Spending time and money to remove pubic hair on a regular basis presumes that there’s something wrong with us, with our natural state.
American Apparel seems to be permanently in the business of raising eyebrows, and a recent display window of the company’s in New York has helped to focus media attention on the resurgence of pubic hair.
Over the last three decades, luxuriant growth in a lady’s undercarriage has become less and less popular. But 2014 has seen a mini-backlash against the endangered bush, with celebrities like Cameron Diaz supporting the au naturel look and, of course, the appearance of those oddly merkin-accessorized mannequins.
But how did the bush become endangered in the first place? From whence did it spring, this idea that pubic hair must be trimmed, mown into a careful trapezoid, and temporarily or permanently removed altogether?
My personal guess is that the popularity of the non-curly, non-bushy bush came from porn. Even though not all women watch pornography, or take fashion and grooming ideals from it (thank goodness), its trends do filter out into broader culture. It’s long been my suspicion that we can thank porn for the popularity of French tip nails since the 1990s, and similarly, the landing-strip version of bush was once available for our gaze in adult entertainment only. Now, one seems less than groomed unless she has reduced her pubic hair to a patch of bristles or, sadly, to a tangle on a used wax strip.
The problem is, this is bad for us. Before the advent of central heating, pubic hair was necessary for warmth. Today, its removal may cause all sorts of problems, including the proliferation of lovely modern pathogens like staphylococcus and MRSA. Even if these side effects are less likely, hair down there tends to cushion against friction, both everyday and…more festive, in clothes and out of them. Beyond scientific aspects, I’ve always felt that expending time and money to remove pubic hair on a regular basis presumes that there’s something wrong with us, with our natural state. Something that we must correct with sharp or searing implements.
I have a good friend who tried a Brazilian once. Her feelings were mixed. She liked the sensation of being totally bare, in a way of which she was slightly ashamed, but she also felt creepily young when she looked in the mirror. I admired her for trying something new, but no one could ever pay me enough to do the same.
Of course every individual woman can make any decision about her body that she desires, as far as I’m concerned. But I object to the notion that bush is unsightly, that it should be torn out at the root if its owners are to be thought attractive. I object to pubic hair removal because it’s merely a newer reach into women’s pockets by the beauty industrial complex, because it’s painful and medically questionable and a war that cannot be won without lasers, and because removing body hair deprives us of the opportunity to be our messy, gross, interesting, whole selves. But I also object to it because I can’t do it, and I can’t be the only one.
I get bleeding and irritation merely from shaving the thick black hairs on my upper thighs. (This leaves me to fall back on surf shorts when it’s bathing suit season, because good luck finding an attractive bathing suit that doesn’t show curls and tufts peeking out everywhere if you are less than meticulous about landscaping the ol’ lady garden.) I’ve tried waxing that area, and healing took weeks; regrowth itself was painful. My grooming ritual involves trimming, once every couple of months, just to streamline my personal hygiene and keep things tidy. But since there’s nothing to be done in the direction of removal, I’ve just learned to love my muff. And love it I do. I love the range of color of those wiry hairs, and I love the soft nap of them. I have happy memories around my bush, too, mostly private ones.
Some years ago I stumbled upon an adult film from the 1970s, and I was amazed at the difference between it and modern porn. Some things don’t change much (cheap sets, preposterously thin plots, atrocious “acting”), but comparing the people was like looking at two different species. Then, everyone had hair, everywhere, and the sex was by far the most genuine part of the whole show. The couples smiled at each other and made silly noises while copulating. It all seemed so real. And the bush was real, too, something soft and womanly at that gloried apex. I find the landing strip and its cousins to be unappealing in their precision—almost compulsive, they seem, and how prickly they must be!—and seeing a full Brazilian makes me sad. It always looks like something is missing.
If I haven’t convinced you, think about all the desirable women in history who did not have access to waxing or disposable razors. Eve, to start with. Helen of Troy. Cleopatra. Guinevere. Hell, Amanda Palmer made armpit hair look cool as recently as 2011. Pubic hair has not stopped women of all millennia from claiming or enjoying their sexuality, so why should it stop us? Lady Godiva had bush. And I bet it kept her from chafing painfully on that horse.
Katharine Coldiron’s work has appeared in The Escapist, Route, JMWW, and elsewhere. She lives in California and blogs at The Fictator.