Until today, attempting to write a blog post about hair – I am only going to cover part of it right now -, I had never thought too much about it at all. I am now discovering I have way too many opinions on hair. It’s insane, really.
I started off thinking about the feminist war on shaving. Then I thought about the arguments used for shaving, which are usually aesthetics or hygiene. I did some research on the history of hair removal (particularly of the Garden of Eden *she writes giggling*) in terms of both the cultural and the medical.
To start off in a light mood, here are some random facts:
– Judging by art of the time, in Ancient Egypt, body hair grooming in women was customary and a sign of status. A similar thing is to be said of Ancient Greece, in their case for both men and women.
– In the Middle Ages, pubic hair removal was very useful in erradicating pubic lice.
– In Japan it only became legal to depict female pubic hair in art until the 1990s.
– You can actually find “manscaping” on the Oxford English Dictionary.
The case for aesthetics can be summed up as follows: it is associated with carefulness about looks, it is considered sexy, it looks “clean”. As for origins, the trend in pornography to show less and less pubic hair has been suggested, as well as, well, capitalism (I am being too broad, yeah? Okay: the beauty industry robbing you blind with creams and “special” hair-removal devices and more creams and vag douches that actually give you yeast infections and all that). The area covered by increasingly short swimwear and underwear may have to do with it too, which makes sense, if you do a timeline of both trends. Another disturbing theory is the obsession with youth and looking young: the less hair, the more you look like a little girl. But this is too creepy, so I will try to forget I read that.
Although clearly the pressure for women to oblige (long hair, no armpit hair, little to no pubic hair, no leg hair are what being an obliging woman is all about these days) is greater, men shaving (facial as a sign of status, chest and pubic as a sign of sexual availability… or something) has become more and more the norm.
I could talk forever about aesthetics, about what it says about women – they need to stay put, that they need to look pure (in the Renaissance prostitutes would shave to show to their costumers that they did not have any infection or rash), that natural smells are unladylike, etc – ; what it says about men – that shaving facial hair used to be the only acceptable thing because it would get you a job (and financial independence and control), and that now with trends changing, other types of shaving because they get you laid more often (I don’t have to explain this: it is evolutionarily and culturally self-explanatory). But I won’t. I will just say it is another way in which society polices, controls and attempts to manage our bodies. I will also say there is nothing wrong with hair anywhere in my humble opinion. For me, sexy is not in the armpits. It is in what your body says and how you feel about it.
The case for hygiene, though, is not that tricky. First of all, there are many infections and other complications associated with shaving pubic hair – such as razor burns, follicullitis, the spread of ANY infection, and contact dermatitis – , a rather unnecessary war. There is really not much that science says about pubic hair. [If you know an article that does, send it my way please!]
So aesthetics wins. And feminism comes to mind.
I will not place this blog post on a personal level (much), simply because my hair or taste in hair is my business, and of whomever I invite to my business perhaps. What I will say is stuff that I have informally read, informally heard, and informally seen. For many women – specially in feminist circles – body hair is a political thing and a political space. Their bodies are their protest. For other women, and most men, body hair removal has many justifications in their lives: “Whenever I am not too lazy to do it”, “When it is summer”, “When I am having sex”, “When my partner does it too”, “Because it is gross”, “I shave X but not Y”, “What my mood tells me that day”, “It is just what feels natural for me to do”, “Because my partner likes it better that way”. I read this blog post in which a woman said how after she shaved her pubes for the first time – despite her mom telling her not to -, she could see what was ‘down there’ and thought it was beautiful, and felt closer to her own body, so she continued shaving ever since.
A good friend told me recently that for her it was an extremely political issue, and that she hated when men, or anyone, expected her to be shaved. But that at the same time she wanted head and she knew it was easier without hair and she saw her partner was happier doing it when she was shaved, so she did it. It was that simple and basic for her: her political views would not get in the way of her orgasms. I thought that was pretty awesome, and an incredibly good motto to apply to my own life, not even just hair.
Shaving is one of the many hot topics for feminism, and for good reason. It is one of the many expectations of women and one of the many really dysfunctional things about our relationships with our bodies and on what conditions do we love ourselves.
Concepts of beauty are socially constructed and historically bound, but that does not make them any less real in the effects that they have in society. The fact that the naturally-distributed body haired, naturally-breasted is now a fetish in porn and the artificial laser-hairless, anal-bleached, implant-breasted is the mainstream is terrifying, at least to me.
In my ideal world, of course, nobody would care so much about hair and would care more about, I don’t know, sustainability, world hunger, whatever else of actual importance. Even about making each other happy through small acts of kindness. Almost anything trumps pubes, really, if you ask me.
For some hairy viewpoints or hairless information – although I got most of the info for this blog post from academic journals, I got access from my university databases, so I am some interesting perspectives instead:
– My favorite so far: a critique of the feminist anti-shaving argument and how they frame it. Mindblown.
– The war on pubic hair: a misconceived one.
If you want to read up on the subject, I am citing some articles here:
Herzig, R. (2009). The Political Economy of Choice: Genital Modification and the Global Cosmetic Services Industry. Australian Feminist Studies,24(60), 251-263. doi:10.1080/08164640902887452
Ramsey, S., Sweeney, C., Fraser, M., & Oades, G. (2009). Pubic Hair and Sexuality: A Review. Journal Of Sexual Medicine, 6(8), 2102-2110. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01307.x
Tiggemann, M., & Hodgson, S. (2008). The Hairlessness Norm Extended: Reasons for and Predictors of Women’s Body Hair Removal at Different Body Sites. Sex Roles, 59(11/12), 889-897. doi:10.1007/s11199-008-
Trager, J. K. (2006). Pubic Hair Removal—Pearls and Pitfalls. Journal Of Pediatric & Adolescent Gynecology, 19(2), 117-123. doi:10.1016/j.jpag.2006.01.051