Bush League

04.10.14

Waxing: Damned if You Do and Damned if You Don’t: How Pubic Hair Became Political

The decision to ‘grow out the lady garden’ rather than succumb to landscaping has become a feminist issue worth debating—if only to quiet outdated societal standards once and for all.

As celebrities on the movie promotion circuit are wont to do, Cameron Diaz is hawking her latest cause celebre. It’s not about global warming or starving children in third world countries. It’s about the pros and cons of pubic hair.

Diaz positioned herself as the champion of the full bush a few months ago in The Body Book her first publishing venture in which she extolled the benefits of bucking the Brazilian trend and growing out the lady garden. She appeared on the Graham Norton Show to ostensibly promote her new movie The Other Woman, but instead spent a large chunk of time talking about—and even directly to—her pubic region, screaming “Why are you there?!?” 

Sure, it’s easy to roll your eyes and brush (d’oh!) off her pro-pubic hair woes as a bunch of nonsense and, frankly, to wonder why were are publicly talking about the hair down there in the first place. But then you see the oh-so-lovely commercials that Veet aired on Monday night. Veet’s latest campaign, charmingly titled “Don’t risk dudeness,” depicts women who don’t shave every day as repulsive hairy men. The worst of the spots—and it’s not easy to choose the worst—is of a woman with a neck brace carried into a stretcher after an accident with the EMT scowling at her for not shaving her legs. Then, the poor, unshaven woman suffering from major traumatic injuries (!)  begs the EMT not to cut her pants off: “Please, not the panties,” she begs.

Somehow, even in 2014, after sexy Cameron Diaz and Gwyneth Paltrow discussed their full bushes and the New York Times published not one but two articles championing the “more natural” look, there is still a pervasive societal expectation that women be clean and hairless in order to be true, feminine ladies.

This obviously, wasn’t always the case. Up until maybe two decades ago, women who kept their pubic hair were not considered unusual. In fact, it wasn’t a matter of societal standards—public or not—to choose what to do with at all. J. Sisters, the salon famous for apparently bringing the Brazilian wax to New York, didn’t open until 1987, and it wasn’t until the ’90s that waxing it all off became a trend for American women.

Some have argued that the trend coincided a little too neatly with the boom in internet porn, which gave a generation of men a lot of exposure to ladies who are completely bare down there. It didn’t help that celebrities such as Victoria Beckham also started sharing their penchant for going bare in public. In 2003, Beckham said, “Brazilians ought to be compulsory at age 15” (Thanks, Posh Spice!). It may have been a confluence of factors, but going bald eagle became not so much a choice as an expectation.

This standard is problematic to say the least. Despite the fact that discussions of pubic hair styling are dismissed as merely superficial choices, waxing and shaving have become imbued with larger significance. As Second Wave feminists argued “the personal is political,” and, indeed, the intimacies of the female pubic region have become politicized.

British columnist and author Caitlin Moran, who has written in favor of growing out her “Wookie,” concisely said last in an interview with The Hairpin in 2013, “I feel that anything that's normal that involves pain and costs a lot of money that boys aren't doing is something that I would really urgently want to have some kind of massive fucking inquest into.”

As someone who has had a man encourage her to wax it completely off, I can tell you it is indeed frustrating to be reminded by someone who doesn’t have a vagina that: a) waxing can really hurt and even shaving can be irritating to the skin, and b) there are times, I’d rather spend that money on Yankees tickets and frozen yogurt instead of paying a woman to spread hot wax near my genitals. Joking aside, even the slightest intimation from a sexual partner that there is something “abnormal” or “displeasing” about you not only totally kills the mood, it can most definitely add a lot of self-doubt and insecurity, which most women—anyone, really—already feel about their bodies.

And so there’s been a backlash because enough women have faced enough sexual pressure to perform an activity that costs a significant sum of money, can be quite painful, and has rather arbitrarily been deemed the standard for “femininity.” Unsurprisingly, many smart, educated, empowered women don't like to be told they have to look a certain way or conform their body to a certain style to be considered "feminine" or a true woman. As a result, it has now become a statement of sorts to actively rebel against waxing and grow out the bush. It’s a way of saying “I, and I alone, control my body, and I will not be cowed into societal or male expectations for how I should look.”

In more socially liberal environments, choosing not to grow out your bush in the more “natural” way came to be considered anti-feminist. A woman, even a feminist, may choose to de-hair because she likes the way it looks or it’s more comfortable for her or it makes sex feel better, but she still risked being accused of making some larger socio-political statement. Some would suggest she was uncomfortable with her womanhood by choosing to remove her pubic hair and take on a pre-pubescent appearance or be lambasted for aiming for a porn aesthetic.

Politically, the nether regions are a no-win situation when it devolves into telling women there is one right way and one wrong way to groom their pubes. It’s tantamount to saying there is one right way and one wrong way to be a feminist. But the pressures and stigmas about growing out pubic hair versus waxing (or shaving) are very real, especially for younger women, which is why we shouldn’t scrap our discussions over pubic hair, either. Insecurities over intimate issues, and ones that corporations have long exploited for commercial gains—and men have long exploited to fulfill their sexual fantasies—can only be squashed when women feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, experiences, and feelings about their bodies.