The Hairless Haven

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.”

Is porn to blame for this trend?

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?

Yeah, waxing hurts, dude! (Steve Carell in 40 Year Old Virgin)

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.

Teetering on the brink of fashion sanity

Well, I decided I’d jump right in with what I suspect will be my most controversial post – perhaps ever! Seems silly to say when this post is about the somewhat unimportant subject of shoes, but we women tend to be pretty attached to our shoes! As far as heels go, though, the fact is, I think they are terrible for our health…among other things.

Now I know that many, many women love their high heels. If you are one of them, please don’t write me off yet. I certainly don’t have anything against people who love high heels – if you love them, that’s wonderful and if they make you feel good, then I say wear them with pride! I would never judge anyone for wearing high heels, ever! The purpose of this post is simply to talk about my own thoughts about high heels, their role in feminism (again, my opinions) and what they do to our bodies.

The iconic, always high-heeled Carrie Bradshaw

My relationship with high heels began at a very young age, as I’m sure is true for most women who grew up in this culture. I grew up playing with Barbie dolls whose bare feet are unnaturally shaped with the heels hovering high in the air as if her Achilles tendons are pulling her up off the floor. And if you are like me, you probably had a whole wardrobe to go with your Barbie, including dozens of high heeled shoes (back in the 80′s, no sneakers came with Barbie wardrobes…and that is a subject that could make for several blog posts!). Are we being programmed to associate high heels with femininity? Beauty? Womanhood?

Funnily enough, none of the adult women in my life wore high heels – ever – except for my grandfather’s wife, who wore them every day. She even had high heeled slippers. She was gracious and generous to her five step-granddaughters and let us all play in her closet and walk around in her shoes (she has very tiny feet, lucky for us!). We argued over who got to wear the feathered heels and the clear, see-through heels and the leather heels and on and on, and then would go strutting around the patio in them for all of five minutes – it was so hard to walk in them that we would become bored very quickly and go back to running around, riding bikes and chasing each other. In sneakers. Or our bare feet.

Throughout my teens and twenties, I attempted to wear high heels on numerous occasions. I thought they were pretty (and I still do, for the most part). I wanted to look tall and thin (don’t we all?). And let’s face it – like tuxedos for men, there’s a certain sartorial expectation for women in extremely formal situations – and that includes high heels. Funerals, graduations, weddings – I tried so hard to keep my big feet in those shoes. And ouch!

I have always suffered from joint maladies – ankles, knees, hips – as well as back problems and fallen arches. If I stand or walk for too long, I experience pain even when wearing sneakers. High heels have always caused me immense pain, even after a few moments of wearing them. I can remember gritting my teeth in pain for the duration of my college graduation ceremony, fantasizing about kicking my heels off the moment I got home.

Over the years, I read articles about high heels and what they do to our bodies. In case you don’t know, they can cause sciatica, shortened Achilles tendons, sprained ankles, hammer toes, arthritis, lower back pain, degenerative joint disease of the knees, tendinitis, corns, “pump bump” (a bony enlargement on the back of the heel), metatarsalgia and nerve damage, just to name a handful of the consequences of wearing heels every day. I wasn’t surprised by anything I read – my body had already told me that wearing high heels was bad for my joints, back and feet. What does surprise me is how much pain I and others are willing to endure to be beautiful.

About a year ago, I read an interview with Sela Ward in a magazine, in which she talked about breaking her ankle when she fell while wearing platform shoes. I remember thinking: We women are wearing shoes that cause us to be so unstable that we might fall and break our bones? Then I recalled the many stories I’ve heard from friends who got their heels caught in sewer grates (didn’t that happen to Samantha Jones in Sex and the City?), who sank in mud, who fell over while walking on uneven ground and who couldn’t get to their destination on time because it hurt too much to walk. Again, I think to myself: Why are we hindering our ability to MOVE? Isn’t there something a little bit creepy about wearing something that affects our sense of balance, our speed, our mobility? Honestly, I sometimes see heels as a self-imposed act of mutilation – it permanently damages our bodies and literally cripples us while we are wearing them.

