He described it as the point where meadow meets obtrusive forest. “It was dense, and I was being swallowed,” he said, reenacting a gasp for air. “Swallowed.”
He is Andrew, the average man, the lost elk.
“She was so hot, but I couldn’t go on.”
For three or four minutes, Andrew proceeds to talk about his encounter with a Moroccan woman and her unforeseen ‘bush.’ Everything is a euphemism—a hairy ‘situation.’ Which accounts for Andrew being an unmistakably average man, in a world full of unusual encounters of the pubic kind.
“She just needs to get it taken care of,” he said, smirking. “I was weed whacking.”
Pubic hair. The brunt of brunts. A default in the hierarchy of dirty jokes. It is inconvenient, sometimes negating a call past second-base. In the bedroom, it brushes up against eager lips and can string itself lightly between teeth. Organic floss. It is the ‘ew’ of last time rug-munchers. A universal understood threading housewives with riot grrrls; strippers with Consecrated Virgins.
Today, pubic hair is confronted, met with razors and wax strips on the frontlines of feminine mystique. Bygone days once relished full-fledged beavers. Now, contemporary Western society is bludgeoning them. There are few moments when our pubes go unscathed. Shaving. Plucking. In-Studio Laser therapy. Pretty soon, salon S.W.A.T. teams will be aiming magnetized claws at our furry goods.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves before looking down below. This phenomenon began the moment we decided landing strips above our labias sounded like a good idea. A phenomenon that made self-preservation synonymous with vulva bleaching. Because in this recent age, and at a progressively younger age, women are going to dire lengths to ensure that everything down there stays bare.
The question is, why are we taming our shrews?
My family comes from Brazil—the Land of the Barely There—and if it weren’t for the seven Padilha sisters, perhaps the country might have stuck to Speedos.
In 1987, Jonice, Jocely, Janea, Joyce, Judseia, Jussara, and Juracy Padilha introduced the “Brazilian wax” to the U.S. After opening the first specialized salon in Manhattan, the trend peaked when Carrie Bradshaw made her hairless debut on an episode of Sex in the City in 2000. Brazilian women had long maintained hairless bodies as a prerequisite for thong bikinis. Now, the Padilha sisters had cornered the American market and were revolutionizing the standards Western women held for themselves.
When I look down on my world I see a history in crosshairs. Brazilian coarseness punctuated by hippy-dippy maternal influence. Patchwork with little consistency.
Which predisposition to embrace? Be ‘Brazilian,’ and the hypersexual sphinx from a nation revered for asses and G-strings. Be ‘American,’ and err on the side of caution promoted by my abstinence-only education growing up in Texas.
On Monday through Friday, I opt for the latter. It’s early Saturday. I have my first appointment at Strip: Ministry of Waxing, a cult amongst bare beauties. Originating in Singapore, STRIP combines East Asian precision with Brazilian waxing practices. Your hairless hybrid should last up to 4-6 weeks, and your sex life, indefinitely with a membership.
“Welcome to Strip. What’s the name?
A perky receptionist from Long Island is sitting at the entrance of the salon. Beside him, a picture of two nude women and a gorilla jumping off a dock is mounted on the wall. The ‘Stripperellas,’ in-house waxperts, are walking around in fitted, white uniforms that complete the manufactured feel of the place.
I keep looking around for a Mattel™ logo.
“Angela, you ready?”
I meet Elisabeth. She’s charming and visiting from Singapore for the week. As an International Trainer, Elisabeth travels around the world teaching fellow Stripperellas the art of Brazilian waxing. The salon is understaffed, so the owner has asked if she would help out today.
“Get undressed and lie down on the bed with the towel over you,” Elisabeth says, kindly pointing to a plushy stress ball in the shape of a gorilla. “Take it.
Of the fifty or so emotions present, I opt for fear and stare blankly at the ceiling. There is a mantra above me that reads:
Ministry of Wax 1:3
Behind, a treacherous rough past. In front, a polished road full of promise of silky, sleek adventures. In the middle, a crossroad, a splitting of hairs. The choice made was quick and clear.
No turning back.
It seems I’ve come to find El Dorado. The vision of a bald vagina dripping in gold flashes. To think of my treacherous, rough past—the hair unkempt, the hookups forwent in light of my bushy pasture. My shield.
So fare the thoughts of a Brazilian virgin.
“Don’t worry, Angie. Everything will be fine your first time,” Elisabeth says, lifting the towel to fold above my navel.
There is a remarkable thrill that comes from not knowing if I should just pack it up. Go home. Become a woman with seven cats and refer to this time as That Time When Little Angie Almost Got Whacked.
“Do you want the Hollywood?”
I’m staring at the splattered image of a woman directly across the wall from me. She’s naked. It’s clear that STRIP abides by two motifs—nudity and gorillas—both being mutually exclusive.
“Yep. Yes. Sure. Everything. Let’s do it.”
