waxing

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Well, with summer’s start tomorrow I know we’re all freaking out about getting ready for bathing suit season right? What, no? Ok, you’re right: bathing suit season is low on the list of things competing for space in my mind right now. This is the time of year, however, when the mainstream media like to post helpful tips and tricks for getting ready for the aforementioned “season” – and for women, that usually involves some kind of well-intentioned piece about how to whisk away “unwanted” hair.

That’s why I was amused (and sort of pleased) to see an article in the Toronto Star called “My First Brazilian Wax“. Written by Victoria Ptashnick, the article charts her first foray to the salon for a full Brazilian – ie. a wax after which very little is left to the imagination. Victoria doesn’t break any ground with her tale – it’s charming and funny and pretty much exactly what you would expect – but I did think it was refreshing to see a young woman opting out of what appears to be the dominant pubic-grooming practice of her age. In a video added to the site yesterday, Victoria answers reader questions about her article and experience. She is very clear about one thing: her future will not include intimate waxing.

Speaking of intimate procedures, I recently learned about “ball ironing”, sometimes known as “tightening the tackle” (apparently) in a brief article on an offshoot of the NY Magazine’s website called ‘The Cut’. According to the article, the thin testicular skin gets wrinkly and discoloured with age, so men can now pay good money (and lots of it) for a procedure that “involves using lasers to remove hair, erase wrinkles, and correct discoloration on the scrotum.” Will we ever run out of things to worry about?

 

 

 

 

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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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Those of you who are new to this blog may not be familiar with the series of drawings that Toronto-based artist Julie Voyce has been doing especially for The Last Triangle. She’s finding her inspiration in what she reads here, and then lets her imagination roam, coming up with ideas and images that push boundaries.

I haven’t posted one of Julie’s images for some time now, but I am very pleased that I am able to feature one today.

In creating this image, Julie says she was inspired by something I wrote about virgin waxing — and her imagining what it would be like if all the kids who got virgin waxes as kids grew up to realize they wanted to re-embrace their body hair after all.

Julie writes:

Here it is! The Future! Newly Created Consumer Demand!

It is the year 2035. Millions of little girls were given the virgin wax treatment, and as they grew up, they found they really wanted to have pubic hair!

They became angry because they weren’t given a choice!

A hair dresser by the name of Steinberg Rosamund Lenoir (Rosy L is her nick-name) invents the fashion trend that becomes all the rage! Why have a little hair when you can have a whole lot, thanks to the miracle of super growth injections in any colour desired.

Just shoot yourself up anywhere you want to have fur (in any hue!) and watch that beautiful hair grow, grow, grow!

Pictured here: the distribution most women favour: a little bit of mystery, a little bit of cheek…a whole lot of elegance!

 

For more of Julie’s drawings, click on the Julie Voyce tag in the tag cloud to the left…

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Going Down

One of the arguments I hear a lot in support of pubic hair removal is this: oral sex. There’s a message out there (one that I worry a lot of young women are internalizing) that seems to suggest that guys will (often begrudgingly) perform oral sex, but only if women keep themselves meticulously groomed (ie. hairless) so that things are neat and tidy and easy to find.

That’s certainly the message that this guy is promoting:

This guy is particularly obnoxious, because he first makes a big deal about how much he likes performing cunnilingus, but then makes it clear that unless the target area is well kept, it’s not going to get any attention. People: if you keep your pubic hair tidy and clean, it really shouldn’t interfere with oral sex. Here’s a radical idea: don’t get rid of it, just MOVE IT OUT OF THE WAY.

People have been giving and receiving oral sex since long before intimate waxing was de rigeur and everyone seemed to do just fine.

What I worry about most is the fact that a lot of young women today say they won’t let a guy near their nether regions unless everything is in tip top shape, while they are expected to give out blow-jobs like they’re shaking hands. It’s a mindset I feel like we’ve got to try and change.

If this guy really is a masterful as he seems to imply he is when it comes to oral sex, he should be embracing it whenever he can get it — not only when the conditions are ‘right’.

And unless he’s keeping his business impeccably waxed, he’s got no right to suggest that his sexual partners do the same. Addressing “women” over YouTube about what they should be doing with their pubic hair is just straight up obnoxious.

Hair removal should not be a pre-requisite for anyone’s pleasure.

 

 

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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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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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I ran into a friend this morning at a local coffee shop. “Meredith!” she exclaimed when she saw me. “I thought of you the other day!”

“Oh yeah,” I said. “Why?”

“Because I went to a salon to get a manicure and a pedicure, and at the last minute decided that since it is bathing suit season, that I’d get a bikini wax, too,” my friend explained.

(“ah ha!”, I thought to myself, “it must be a pubic hair story!”)

My friend, who is in her fifties (with an admirably well developed ability of how to ask for what she wants) held her hands in a ‘V’ at the front of her body, showing me what she’d indicated to the esthetician. “I asked for a bikini wax,” she said. “I only wanted this much off” (again, her hands gesturing at a small space along the edge of where her underwear would be).

But it was not to be. Seems the move-to-remove is pervasive these days.

Before long, my poor friend was far more bare than she had intended to be.

“Meredith,” she exclaimed, her face indicating her own horror. “I look like THIS!” She was holding her hands up in the space between us, her fingers creating a tiny triangle.

When she expressed her alarm to the esthetician (a young woman), she merely got a smile and a nod, and was assured that it looked good. “Cleaner,” my friend told me. “Cleaner!”

“Cleaner” hadn’t been the look she was after — in fact, she was offended by the suggestion that her pre-waxed state had been anything but.

She’s now anxiously waiting for her hair (of which she is fond) to grow back.

Hilariously, another friend told me a very similar story later in the day — only it was about her mother (also in her fifties) having a near-identical experience.

What has happened to the humble bikini wax?

My friend’s experience reminded me of a really great letter submitted to the “Open Letters to People or Entities Who Are Unlikely to Respond,” section on the McSweeney’s website.

This one is called An Open Letter to the Guy Who Scheduled My Accidental Brazilian and it’s by Kate Geiselman. It’s really well written and hilarious…well worth a read.

 

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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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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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