Ten years ago, four inch heels were considered high. I read many articles saying that you should never wear four inch heels for very long – two hours, maximum, before switching to a lower heel. Today, six inch heels have come into fashion. SIX INCHES. Is it just me or does it seem masochistic to force your foot into a shoe that lifts your heel half a foot above the ground?

Kim Kardashian almost trips in her six inch heels.

I found an online article about the burgeoning market for six inch heels that, to my surprise, recommends this shoe (below) as the ideal “everyday shoe.” (I can’t imagine wearing these every day! This makes my feet hurt just looking at it!)

Now I’m guessing six inch heels still aren’t the norm for the average woman. I think most women stick with 2-4″ heels. But the potential to harm our bodies is still there, even if you opt out of the six inch trend.

And children? Oh yeah, this affects them, too. While in my day, a little girl’s exposure to high heels was usually limited to playing with Mama’s (or another relative’s) high heels, today, it’s not uncommon for little girls to have their very own pair of heels. Suri Cruise has become the poster child for this fashion movement, while mother Katie Holmes has taken a lot of heat for sparking the debate about whether or not children should be allowed to wear high heels.

So… If you’ve kindly stuck around to read this (heel-lovers, -haters and everyone in between), I’d love to hear what you think. Is this a crazy, anti-feminist fashion trend (that’s likely here to stay) or is it worth the pain?

Again, please let me say that I completely respect every woman and her opinions on feminism and her choice of footwear! :)

Femininity: Internal vs. External

In the past two days, I’ve received some fantastic comments about my last post, Femininity and Feminism. Teri commented that, at 60, she wants to hold on to her femininity for as long as possible by taking care of her appearance and avoiding wearing “grungy” clothes (i.e. jeans and baggy T shirts). Bella (of Bella Before and After), mother of three, commented about her daily uniform of yoga pants and how she wishes she was able to enjoy wearing her saris more often. EcoGrrl talked about embracing our inner selves more completely and how that enhances our natural femininity, no matter how it is expressed. Lisa C (Nourishing My Life) mentioned that femininity can be accessed in any way, as long as one feels good about oneself. And EcoYogini emphasized that the term “feminine” isn’t physical – it’s emotional.

I have to say, these comments really hit home for me and have helped me shape my thoughts about this issue – or should I say, my personal relationship with these thoughts. I already have many opinions about femininity in our society (which I will be blogging about over the next week or so), but it was my personal relationship with femininity that was throwing me for a loop.

While I agree with the comments about femininity being an internal energy and creative expression, I realized that I judge my external self by the cultural notions of femininity. This is not something I do to other women – I have friends who are frilly and girly and friends who are total tomboys, and I see them all as feminine and beautiful. But me? When I’m at the store, wearing my bicycle helmet and my cargo pants and T shirt (a very comfortable outfit I often wear when bicycling) and a woman in high heels passes by, wearing lots of makeup and a miniskirt, I suddenly feel fat, dowdy and absolutely the opposite of feminine. It is that insecurity that got me thinking about this in the first place. I wondered, Why should I have to feel that way about myself? I’m happy driving less and bicycling more – it makes me feel good for many reasons. I prefer to wear my comfortable, utilitarian clothing most of the time because I feel like I can do anything – go into the garden, walk my dog, play with my nephews – and not worry about getting dirty, sweaty or stained. So why should that interfere with my image of myself as a feminine being?

It shouldn’t. But it does.

I’ll be revisiting this some more in the future. But before I continue on this subject in future posts, I do want to make it clear that my goal here is NOT to denounce makeup or skirts or perfume or any other “girly” thing we ladies like to enjoy. Yes, there is one thing I will be stating my firm opinion AGAINST, and we can have some fun debates over that, LOL. But the rest of it – I’m all for it! I wear makeup sometimes. I love skirts. I love chandelier earrings (if you look at my picture on the top right hand side of this blog, you might be able to catch a glimpse of the long earrings I was wearing that day). I love perfume. All I am saying is that I want to feel feminine even when I don’t choose to engage in these forms of femininity. I want to be able to still feel feminine when I am in my sweatpants, huffing up a hill on my bike. Right now, I feel like our culture doesn’t really honor that – the ability to be feminine all the time just because you are a woman. I feel that our culture only acknowledges one kind of femininity – external femininity. And that’s what bothers me.