In the 1600s, English prostitutes wore pubic wigs, or merkins, to maintain their allure after shaving to prevent against vaginal lice. Hair signified erotic maturity. Nearly two centuries later, Gustave Courbet revered the female form in his painting, L’Origine du Monde (The Origin of the World), displaying a woman’s genitalia in natural form: hairy. Courbet was labeled a realist and his headless muse, a token symbol of eroticism.
Then King Camp Gillette made a majestic appearance. In 1901, Gillette, a prominent American businessman, founded the American Safety Razor Company and commenced sales on the first safety razor. The razor could be used outside of barbershops and inside the intimate comfort of home. Within ten years, razor sales exceeded 70 million units and American women were given the tool to shave unwanted facial hair, armpits, and legs. Pubic hair had yet to make the cut.
Elisabeth presses the wax strip along my bikini line. I wince at the sign of first rip. The room is calmly dim, save one light aimed right on my centerfold.
As Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner likes to tell it: “Young women have become healthier and taller. They take better care of themselves. Quite frankly, the biggest difference is that pubic hair has disappeared. It happened overnight. It was something in the water.”
Beginning in the 1960s, Playboy and Penthouse vied to be named the most controversial magazine in the U.S. Editors tested boundaries hair by hair, gradually introducing the pubic region into their pages. Actress Paula Kelly was the first pubic model to grace the pictorial in Playboy. Followed by brunette centerfold Marilyn Cole, it seemed the male consumer once indulged in a Courbet caliber of sexuality. It was not until the early 1980s that Playboy models began the prune that would become the complete dissolution of hair we know today.
So, where was the shift from ‘some’ to ‘none’ within the female conscience? Or was it a collective effort? A male proposed design under the guise of female preference?
Cultural sociologist Roger Friedland offers up a viable conclusion:
“The female teen fetish went mainstream after feminism rose to challenge male predominance. It was in 1972 that the Equal Rights Amendment, requiring that females and males be treated equally by law, passed out of Congress. Feminists were hairy. Female body hair was a feminist badge — in armpits, on legs, and particularly at the big V. It was the hairy girls, I recall, who were most likely to demand their pleasures. The feminist was not feminine.”
Friedland goes on to cite the female teen fetish in a number of classic films. In 1976, Jodie Fosters’ performance as a 12-year-old prostitute in Taxi Driver sparked the first embers of controversy surrounding the sexualization of adolescents. Brooke Shields followed shortly thereafter, playing a child prostitute in the 1978 film, Pretty Baby.
It would seem the innocence of a girl versus the defiance of a newly, liberated woman set the stage for what men would consider sexy. What directors throughout the pornographic industry would encourage by the late 1990s. That women can be hairless. With pristine and utterly visible organs, they can be packaged into a submissive wet dream.
“This is gonna hurt a bit.”
Elisabeth is a professional. She does not wait for me to retract into impending tears. She maintains a careful pace. I am quiet and thinking about if, by abiding by these cultural standards, I might feel what it feels to be completely ‘maintained.’
In the weeks before today, I asked many young women why they do what they do.
The Common Consensus:
- I feel cleaner.
- I’m less embarrassed (when someone goes down on me).
It is clear that pubic hair and cleanliness exist as a gross dichotomy today. The irony? Scientists claim it to be a vital protective element on a woman’s body. It is our blanket for pheromones and does not maintain the moisture of bare skin, which can ultimately become a breeding ground for bacteria.
As for the latter, what is splintering beneath our self-image cannot be quantified. It can be molded, yes, and we are undoubtedly molded by the expectation of an ideal woman being as bare as Barbie’s bottom. But the fact that we feel slighted at the site of our roots—our natural, embedded roots—poses the question of whether ‘cleanliness’ is really the scapegoat for male constructed norms we have accepted as our own.
(Yes, I pulled that card.)
Whether the feminists who fought for equal rights truly changed anything within our own self-perception.
(That one too.)
Yet it must be said that not every guy and every girl lay awake at night scrutinizing pubic hair. Some prefer it. Others do not care either way. Cultural and religious standards factor in as well. However, there is irrefutable evidence that the role of pubic hair in Western society has capsized on itself within the past two decades. With hair, we are paradoxically less of women. Satryesses lost at seam.
If L’Origine du Monde were painted today, would the ‘origin’ of the world be one of Bieber-age teens? Soft, supple vaginas that might as well serve as prosthetic molds. Prototypes of the female construction.
In the STRIP context, hair is equated to a gorilla—an animal caged in our panties. We either conquer the beast or scare away potential voyeurs. What we are told is that hair shows our inhibition. It negates easy access. To unrelentingly maintain our pubic hair is like saying, “Hey, guys, you get what you get.”
It takes balls.
So, is such why we tame? Because we should fulfill our duty to be tame? Defenseless to the gorilla of man.
“There! You’re all done.” Elisabeth says, putting the finishing cream over reddish bumps that are noticeably irritated. She tells me to change and leaves the room. I am alone, staring at the only mirror behind the bed. It is a foreign feeling—seeing something unearthed from your body. I don’t feel cross or particularly sexy, but cold.
[Photo 1 via, Other Photos by Angela Almeida]