When I was a little girl, I didn’t know it was natural for women to have pubic hair.
I remember seeing glimpses of scantily clad women on late-night TV shows and on magazine covers, thinking they were just like me, only bigger. As the years passed by, I quickly learned through sleepovers with girlfriends, sex columns in teen magazines, and quick look-ups on the Internet that this was clearly not the case. I came to the realization that grown women had the ability to grow bushes in between their legs, but that many women decide to trim, shave, or wax them off. I was beyond baffled. If being able to grow pubic hair was a natural sign of being a woman, why did it seem like all the beautiful movie stars and singers I admired didn’t have hair down there? Why were these women masking something that was so natural and womanly?
Something had to have triggered the switch from the natural, sexy look of a woman with pubic hair, to a sexual image of a woman who showed a trimmed or bare pubic region.
This something can be pinpointed to what has been called the Pubic Wars.
Beginning in the 1960s, two adult men’s magazines, Playboy and Hustler, were in a hot competition to be the leading adult men’s magazine. Before this time, pubic hair was a sign of female maturity and so it was naturally associated with female sexuality. The two magazines competed by pushing the envelope in regards to representations of sex, because the more shocking an image or story was, the more buyers the magazine could expect. As long as pubic hair wasn’t showing on any of the models, the photos weren’t considered too scandalous. Photographers would carefully drape cloth or place objects in front of a woman’s pubic area so that hair wouldn’t be shown. Readers knew that these objects were masking pubic hair. However, as the Pubic Wars progressed, more extreme and unusual tactics such as trimming, shaving, and waxing began to emerge; the more shocking the image was, the more sales the magazine received. Playboy and Hustler were able to get away with their shock value by erasing any signs of a woman’s pubic hair, which was still considered too sexual. The progression of hair removal naturally resulted in the complete removal of a woman’s pubic hair. Readers would find a shaven image of a woman to be shocking, yes, but not as overtly sexual as a woman with all her natural pubic hair. Having a nude woman grace an adult magazine was shocking simply because she was nude, but it was acceptable at the same time because the woman did not display any pubic hair. Readers associated trimming, shaving, and waxing with pornographic images. However, these same readers still had the general expectation that an adult woman, a true lady, would be au naturale down below.
It was then that an interesting event occurred over the next 30 or so years. The next generation of kids who grew up witnessing this change began to associate female sexuality with the absence of pubic hair.
Little Johnny would look at his father’s Playboy magazines late at night and be in awe of the photographed females who were seducing him with their come-hither gazes and poses. These females oozed sexuality with their hair and makeup done up in a way to exemplify their female features. It was only natural for Little Johnny to conclude that the images he saw were considered sexy for adult men. Fast forward 20 years and grown-up Little Johnny now cringes at the sight of pubic hair on a woman because he doesn’t associate it with sexiness.
The fact is our generation has been groomed by popular culture to understand that it’s not just desired, but expected, for women to have well-maintained or clean-shaven pubic areas. However, this desirability and expectation isn’t shared by the same generation in other cultures. I experienced this firsthand.
Several years ago I visited Japan to explore the culture, and as a self-claimed culture enthusiast, I was beyond ecstatic at this opportunity. My only major embarrassment occurred when I went to the onsen (public bath) with my hosts at the time. The Japanese public bath had separate quarters for males and females but all bath-goers were required to strip down — it was a bath, after all. As soon as I opened the door, all eyes were suddenly on me. Everyone was looking at me because, while I had a completely bare pubic region, all the other women in the onsen had natural, unmodified pubic areas. What I considered to be a natural look was completely unnatural and bizarre to them, even taboo. I tried to cover myself with a hand cloth the rest of my time at the onsen because I was so uncomfortable with the amount of staring and whispering I received.
It’s interesting how quickly American society changed its perceptions of sexual desirability and sexual expectations. The image of a well-maintained woman has become so engrained in our understanding of what a woman should look like that it has become a cultural norm, even natural, but in reality, it is far from natural. This understanding is completely man-made.
On a similar note, I think it is a complete double standard that a majority of American men expect a woman to trim or shave their pubic region while they do not have to. Manscaping may be on the rise, but popular culture still tells men and woman that manly hair is hot, rugged, and masculine. Just look at fashion magazines and movie posters. You will find that a key factor to masculinity and male attraction is hairy ruggedness, while the unnatural hairlessness of women is still considered, “natural.”
IMO, guys and gals in the US should not judge a woman on whether she decides to go bare, trimmed, or au naturale. Even though our generation’s acceptance of how a woman’s pubic area should be presented is a sexual trend that has been spoon-fed to us since we were kids, we can still stand up and give a big FUCK YOU to these standards by letting our bushes live on the wild side every once in a while. #YOLO
Till then- kiss kiss,
( photo via street art)