Thanks for all your comments! I look forward to reading more!

Still from Bride & Prejudice

By the way, I find it completely ironic that two comments mentioned India/Indian culture. I find that funny because I have always thought that is a culture that knows how to celebrate the feminine body! (Okay, I’ve never been to India and am making this judgment purely based on Bollywood films. So forgive me!) The colors are so vibrant, the fabrics so beautiful, and the jewelry…oh, the jewelry. Sometimes, I wish we lived in a culture like that – where all the women look like goddesses. Wouldn’ t that be something?

Femininity and Feminism

I have been thinking a lot about femininity. What it means. Who defines it. How we express it. I’ll be writing on some related topics over the next few weeks.

But today, I want to talk about femininity in general. What does it mean? What ideas did you get about femininity when you were growing up? When I think of my childhood, these are the women who seemed feminine to me:

Daryl Hannah in Splash

Wonder Woman

Briar Rose / Princess Aurora

Jennifer Beals in Flashdance

Notice a theme here? They are are super beautiful, super skinny, and in most cases, super sexualized.

I was lucky to have a brief period of time during which I was immune to the cultural ideal of femininity. Mostly in preschool, LOL. In fact, I remember that at that time, I equated femininity with physical strength. I wanted to be the most feminine girl at my preschool, and to achieve that, I would do just about anything to prove my strength.

We had a bike track at my preschool (perhaps that’s where I learned to love bicycling?). Yes, an entire track built into the playground, designed for the tricycles – we had a whole fleet of those. My favorite tricycle was the rickshaw trike – a saddle for the “driver” and a two-person seat over the back two wheels. Every recess, I would run to the rickshaw trike and yell for my friends to get on. Two kids often weren’t enough. More, more! I’d try to get three or four on the back seat just to see if I could make it all the way around the track, pedaling their weight. That’s what made me feel feminine.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t more than a year or two later that my sister and I were running around in our California bikinis with washcloths stuffed into the bras, pretending we were Wonder Woman. We still equated femininity with strength, but strength wasn’t enough anymore. We had to have “breasts,” too.

Later, we learned another lesson about “femininity” – one that is, from my current perspective, horrifying. One of our favorite movies, being rabid Hayley Mills fans, was the 1963 Disney film, Summer Magic. What was the message about femininity from that film? “Be radiant, but delicate. Memorize the rules of etiquette. Be demure, sweet and pure. Hide the real you!” Thankfully, Hayley’s character, Nancy, is such an independent, strong, tomboyish character that her actions offset this one awful moment in the film. We admired hardy Nancy far more than the more “feminine” characters in this film, Lallie Joy and Julia.

These days, I contemplate the issue of femininity a lot. Since I ride around on my bike most of the time (instead of driving), I tend to opt for comfort. There are a lot of people out there who love biking in stylish dresses and even high heels, but I’m not one of them! However, I can’t help but notice that when I’m out on my bike in my workout pants and fleece jackets (or whatever other ugly-but-functional clothing I tend to wear), I don’t always feel that good about my appearance. I don’t usually think about my appearance in the first place, since biking is truly fun for me, and I just enjoy being in the moment. But when I arrive at my destination, I always feel a bit…dowdy.

I was thinking that maybe I should put more effort into wearing nicer, or even more feminine clothing while biking, which is ultimately what got me thinking about this subject in the first place. Soon after this thought appeared in my head, I read an article about herbalist Susun Weed – someone I admire greatly. I looked at the picture of her (in her classic headwrap, jeans and T shirt) and thought: This is a woman, too, and therefore, this is another expression of femininity. So what am I worried about?

Picture source: HerbTV Online

Granted, I can imagine that our backwards culture would reject the notion of Susun Weed as “feminine,” or “sexy,” or any other such rigid categorization of the female appearance. Which only leads me to wonder: Is our culture’s notion of femininity anti-feminist? 

Stay tuned because I have lots to say on this subject…and I have the feeling that some of it will inspire some heated conversations!