Our Messy Relationship With Pubic Hair
Tracing our hair-down-there obsession back to its roots.
I’ll never forget the way I felt when my first boyfriend whispered through the land line receiver, “Carpet or tile?” I was 13. I’d never been kissed, but somehow I knew what he meant. My stomach sank. I had just started growing pubic hair. I nervously giggled it off until I could confirm the proper response with my best friend.
As pre-pubescent girls, we can’t wait to grow a big thick hedge to declare our womanhood, but the moment our “femininity” grows in, we hack it down, trim it up, shave it into unremarkable shapes, wax it off and adorn it with rhinestones.
A group of OBGYNs asked more than 3,300 U.S. women between ages 18 and 65 about their grooming practices to gain insight into how ladies think about their bush. They study found almost 84 percent of women had done some down-there landscaping. In fact, more than 62 percent of women admitted to removing all their pubic hair at least once.
So why do we fuck with our pubes so much? Many attribute these trends to the porn industry, but our fixation started way before Jenna Jameson graced the X-rated screen.
A proper pubic hair education is rooted in art history, offering insight and evidence into where the great pro/anti bush movement all began.
To understand hairless vaginas (the politically correct term is “vulva,”but this isn’t the American Journal of Medicine), we should start at the beginning. This cave carving in Vézère Valley, France, is thought to be the first image of a hairless vagina, created c.a. 35,000 B.C.E. It’s also one of the oldest known pieces of artwork ever. Whether or not this slitted circle was actually a meant to be a vulva is, admittedly, debatable. Personally, I see Pacman.
The original creator of Venus was, apparently, a tits and ass man. The plump statue shows a female body with swollen breasts, thighs and — that’s right — vagina.
Since the discovery of Venus of Willendorf in 1908, similar statues have been discovered in Europe, Eurasia and Siberia. Collectively, they’re known as Venus Figurines—all sans bush.
According to The Art History Archive, little is known about her origin, but art historians believe she was used as a holy fertility symbol, a teaching tool and a form of pornography. None of this answers the question: Why no fur?
Some historians think thousands of pieces sport the bald look simply because the tools at the time didn’t allow for creating such detail. But for this theory to hold up, there would also be lack of detail in other parts of the piece, too.
Take the Burney Relief Plaque, an Old-Babylonian Mesopotamian artifact that depicts a female character with a vulva bald as a cue ball. She has molded nipples, a navel, knee caps and bird-like feet. Surely, if the artist had the ability to etch wrinkled claws, they could also scribble in a few curly pubes.
Though a hairless vulva was many artist’s go-to look, ancient Egypt opted for hair down there. The Turin Papyrus—the earliest known depiction of sex in art—used shaded, upside-down triangles over lady parts.
600 B.C.E. — 1600 A.D.
Ancient Greek sculptures inspired most of Western art, so the Greeks set a powerful precedent when they decided pube-free was the way to be.
Greek sculptor Praxiteles created marble statues of Aphrodite, goddess of love, like the one above. She has the vagina of a Barbie doll — no openings, no separations and certainly no bush. This was the norm for Greek and Roman sculpture — lot’s of vag, all of ‘em totally bald. The piece was meant to portray the “ideal” body.
Hans Licht, author of “Sexual Life in Ancient Greece,” wrote that Greeks considered women with pubic hair to be ugly. And Victoria Sherrow’s “The Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History” echoes this sentiment, saying Greeks and Romans believed a hairless body idealized youth and beauty, thus female body hair was déclassé.
Not surprisingly, men weren’t held to the same standard. Almost all Grecian male statues show pubic hair.
1300 A.D.– 1600 A.D.
When we arrive at the Renaissance era, paintings allow us to better see details of the female nether region. And—surprise, surprise—women remained hairless while men sported some scruff.
Take Albrecht Dürer’s depiction of Adam and Eve shown below—behind the delicate foliage concealing their sexy parts, it’s evident Adam has a little something going on, while Eve is bare.
Art historian Ellen Oredsson theorizes removing hair from the female form was a way of making people more comfortable with the naked body.
“Hairlessness was part of making the nudity acceptable. By removing markers of “realistic” bodies, including hair, the nude could be safely situated in an unreal fantasy world and was then considered suitable for public consumption,” she explains.
1600 A.D. — Present Day
As artists began to push the envelope with sexualized images, female pubic hair emerged for the first time since the ancient Egyptians.
Japanese erotica (aka shunga) became wildly popular from the 17th-19th centuries. The wood-printed imagery not only challenged new mediums, but also the way sex was depicted. For the first time, women’s naked bodies were seen realistically. Their poses were no longer passive or subtly delicate, but suggestive. AND—you guessed it—they had pubic hair.
Taking cues from the Japanese, daring Western artists finally broke free from conventional norms. Francisco de Goya painted “La Maja Desnuda,”one of the first paintings in Western history to portray a naked woman with pubic hair.
Goya created two versions: one in which she was clothed and the other nude. Because of that tiny patch of hair, Goya was charged with moral indecency.
The closer we get to present day, the more complicated our relationship with pubic hair becomes. Now media leans into our body and hygiene insecurities. When arms and legs became more exposed in the 20th century, Gillette introduced the first razor for women with the message that body hair was “unsightly” and “objectionable” and thus needed to be removed.
Similarly, it’s no coincidence “Sex and the City” aired Carrie Bradshaw getting her first Brazilian and today it’s part of many women’s beauty regimen.
Whether your vulva bares a resemblance to Ancient Greek statuary, or mimics a look closer to Japanese shunga—it’s your genitals. Do what you want. Just know that thousands of years from now, archaeologists won’t need to dust off a cave fossil to find that women have been confused, pressured and insecure about their bodies for a very long time.