Pubic hair is a reminder that we are mature, sexual beings able to create and bear life. The way it’s groomed is irrelevant and a matter of taste.
There’s a painting in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris called L’Origine du Monde by Gustave Corbet. That’s a link to it, but you shouldn’t click on it as it is most definitely NSFW. Can you wait? Now I’ve told you that you shouldn’t, can you resist the temptation to take a quick peek in a tiny window when everyone else is at lunch? Alright then, go ahead, take a look.
What did you expect? Did you think it was going to be a nude? Did you assume it was going to be a woman? Were you expecting it to be the bottom half of a woman? And in such French fashion? That painting still has the ability to shock for a lot of reasons but only partly because it is so…frontal.
Now, close all the windows and tell me: What do you remember?
Her bush. The negative space of the incredible untamed pubic hair she wears is the thing that remains in your mind. There is nothing subtle about it. The woman in the painting is au naturel to a degree that is of a completely different time. Well, 1866 to be exact. And, for many people it’s more than a little unsettling the first time they look at it. It makes a statement.
Right now there is a conversation happening in the Western world about women’s pubic hair and whether or not 2014 is the year of the bush. Cameron Diaz has created some buzz by suggesting that the fuzz ladies sport between their thighs isn’t something that should be yanked without consideration. Coming from a woman who once told Graham Norton she and some friends held a girlfriend down in the shower so that she could be properly shorn, it feels like quite the turnaround. Why the change of heart?
For a thing all sexually mature human beings see on their own bodies, the amount of horror pubic hair can invoke seems completely out of proportion to what it is. Truly it’s not much different than our fingernails or the hair on our heads, is it? It grows, we have the ability to trim it, shape it, remove it, leave it be. Why then, do we react with such visceral disgust when we are confronted with it?
American expectations around cleanliness, especially when it involves sexual contact, tend toward the sterile. We wonder if we smell bad, if we taste bad, if we look weird. There are so many things that are icky and mysterious down there, we just want to make them go away. Yes, it is a place on a woman’s body that can create incredible pleasure, but is also the place where women can feel the most intense pain of their lives.
As far as the dressing of pubic hair goes, the debate has so far centered on: do you? Or don’t you? It has been escalated to a feminist issue rather than being dealt with primarily as the fashion fad that it actually is, like acid-washed jeans and spiral perms. The truth is, behind all of this perceived yelling back and forth about what we should be doing with our bodies, the only real research tells us, “It has been said that having no pubic hair is normative; however, findings suggest that there is no one dominant pubic hair style. Given the growth rate of hair and women’s often sporadic hair removal, there is likely great diversity in the amount of pubic hair that women have at any given time.”
In the UK, the creative agency Mother London launched Project Bush as “a call to action for women to stand up to the pressures of modern society and present their bushes in all their glory.” The resulting photomontage of 92 ladies who got naked in order to show their bits proves the point of the research. They are all different. And while none of them are as exuberant as Corbet’s model, there are modern interpretations of something similar. If the photos had been taken of the same 92 women on a different day, it would have been different again. We are arguing ephemera, if we’re arguing at all.
Manipulating the appearance of our pubic hair and calling it feminism is like sharing your lunch with a stranger and calling it socialism.
I think it is misguided to say that you can tell me how feminist I am based on whether or not I remove the hair from my vulva. Depending on a number of things in my life (relationship status, disposable income, how much I could be bothered at the time) there have been many variations in how my garden grows but the fundamental things I believe about being a feminist have not changed.
Our personal grooming habits are exactly that, very personal. It’s a choice, and I want to live in a world where we have choice. We should not feel that our choice is based on fear or misrepresentation or lack of information.
But we also need to keep it in fair perspective. We have brought the great pubic hair debate on ourselves. Fewer than 10 years ago, being completely bare down there was in the realm of fetish and then Gwyneth went to J Sisters and they changed her life. Suddenly women were curious and eventually the fad took off because “Brazilian women….can teach you about being confident, sexual, beautiful, powerful.” Who doesn’t want that? You mean I can spread my legs for you on a table under a bright light while you make small talk? Sign me up. Clean me up. Make it go away.
By talking about the hair and only the hair, we feel like we’re talking about the thing that matters, but it’s a stand-in for the actual thing that defines a woman, which is our entire feminine apparatus. From mons to spinchter, that entire area of the female body is as much a mystery to many women as it is to many men. Just because we own it and live with it doesn’t mean we are any less afraid of it. It is easier to talk about what’s on the outside rather than what’s lurking on the inside.
Corbet called it the Origin of the World. What an incredible ability we have between our legs, it’s no wonder we are constantly trying to keep tabs on it. Pubic hair is a reminder that we are mature, sexual beings able to create and bear life. The way it’s groomed is irrelevant and a matter of taste.
Aimee Perkins is a Chicago writer and performer currently pursuing her MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University in England. She has had just about any job you might imagine and managed to find something good in all of them. Working on a novel is her favorite one so far.