An office full of women. A simple question. A torrent of responses.
How and when have you been shamed for your body hair?
It started after radio personality Kristie Mercer wrote about her friend, a man in his 30s, who had never seen pubic hair on a woman until recently. That’s right. It was something foreign and exotic and slightly naughty.
Why had he never seen pubic hair?
Because women, girls and teenagers, we are all led to believe – even without understanding that we’re being led anywhere – one thing: That women are sexier and and more fashionable and somehow “cleaner”, even, when we are “bare down there”. It’s the only option if you ever want to be seen anywhere in swimwear, or to ‘get lucky’ or to undress and change clothes in a room full of teenage girlfriends.
Usually, there’s not a whisper of a pube. Sometimes there might be a landing strip. But there is never (hardly, ever) full, untamed, ungrooomed natural “bush”.
Listen: ‘How do I explain to my step daughters why I have no pubic hair?’ (Post continues below.)
We don’t do it because we enjoy it. The two-days-post-shave rash makes me squirm just thinking about it and there is no pain like the piercing of an ingrown. But we do it almost automatically. Without stopping to question: ‘Why?’ and ‘Who am I doing this for?’
When we do stop to think. Here’s what we realise:
“My first boyfriend was the first person I’d ever done anything remotely intimate with, so his views on my body had a lot of influence. After we finally had sex, he told me, “I don’t usually ‘do stuff’ with girls who don’t have Brazilians. All the other girls I’ve been with have had them’.” – Samantha, 28.
“A boyfriend of mine once told me – after sex – that ‘you should really take care of that hair underneath’ (even though my front and labia were shaved). He said ‘it’s really distracting’… Ummm, how?” – Karen, 25.
“I went to a dinner party and there was a good male friend of mine there. He’s was about 40 and he was single at the time and I’ve always thought he was a nice guy and would chat away to him at parties. He was funny and smart. He was also 40 and balding and getting quite tubby. He started talking about dating, and he said he could never date a woman who wasn’t bare down there and made a funny face when pubic hair was mentioned – as though it was gross. It actually crushed me because I really liked him and it changed my view of him. To be so dogmatic about a woman’s pubic hair when you are balding and tubby and starting to use some kind of hair colour was just depressing.” – Rebecca, 41.
“My friend had a guy who we all knew go down on her on New Years Eve. He got a pube stuck in his teeth and he told everyone about it. It was really mean because he acted like he was horrified.” – Melissa, 29.
“I had a boyfriend who used to call it ‘clean’ like ‘clean shaven’ and I really didn’t like the term.” – Natalie, 30.
“A guy I was seeing and his best friend made a promise with each other that they would both make sure the other’s respective girlfriend knew to get rid of her pubes. So on MSN/FB chat, whatever we were using then, the friend and I were chatting and he brought it up checking that I knew that I should remove them. I was 16 and I didn’t know better/that I had a choice so of course felt like I had to. Talking to my bf later he said he’d done exactly the same for the other guy’s girlfriend.” – Aimee, 24.
“I was shamed for my pubic hair during Schoolies and there was, like, NOTHING there. And a guy was like ‘yeah you need to sort that out if you want guys to get with you’.” – Kelsey, 24.
And it's not just pubic hair. It's all types of body hair.
"Once my ex boyfriend was over and I was telling him about my day, and how I got my eyebrows waxed. He said that maybe I could get my moustache done as well next time. I cried." - Ally, 24.
"A guy once saw me in the shower and I hadn't shaved my armpit hair. He was like 'I think you need to take care of that'." - Sarah, 27.
To be fair, it's not only males, either.
Sure, the idea of cleanly shaven pubic hair is a patriarchal one - in modern day, at least. It's the standard seen in pornography and Hollywood and iconic imagery like Baywatch. It's a portrayal of youthfulness and one that's designed to appeal to men.
However, girls and women are also responsible for holding up the standard.
"My first experience with pubic hair shaming was when I was a teenager and in the bathroom with another girl at a party. We were both 16 and she went to the toilet to pee in front of me. I did the same in front of her and she said 'What's that? Don't you know you're meant to get rid of that!' I was horrified." - Jaclyn, 27.
The stories are distressing and hurtful and unnecessary. They are the reason why women and girls and teenagers feel the need to live through the redness and the irritation and the ingrown hairs.
All that trouble and stigma and awfulness. All because of a patch of pubic hair.
Have you ever been shamed for your body hair?