TO L A DYSC A PE OR NOT? Alex Kuczyn­ski ex­plores our ob­ses­sion with (very) per­sonal groom­ing.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - The Beauty Bazaar -

My tribe is a hair­less one. Two years ago, when I spit into a plas­tic vial and sent my saliva to a ser­vice to have my ge­netic his­tory mapped, one of the traits that came back – apart from be­ing, oddly, closely re­lated to Dr Oz – was the fol­low­ing: “You are from peo­ple with the least amount of body hair on earth.” There was a map and an ar­row point­ing to a dot, some­where be­tween north­ern Europe and Scan­di­navia, and it ba­si­cally said, you are here, and hair­less. So when I grew pu­bic hair – prob­a­bly some­time around 18 years old – it was not a big deal. I never thought of groom­ing or pluck­ing or shav­ing or bleach­ing; it seemed un­nec­es­sary, and there wasn’t very much to work with any­way. I also didn’t own a bikini or have sex un­til my 20s – I know: Freak! – so there was no point.

When I was 24, this changed. I found my­self in Is­tan­bul, in a Ham­mam, at the sug­ges­tion of my friend Verkin. In the domed steam room, the at­ten­dants scrubbed me raw, mas­saged me, flayed me with scented tree branches, and anointed me. Then the tel­lak – the one who scrubs and flays and greases you up – took me by the hand to a pri­vate room off to the side and started ask­ing pleas­ant ques­tions in Turk­ish. She seemed en­cour­ag­ing, so I nod­ded af­fir­ma­tively, even though the only phrases I un­der­stood in Turk­ish at the time were “cherry juice,” “Where is the toi­let?” and “Enough with the rugs al­ready.”

With an ath­letic abrupt­ness, she flipped my legs over my head and started ap­ply­ing some sort of hon­eyed mix­ture to the hair of my pu­bic re­gion. Within min­utes, help­less to stop but cau­tiously will­ing, I was bare as a baby. Verkin wan­dered in to check on me. I lay on the mar­ble slab, supine, stunned, stripped, feel­ing like a si­mul­ta­ne­ously porno­graphic and in­fan­tilised fe­male ver­sion of the Lamen­ta­tion of Christ.

“Çok güzel,” Verkin said in Turk­ish to the at­ten­dant, who smiled brightly at the praise of her work. Very beau­ti­ful. I will never for­get those words. I as­so­ciate them with shock and vul­ner­a­bil­ity – and chaf­ing. I ar­rived back at the ho­tel, and my boyfriend at the time re­marked that I looked like an enor­mous eight-year-old. We con­tin­ued on our jour­ney, which had started in the ec­static he­do­nism of the Greek is­lands, through Turkey and on into the bound and cov­ered-up monas­ti­cism of Syria, where I wore long sleeves, a long skirt, and a head scarf that cov­ered my face. Un­der­neath, my skin was naked, no hair be­low my eye­brows longer than a grain of rice. I would learn that in Is­lam, pu­bic and un­der­arm hair is con­sid­ered un­clean for both sexes and is rou­tinely shaved or waxed. Depi­la­tion (re­mov­ing the hair above the skin) and epi­la­tion (re­mov­ing the en­tire hair, in­clud­ing the root be­low the skin) are ba­sic hy­gienic rit­u­als in Mus­lim cul­tures, on par with tooth­brush­ing. In Syria, even though I felt like a filthy sex god­dess – gi­ant eight-year-old, I ac­tu­ally fit right in.

Years later, I of­ten re­flect on the para­dox of the Amer­i­can woman – in­flu­enced by porn-star cul­ture, strip­ping off her pu­bic hair, co­erced into a state of en­forced gen­i­tal in­fancy – and her sim­i­lar­ity to Mus­lim women all over the world. They spend their en­tire adult lives never see­ing a pu­bic hair on their bod­ies, but in their case, it is for reli­gious rea­sons. In one cul­ture, porn rules; in the other, God. The re­sult is the same.

Trim­ming or re­mov­ing pu­bic hair – the term for the pref­er­ence for hair­less gen­i­tals is “aco­mo­clitism” – has long been a cus­tom in many cul­tures for med­i­cal or reli­gious pur­poses. In an­cient Egypt, re­mov­ing hair meant fewer lice in­fes­ta­tions. Greeks and Ro­mans com­monly re­moved all their body hair for aes­thetic rea­sons. In the 16th cen­tury, Michelan­gelo felt it was ap­pro­pri­ate to cre­ate a David with stylised pu­bic hair, and by the 18th cen­tury, fe­male pu­bic hair was of­ten the cen­tre­piece of Ja­panese erotic art, but it was not un­til the 20th cen­tury that the Western tra­di­tion showed women with pu­bic hair. The cel­e­brated 19th-cen­tury art critic John Ruskin, who seemed to

Smooth, waxed skin – what is it that drives us to ob­ses­sion?

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