It’s time to wax lyrical on pubic hair removal

Photo: Woody Eke

Pubes. Remember them? We’ve all got them, we’ve all seen them, but our memory of them is starting to fade. Pubic hairs are continually getting ripped from their warm homes, or being zapped, in an attempt to remove them permanently from our nether regions. For some, pubic hair is on the brink of extinction.

After conducting an anonymous survey of 52 women aged between 18 and 44, I found 75% of women remove some or all of their pubic hair. But in the same pool, 49% see pubic hair removal as a feminist issue. These are significant figures. So why aren’t we talking about it? Why aren’t we challenging it? Three-quarters of women remove their hair, and half see it as a feminist issue, yet only tumbleweed-like balls of banished pubic hair fill the silence.

We care, yet we conform unwittingly. I pass no judgment on the partially pubed or pube-free among us. Choice is a central part of feminism as it has been since its birth, and it remains important to all interpretations and understandings of the movement today. But there is something amiss here.

The choices we are making may be misinformed. Of the 75% of women who are regularly shaving, waxing, creaming, threading, plucking or lasering their hair away, 29% said they removed pubic hair because they think it is cleaner. But cleaner it is not, says gynaecologist of 34 years and doctor at the Epworth Freemasons Hospital in Melbourne, Dr Claire Petterson.

“Pubic hair is there to catch sweat and to protect the genitals. Taking it off has potential complications. Some women get broken hairs and infected hair follicles. They get big pimples in the area around the vulva; that’s one of the worst things that can happen,” she says.

“The other side effect is that many women want to have labiaplasty now; they want to have their labia trimmed. I really believe the labiaplasty fashion has only happened because people are removing their pubic hair,” Dr Petterson concluded.

For the majority however, amounting to 57% of those surveyed, removing some or all pubic hair was an effort to make them feel sexier or more attractive. 12% were unsure of why they removed it at all, and 2% removed it because a partner had asked them to.

Photo: Woody Eke

Judy, a receptionist at the Victorian Laser and Skin Clinic, says their clinic removes the hair off thousands of clients state-wide. And of those thousands, about 70% are women. Why is it so popular? “Because nobody wants hair,” she says plainly. “It’s about enhancing confidence.”

So if we feel sexier or more confident without it, how do we feel with it? Unattractive and embarrassed? Inferior and ashamed? Unable to truly and proudly take part in sex and the world?

It appears here that “sexy” is defined as something we are not, something unnatural and heavily manicured. And by this definition, we are sexy when we are not ourselves. We are sexy when our identity is changed. Pubic hair sits atop our genitals. Our genitals define our sex, they are a physical and metaphorical pleasure centre, and they are life-givers. Vaginas, for all their various shapes, colours, and features, are natural, are ours, and for their differences, are important.

American professor Roger Friedland wrote in the Huffington Post in 2011 that there is profound historical irony present in the obsession with hair removal.

“Young women are pursuing sexual pleasures that were made possible by a feminism, that also asserted the beauty of the natural feminine body.” For women now, he says, “Their sex is no longer dirty, but their bodies are.”

And to add another healthy dollop of irony to the mix, women growing and showing their pubic hair becomes an act of rebellion. We take pride in what is natural, to defy what has been forced on us as normal. It becomes a finger-up to an unidentified oppressor.

Canadian photographer, designer, and body hair ambassador Petra Collins is only too familiar with the consequences of not conforming, and being subject to pressures to regulate her body. In 2013, her Instagram account was closed down because of this photo.

“The image I posted was from the waist down wearing a bathing suit bottom in front of a sparkly backdrop. Unlike the 5,883,628 (this is how many images are tagged #bikini) bathing suit images on Instagram, mine depicted my own unaltered state — an unshaven bikini line… What I did have was an image of MY body that didn’t meet society’s standard of ‘femininity’…”

Unlike flowers, it’s rare to see pubic hair in full bloom. Photo: Izzy Tolhurst

Above all, I wonder how we got here so fast (and, according, to 68% of the women surveyed, in kind of painful ways, too)? When did we start to loathe that hair so much, yet hold on to it nostalgically as a relic of womanhood and independence?

I am someone who sees pubic hair removal as a feminist issue, and I see the pubic hair removal issue as part of a wider discussion on femininity, identity, and expression. Or, maybe in its current state, unaddressed and infrequently talked about, it’s about precisely the opposite — conformity and repression. So I’m asking that we talk about it.


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