I never thought I would write about pubic hair. But I am because pubic hair has become an issue for women.
Being out of the dating game for a long long time, I’ve heard the stories surrounding the politics of pubes. Dates who openly show their distaste if there are traces of pubic hair on a woman. 27-year-old women who moan how expensive “maintenance” is then say, as though anyone who doesn’t invest the same time or effort has missed an important memo, “I like to have nothing down there, it’s much cleaner”.
I’ve had my eyebrows done and beauticians have regaled me with amusing tales of clients and their pain thresholds when waxing. I’ve even sat across a man at a dining table who boldly declared he would only ever sleep with women who have “nothing down there” (that dinner didn’t end really well). By the way, he had nothing all over his head, but the volume of hair on other people seemed to be ripe for judgement.
I know that a lot of women maintain ‘down there’. I’ve always thought it was a neatness thing. You know, so when you go swimming in bathers your pubic hair doesn’t resemble small sea creatures waving in the ocean.
Listen: A podcast listener asks the Mamamia Out Loud team for help with this very problem. Post continues after audio.
I also know this boundary of neatness had been drawing in across that soft female flesh, closer and closer to becoming, not a strip of garden, but a scorched earth. Totally, utterly, bare.
To be honest, I’ve always thought taking off all your pubic hair was something an insecure woman would do. A woman who felt uncomfortable with her womanliness. A woman who too easily acquiesced to what a man wanted even though she protested it was all about cleanliness and what just “felt right”. A woman too easily swayed by shallow pop culture icons like the Kardashians (Kim once proclaimed that women “shouldn’t have hair anywhere but their heads”).
And perhaps even, I thought they weren’t thinkers because thinkers would surely have an issue about being a grown woman who had sex (all the time sex, not occasional let’s-do-something different with our pubic hair sex) with a vagina that has been stripped to look like a) a porn star or b) a pre-pubescent girl. But I’m wrong. Taking off all your pubic hair is normal. Just what you do. Part of body maintenance like a spray tan and eyebrow shaping.
A new study published this week in the U.S. JAMA Dermatology journal found, in a nationally representative sample, that 62 percent of women have opted for complete removal of their pubic hair and 84 percent reported some grooming.
“Many women think they are dirty and unclean if they haven’t groomed,” Dr. Tami S. Rowen, an obstetrician-gynecologist and the lead author of the study told The New York Times.
The study also found that the practice is common across all ages and races but most inclined to "groom" are women aged between 18-34, who have at least some college education. The New York Times says that anecdotally doctors are seeing 13-year-old girls remove all their pubic hair.
“At least once a week I hear from a young woman that she thinks it’s wrong to have pubic hair, that it’s meant to be removed,” said Dr Jennifer Gunter.
By the way, the medical fraternity is in agreement that it is not "cleaner" to remove pubic hair. It serves a purpose: trapping bacteria and preventing it from entering the vagina. A lack of pubic hair, and the forced removal of pubic hair, has been linked to a suite of health problems.
So you can't use the rationale that removing pubic hair is more hygenic. It isn't. So why are women doing it? Going beyond being neat to nothing? We've all heard by now that a 28-year-old man has seen more porn in his lifetime than most people have had hot dinners. Or cold dinners. Or lunches. Or breakfasts. Is it simply what they expect, and a woman reared in the same generation wants to give that to him? Or does she feel she has to? They are two very different things.
I listen to women in that 18-34 age bracket every day. Some are friends, some are colleagues. Some are single and dating, some are married or with partners for a long, long time. And here is the thing I struggle to reconcile, as a woman and as a mother of daughters; why 'all off' when that symbolises a little girl who is yet to develop or a porn star who, let's be honest, is a male creation that women often deride or are offended by?
I have asked women who 'take it all off' why they do it. These are women who are usually university educated, smart, have great jobs they work hard in, are enraged about gender inequity in society and are usually politically and culturally very savvy. They march for marriage equality, they volunteer at refuges for women fleeing domestic abuse. They're strong, aware, involved, yet when it comes down to something at the bottom of their fingertips they do what they have been told.
"Why," I ask.
"It's just what you do today."
"Guys expect it."
"Everyone does it."
"I'd feel more weird not doing it."
"It feels cleaner."
When I say:
"But what about the whole porn comparison? What about the implicit cultural expectation, you fight all the others? What about it taking you back to when you were six, are you meant to never grow up? What about that it looks like a little girl in the bedroom, not like a woman?".
There's never an answer that has any rigor. Never.
A 23-year-old told me it was "part of who she was now". She "didn't do it for anybody but herself". I asked "Do you think that self is built on a version of womanhood that's not you at all: the demeaned porn star or the little girl who will never grow up?"
She said she doesn't think about that.
Forget everything it signifies. Of course it's your choice to do what you want with your hair - but understand the origins of that choice.
I look around at all the smart, wonderful, kind, beautiful women I know and the above are the best answers they give me for stripping off all their pubic hair.
At the end of the day, how can you not have an independent thought about the hair near your vagina and call yourself a feminist?
How can you not think that while you may be the one paying for the waxing or the electrolysis or the multitude of hair removal products, the choice to do this never began with you?
Do you remove all of your pubic hair? Why/why not?