‘I believe feminism on social media has had everything to do with this powerful swing back to pubes’
are experimenting with platelet-rich plasma therapy – a procedure generally associated with skin rejuvenation, receding male hairlines and over-plucked eyebrows.
In the US, stores like American Apparel have featured window mannequins sporting dense nether-tufts under lingerie, and The Real Housewives of New York City star indy arshop is ogging temporary faux fur merkins (an outcry from Peta put an end to the real fox fur ones). But Korean women leave all this in the shade. They’re lining up for hair transplantation – a painful (and pricey, costing more than R30 000) four-hour procedure in which hair from the head is grafted into the bikini line. Given this widespread backlash against the bare bush, you can’t help wondering why on earth women embraced it so quickly and in such numbers, at all. According to Dorothy Black, columnist and author of The Dot Spot – Adventures in Love and Sex, in some cultures, this was de nitely a response to porn fashions. It was only in the 90s that pornstars started favouring the ‘bald eagle’, but thanks to the internet, by then porn had in ltrated popular culture. rdinary women began to emulate what they saw on screen, and if it wasn’t porn, it was Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City.
‘Porn has de nitely in uenced the shaving of both men and women,’ says South African Sexual Health Association Board member and Cape Town psychologist Jillian Butterworth. ‘For men, it is generally to make the penis look bigger and for women, it is to make the vagina look smaller. Men are visual creatures and are generally more visual than women, so it is understood to some degree that they want to see what there is.’ With associations of prepubescent girls, however, the hairless pudenda wasn’t an immediately easy aesthetic, but, says Dorothy, it was never really about men wanting us to look like little girls, or us wanting to play at being little girls (if you’re in any doubt, just look back to the humungously in ated breasts of those 90s pornstars with their plucked punanis – far from childlike).
‘I think there are many people, men and women, who prefer a shaven pudenda or trimmed hair simply because it is easier and more lovely to see its shape (remember we’re becoming less afraid of looking at our own pussies), and because it makes oral sex more pleasant both to receive and give,’ says Dorothy. ‘I think we need to move away from this idea that it makes a grown woman’s genitals look anything like a child’s.’
So what’s changed? Last year The Telegraph UK reported on a new poll of 1 870 women by online pharmacy UK Medix, according to which 45% told researchers that they can ‘no longer be bothered to keep up the grooming’ (the same study found that 51% of women do not ‘style or groom their pubic hairs’ at all). But could that really be it? Have we just become too lazy to tend the topiary? For Carla*, returning her pubes to their au naturel state was part of ‘a larger shift’. ‘I see it as part of a zeitgeist,’ says the 32-year-old Wits media studies student. ‘There’s a new appreciation of authenticity and the plastic, “perfect” standards of 10 years ago have given way to something a lot more real, a lot less contrived, and a lot more individual. No wonder the Hollywood has gone the way of the fake tan, the thong and breast implants: in 2016 it seems childishly Barbie-esque. Porn’s novelty has long worn o and the smooth vag has become like visual wallpaper. What you really notice when you see it is the ingrown hairs, the nicks, the stubble... and that’s far from attractive.’
In line with this is a general backlash against airbrushing; another factor could well be the resurgence of vintage and burlesque-styled underwear and bathing suits with higher waists and fuller legs. As Dorothy says, ‘There are always going to be swings and roundabouts with body trends and fashions, and so it was inevitable that bush would be back.’ But she believes there’s more to it than this. ‘I believe feminism on social media has had everything to do with this powerful swing back to pubes, as it does with women standing up collectively against the harmful messaging from advertising about our bodies,’ she says.
n top of all this, let’s not forget the most practical considerations: maintaining a Hollywood is time-consuming; it’s painful, and it’s expensive. ‘I did the sums,’ says Carla. ‘I worked out that over seven years I’d spent more than R35 000, and if I factor in travel time and waiting and booking, about 300 hours!’ With this in mind, it’s not hard to see why many women are happy to kiss the bare bush goodbye. But what do men make of the reappearance of pubes? Wouldn’t they come as a shock to someone who’d grown up on plucked and polished porn? And would older guys welcome them back? In the UK Medix study, 62% of the women reported that their partners actually ‘prefer the natural look’. And there’s no reason to believe that South African men would signi cantly di er from them. At the extreme end is the 2013 case of a Zimbabwean man who allegedly assaulted his wife when she removed her pubic hair. Thankfully he’s a very small minority. It seems the majority of men are quite happy to meet an old-fashioned snatch... with one codicil: that it’s ‘neat’. And there lies the rub. The bush may well be back, but that doesn’t mean returning it to its totally wild state. It may be au naturel, but only a speci c kind of au naturel is what’s wanted.
‘It’s true I don’t do the Hollywood any more, but I still wax or shave my bikini line at home. I trim, too, and I shape,’ says Carla. ‘I like a perfect triangle. I think it balances my body and is the most attering style on me.’ And if you imagined that the return of the bush signalled the abandonment of crotch consciousness, you were very wrong indeed. This is the crux of women like Bulelwa’s new anxiety. ‘I worry now that I look patchy,’ she says. ‘I want the perfect shape, with full cover.’
The good news is that it’s a case of each to her own. ‘There is a very small percentage of women who are 100% against shaving at all, while the rest practise some form of pubic trimming,’ says Dorothy. ‘I think we need to move away from looking at everything about a woman’s body choice as a “trend” and focus on what is actually important here: that women are feeling more comfortable to choose what works for them.’