Thursday, 13 September 2012

Ripping it bare

Whether you wax, lazer, trim, use burning cream, or shave: most females reading this, remove your pubic hair at least twice a year, if not twice a week. There are so many different ways to exterminate or cultivate all those hairs piercing your smooth skin, but today let us ask why we spend so much time, money and effort doing this? (And on that note, why arm hair? Why leg hair?)

“Body hair is ugly” says little miss normalised. “If you’re going to share, it ought to be bare,” says little miss conventional. But during this article, gag the little misses with scarves made of your own discarded pubic hair, because the removal of hair can be a so very painful and expensive process, we need to examine our reasoning. Indeed, feeling on occasion like paid-for-torture, just so you can be a ‘normal woman’, the wax process, for anyone not familiar goes like this: a woman in a lab coat towers over you, dripping hot (but pink!) wax onto your skin, and as she rips the thick wax from your shuddering body, you cry out from the hideous pain and she cackles. That’s why the lazer, for over a hundred a go, is so popular. Wax is torture, lazer is expensive, shaving and epilating does your skin no good, and cream isn’t precise. It is uncomfortable and expensive and yet we consider it almost a necessity to our lives.

Do all cultures make the same cut? And what is the history of the hairless? Well, there is evidence for it in ancient Indian and Egyptian cultures, especially amongst the upper echelons of society. There are moments of women taking a stand against the excessive hair removal in history too, the habit falling out of fashion after Catherine de Medici, then queen of France, forbade her ladies in waiting to remove their hair any longer from one of the most sensitive places on their body. But the history of waxing, like the history of menstruating is an obscure one, the female body, unless she was a prostitute, was a private body.

Catilin Moran argues that our obsession with making our bodies resemble a pre-puberty time is a pornographic aesthetic. In pornography, they keep it clear so you can see the genitals better, and it has now become a fashionable trend. I would add to this that until the 20th century, the majority of classical western painters seemed to conveniently miss the pubic hair upon their nude women for perhaps a similar reason? While literature never seemed to explicitly mention women’s body hair, not in Shakespeare and certainly no Jane Austen character went off for a wax.

Indeed, it’s as if female body hair and the everyday women removing it, just never quite existed until recently. Although from the way bikinis and lingerie is cut, it seems the existence of pubic hair doesn’t factor in their designs at all. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if these companies were in cahoots with the waxing industry, shaking hands over secret deals to make tiny underwear that only looks good if you’re barely there.

There is history behind the idea that hair on the body, signifies an unkempt disinterest in basic bodily grooming like an unattractive heathen, even your own underwear is against you!

This has reminded me of the time I confessed myself a feminist to my thirteen year old classmates. ‘That means you have hairy armpits!’ was the intelligent conclusion they taunted me with that break time. I should have replied “Yeah, so what?” defiantly. But I let them instill a sense of shame in me so that I could fall in line with their hairy politics. Didn’t we all? Hair ultimately symbolises subversive contempt for the public ideal of beauty, showing there is someone who does not let the needed approval of others govern her own body. Like the fall of paradise, we became aware not of our nakedness, but of our hair that needed to be governed.

We will carry this playground shame and continue our efforts until someone makes body hair seem beautiful. But meanwhile I’m asking for baby steps. Do you need to rip it all off? And so often? Can you ever feel comfortable with the fact that there is hair growing on your body? This is my parting gift to you.

By Rosalind Kendal

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