A few weeks ago, I was enjoying some time alone in a coffee shop and overheard a conversation regarding some college coeds discussing their plans to visit a local day spa.
One of them mentioned she was having a bikini wax, and remarked something like, “It’s been so long and has just been something I have put off.”
“Ewww! Gross!” replied her friends in mock horror.
“I know!” she said as she joined in their laughter.
As someone who was old enough to be their mother, I couldn’t help but marvel at what I heard. Even though I am not that old, I can remember the days when it was perfectly normal to sport pubic hair in all its natural glory.
The only time that most women got waxed down there—and it was nearly all women back then—was when they were actually planning to wear a bikini.
In fact, I can even remember the time I got an odd look from a waxer when she asked when I was planning to go to the beach, and I replied that I wasn’t. (During that same session, she expressed outright amazement when I asked if it was possible to take more off. “No one has ever asked me that before.”)
Still, the times have changed. A growing number of women and even many men are grooming their nether regions. In fact, the penchant for going bare or nearly bare may have something to do with some species of pubic lice becoming in danger of being extinct.
A friend of mine, who also happens to be an aesthetician and manager of a very popular local beauty salon, confirms that bikini waxes are big business. When asked what the most popular procedure was, she said without hesitation, “Brazilians. I literally spend up to eight hours a day doing nothing but those.”
When asked the average age, I was told her clients ranged from anywhere in the late teens into the 60s and beyond.
She also revealed that many of her 20-something female clients have shared that many of their 20-something boyfriends are so used to the Brazilian look that they actually think that most women naturally have very little pubic hair and/or that the “landing strip” (a.k.a. narrow strip of pubic hair right above the bare labia) is a naturally occurring growth pattern.
Therefore, the mere idea of a woman having a lot of pubic hair isn’t just strange to men… apparently it’s unnatural and gross. (And lest anyone think it’s just young men who think this way, it’s not. A recent book that I got ,The Little Pink Book of Elegance: The Modern Girl’s Guide to living with Style, which is authored by a woman and covers everything from clothing to proper etiquette, says, “not keeping up with hair removal” is right up there with not flossing or not showering often.)
Nowhere is this attitude best reflected than a few years back, when Britney Spears was having her very public nervous breakdown and was photographed on several occasions, sans undergarments. The comments on the various entertainment blogs that amazed me most were those criticizing her for failing to get a bikini wax. In fact, those criticisms they far outweighed the comments expressing the shock that she or anyone else would actually show their crotch in public.
Pubic hair hasn’t just become a question of aesthetics or hygiene—it’s become a question of politics as well.
A few years ago, Dr. Christiane Northrup posted on Facebook about the “politics” of female body hair, while many feminists have claimed that the trend toward little to no pubic hair is about women wanting to look like little girls to please men.
As a feminist who has had more Brazilians than I can remember, I take personal issue with this.
The truth is, my occasional decision to wax it all off has never had anything whatsoever to do with pleasing any man I’ve happened to be with at the time nor has it been about wanting to look like a child.
Rather, my reasons for preferring them were utilitarian.
As someone who has lived most of her life in the South with its scorching hot summers and up to 100 percent humidity in summer, I found that going bare just felt better in the warmer months. The choice was always mine, and I did this whether or not I was involved with someone or not.
I really never even considered if it was “unnatural” or not. In all the time I have been sexually active, I never once had a single man I was with comment—negatively or positively—on my pubic hair choices. In fact, when I actually asked one what he preferred, he shrugged and said, “I really don’t care.”
Likewise, I really don’t care what others do with theirs.
However, at least I acknowledge that my choice to get a Brazilian was solely about what I wanted and not because I had been brought up thinking that female body hair was in some way unfeminine or the mark of an unhygienic person.
As odd as I find it for some people to be freaked out by the mere idea of a woman having body hair, I also find it odd for people to actually applaud someone for having it.
In the current issue of Bust magazine, for example, there is an article about the talented actress Gabby Hoffman, and how her nude appearance on the TV show Girls “inspired some reporters to declare her natural thatch of pubic hair the next female grooming ‘trend.'” In case anyone thinks they were exaggerating, even The New York Times carried an article about a trend in supposedly fuller bikini lines in which Hoffman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lady Gaga and others were mentioned.
Ironically, it is a quote by Ms. Hoffman that sticks in my head whenever this issue comes up: “I’m a human. I have hair. . . [W]hen people want me to talk about whether I think [more pubic hair] is back, and whether that’s great for feminism, I’m like, ‘You know what’s great for feminism? Respecting everybody’s own choice.'”
The truth is, whether we go natural, shave or wax, as long as we are happy with our bodies and making decisions for ourselves, it’s all okay.
Therefore, just like I wish that those who see the hairy female body as gross or a sign of poor hygiene would realize that that’s not the case, I also hope that those who do choose to remove some or all of their body hair aren’t shamed into thinking that it is equally as wrong.
The truth is, body shaming sucks in general, no matter who is doing it.
No one should ever feel the need to groom or not groom a certain way because of societal pressure.
Also, while I am far from a prude, I really don’t think that I or anyone else needs to know about the ultra-personal grooming habits of any celebrity or even my closest friends.
Sometimes, a little mystery is a good thing.
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Editor: Emily Bartran