescent life trying to keep myself from looking like this? Why had I suffered the nicks and irritation, the ingrown hairs for Heaven’s sake! It was an epiphany. I didn’t even know what my natural pubic hair looked like! I had begun shaving it as soon as it appeared!

Now I’m married with a daughter and a chipper outlook. Until recently that is. I was playing around on Facebook (a guilty pleasure of mine) when I came across a link posted on a debate page I belong to. Accompanying the link were these questions ‘Being totally shaved/waxed “down there”, is it creepy and “fetishizing the look of prepubescence”, or just a personal preference? Does your s/o weigh in on how you maintain that area?’

Always up for a good debate I scanned the comments before tossing in my two cents as well. My stomach dropped. Out of nearly forty comments absolutely NONE were pro-pubes. Quite the opposite in fact. There were comments like “GROSS!” and “pubic hair is so dirty and nasty, whoever wrote that artacle[sic] is obviously some dirty hippy”.

Having been on both sides of the hairy fence, I decided to weigh in about why I love my pubic hair. How it hurts when it first begins to grow back, how time consuming the upkeep is, and how it hurts when you’re shaved and your partner isn’t. I also went on to ask why every single one of them considered pubic hair to be so horrible. The most coherent response went exactly as follows “here is my reasoning…i dont want hair in my mouth, why would my husband or my girlfriend want it in THEIR mouth? second- i HATE having blood from my period stuck in the hair during the day- i dont have time to shower every time i change a pad, i shower 1-2times a day. third- i work out, i dont want stinky sweaty hair down there while i work out. fourth- i dont like it it “sticking” out of my swimsuit or sexy panties”.

This response made me want to rip my hair out. Seriously? Unless your partner is taking “carpet munching” seriously, there shouldn’t be any hair between their teeth. God forbid you have blood on you during your PERIOD! The horror! The third reason was my favorite. In fact, I giggled about it for a good three minutes or so before replying. Perhaps you’ve picked up why I thought it funny. When exercising correctly, you get sweaty and stinky. That’s why they have showers at most gyms. If you aren’t breaking a sweat, you aren’t doing it right. Her final reason was the easiest for me to reply to. “Try to buy clothing that fits properly then.” I’m no longer very popular with them now.

This led me to ask a few friends of mine their views on pubic hair. Being used to my open discussions on sex and sexuality they answered right away. Here are two of my favorite responses; “ok so, down below i like to keep it where I look like I’ve never hit puberty lol 😉pastedGraphic.pdf annyywhhooo on others , such as my ex gf sometimes she was shaven sometimes not, I didn’t exactly mind as long as she didn’t look like a chubacca that would kidnap my chin….when it comes to oral sex I think I prefer at least trimmed on girls as well as guys (oh no a lesbian has given a blowjob lol) I don’t mind a little hair just but looking like your vagina came from the 60’s or 70’s doesn’t do it for me lol” and “Trim it, but don’t shave – I hate to scrape my face on someone’s 5 o’clock shadow. And long and scraggy is just a turn-off. Always makes me wonder if they even wash…”

Do I feel like a hairy freak? You betcha! Do I care? Not at all! I love my pubic hair! Why wouldn’t I? It’s part of the awesomeness that is me. I’m all for personal preference, but I do wonder why my (in most cases) liberal monster friends are so disgusted by their pubic hair.

-Tocxica, October 2011

Male, female, young, old — if you’ve got a story or opinion to share, please send it to me at mdault [at ] meredithdault.com



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Bare Boys

A friend recently sent me a link to this great article that appeared recently on the Bitch Magazine website (don’t know Bitch Magazine? start here…)

The article is called “Isn’t He Lovely: Bare Down There And Everywhere Else,” by Cristen Conger.

The well written article is about the new hairlessness among young men. The author talks about the notion of a “sanitized ideal” for men that seems to be taking the mainstream by storm. As she writes:

We’re talking hair-free, sweat-free, odor-free; in other words, the same unrealistic standards peddled to women for so long, à la leg and underarm shaving. And like the hairless female ideal, it isn’t just the most visible fur that men are tending to these days; statistically, men groom their pubic hair more than any other type of body hair (sans beards).

Though I haven’t formally embraced looking at male body hair practices (I’d love to though… just give me time). The article does point out (and rightly so) that while the increased pressure for me to depilate is sort of disturbing (in the sense that any widely normalized, readily embraced mechanism of body control is), men don’t face nearly the same levels of stigma that women do should they decide NOT to embrace the practice.

And again, the article asks some of the same questions I have around women’s pubic hair grooming habits: will the trend persevere as men age and settle down, or like with women, is the trend very much a short lived practice tied in with youthful, commitment-free sexuality.

I remember one of the young women I interviewed telling me about one of her regular ‘hook up’ partners, and the fact that being hairless was, in a sense, part of the ritual:

“It’s definitely more appealing,” she told me. “There was this one guy.. we were hook up buddies, I guess. I invited him over, and he was like ‘oh, I just shaved for you,’ and I was like ‘oh, cool…oh, I just waxed too.’ It was like, I did this thing for you. It was a positive thing…you know what I mean?”

There must be something in the casualness of the hook-up that is balanced by the ritualized grooming practice: it seems to acknowledge that ‘I know that we have this meaningless, strings-free intimate relationship, but I still did my part before showing up’.

You know what I mean?

 

 

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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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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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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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