I decided I might as well hit all the hot topics I wanted to discuss before moving on to less controversial subjects on feminism. Today’s topic: pubic hair. Please be advised that this post will definitely contain mature and sensitive content. If this isn’t a subject you want to discuss, come on back next week!
Let’s just get right down to it: Is removing your pubic hair anti-feminist?
Now again, let me offer the same assurance in this post that I did in the last – that I respect EVERY woman’s right to choose what is right for her regarding personal grooming habits. My intention is to simply discuss this trend, its relationship with feminism and its sexual, psychological and cultural implications.
For those of you who have been a Five Seed reader for the past year or longer, you know that I put a lot of stock in Mother Nature. When it comes to our bodies, I believe that the less we interfere, the better. I also believe that if something is part of our body – it’s there for a reason! That includes pubic hair.
Now I must admit to being a bit of a hypocrite in this area. I shave my armpits and my legs and I pluck the occasional rogue eyebrow hair. Those are cultural ideals of beauty that I have not been able to escape. However, when it comes to having hot wax near my lady bits on a regular basis…that gives me pause!
Waxing, as you have probably heard in the news these past few years, can be particularly dangerous, especially in such a sensitive area of the body. Linda K. Franks, M.D., a dermatology professor at NYU’s School of Medicine says, “Pubic hair is there for a reason – to protect the sensitive skin and mucous membranes in the genital region. Getting a wax literally strips away that layer of protection. Anytime you compromise the integrity of the skin [which waxing does], you’re going to increase your risk of infection.”*
Beyond the potential risks involved with waxing, I simply cannot fathom enduring the pain of such a procedure on a regular basis. It hurts bad enough to wax your legs! As with high heels, I wonder: Why should we have to endure pain in order to be considered “beautiful?”
Now that brings me to my greatest problem with bikini waxing. Why is it considered beautiful in the first place? Like armpit hair, pubic hair is a secondary sex characteristic, exhibiting our physical sexual maturity. The idea of stripping off this hair (and the trend is moving toward complete removal, not just the “landing strip” look) is very disturbing to me. Are we, as a culture, teaching ourselves and men to associate sexual attractiveness with the sexual characteristics of a young girl instead of a grown woman?
My generation seems to be phasing out women with natural pubic hair, and the next is seemingly peopled with women who think pubic hair is “gross” and men who have never seen anything more than a landing strip on a woman. “It’s what’s expected these days,” said one bikini waxer to Sunday Times’ writer, Sarah Vine. With the widespread availability of internet porn, teens and twenty-somethings see hairless women as the norm. “I get girls coming in here who haven’t even lost their virginity; but they’ve seen all this stuff on the internet, and they think having hair down there is gross — dirty, even.”
This isn’t just a female-driven trend, either. Men have become increasingly interested in the state of their partner’s nether regions. According to my circle of friends, the new “pre-sex question” is not “Do you have a condom?” but “Do you have hair down there?” When Salon contributor, Christina Valhouli, asked her friend Chad about his reaction to his girlfriend’s “baldness,” his response was, “…when I felt her it was like, oh my God, an unbelievably primal welling of emotion. First from the shock and then from the whole little girl eroticism of it. It’s hard to describe. I guess it was like tasting forbidden fruit.” UK author, Janice Turner, says, “You don’t need to page Dr. Freud to wonder how the craze for bare pudenda might be tied to some unsavory fetishisation of youth. And now the waxed look is supported by a massive industry — hair removal in Britain is worth £280 million a year.”
Dr. Stephen Snyder, writing for Psychology Today, compared the stark contrast between the “full bush” of the 1970′s to today’s preference for being completely hairless. “I worry that it now seems mandatory for young women to do it,” Snyder writes. “Among many young men that I see in treatment, the sight of a woman’s pubic hair produces the same revulsion that in my day might have greeted the sight of her armpit hair. Vulvar hair is regarded as unsightly – or even disgusting. That can’t be good. Have all our field’s efforts to encourage young women to celebrate their bodies come to this – to their having to alter them so their partners won’t be disgusted? This can’t be progress.”
Even children – yes, children – are having this procedure done. One waxer describes her experience at Salon: “I used to have mothers come in to have me wax their 11- and 12-year-old daughters — lipline, eyebrows, full leg, bikini. Sometimes the nannies would bring them in, and the nannies would have to hold their hands… I’ll tell you, sometimes it felt like child abuse.” Why the waxing-for-children trend? Some believe that early waxing will prevent pubic hair from growing in the first place (heaven forbid!). Feminist Fatale explains, “virgin waxing is a pro-active measure designed to eradicate pubic hair in 2 to 6 sessions, eliminating the need for lifetime waxing. The salon claims that the savings can be applied directly to a college fund. Well, I am guessing that these virgin waxing treatments aren’t cheap in the first place and the notion that a girl’s pubic hair will be removed before she gets it, maintaining her pre-pubescent appearance is inherently disturbing.”
But what about the other side to this issue? Some women claim that they simply like having a hairless haven. Some have said that it makes them feel cleaner, more aware of their sexuality, more empowered, more beautiful, more naughty. According to Psychology Today, “A recent report by Dr. Debra Herbenick in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that women in their sample who went hairless reported better genital self-image overall, and more sexual satisfaction.” This is all good and fine, but I can’t help but wonder: Why does it make us feel this way? Is the relationship between “empowerment” and a bald genital region a product of our culture? Is our sexual satisfaction connected with our feelings of being more beautiful and “acceptable” to our partners? Aren’t we already programmed to think that hairlessness is more beautiful, more sexy? Therefore, aren’t we just buying into the cultural ideal?
This is an issue Dr. Snyder questions, as well. According to the data he shares, the majority of polled women go hairless in their nether regions at least some of the time. Is that troubling, or simply the evidence of today’s trend that will eventually pass? And where is this trend leading us? As Snyder points out, there are some worrisome factors at work here that may or may not prove to be related to the hairless trend: “…How about the recent surge in vulvoplastic surgery – women going under the knife to have their inner labia trimmed. Am I the only one who suspects this has been prompted by shaving or waxing? After all, back in the moonwalk era, whoever noticed labial protuberance or asymmetry?”
While you may argue that men are under similar pressure these days to look good and appear hairless, I’d have to partially disagree. It is true that men are flocking to the spas to get their chests, backs and other areas waxed, but the cultural standards and pressures are different – especially when it comes to the genital area! I have read that men are starting to get Brazilians. However, some of the reasons I read include making them feel more sensitive during intercourse and wanting their penises to look larger. This is a vastly different set of reasons than women typically have, although the latter is definitely a cultural pressure to “look” a certain way. And when it comes to the rest of the body, one article said, “We’re not advocating waxed legs or arms — jeez, a dude should look like, well, a dude…” If a “dude should look like a dude,” shouldn’t a lady look like a lady?
In the end, my problem with pubic hair removal is simple: I fear it is the attempt of our culture to strip away our womanhood. Adult sexuality is a powerful thing and to live in a culture that asks us to turn ourselves into little girls from the hips down, to me, has the potential to strip us of some of that power if we aren’t careful. It perpetuates the notion that we need to alter the bodies Mother Nature gave us in order to be sexually attractive. And it is yet another beauty routine that causes PAIN!
I’m not suggesting that we leave our nether regions alone and never do any yard work down there. We shower, style our hair, wear deodorant, use perfume…there’s certainly nothing wrong with maintaining our gardens, as well. And if getting waxed down to baldness truly makes you feel sexy and empowered, then I say keep doing what works for you!
I’m simply saying that I feel it’s dangerous that being hairless is becoming the norm for women. I don’t think that’s healthy and I think it’s particularly damaging to the next group of girls coming of age. We should not be allowing our young girls to grow up thinking that pubic hair is disgusting or unsightly and that it needs to be removed in order to make them sexually attractive. I honestly believe that we need to have frank conversations with our daughters, nieces and younger sisters about this subject, however awkward it may be. Our girls need to know that their bodies are perfect just the way they are, and that they have the choice to do what they want!
What do you think?
*Some doctors have recently gone on record as saying that pubic hair has no purpose whatsoever and that there are no dangers in removing it. These statements are made to support the multi-million dollar waxing business, so I can’t help but be suspicious. This wouldn’t be the first time that experts were paid a lot of money to bend the truth.