PUBE POLITICS Whether big or bald, it’s your choice. So why avoid talk­ing about the bush?

In­tel­lec­tu­ally and po­lit­i­cally, we might be all for a nat­u­ral ‘bush’. So why are we still wax­ing, shav­ing and pluck­ing our pu­bic hair? Joely Walker in­ves­ti­gates

ELLE (UK) - - Contents - Pho­to­graph by HARRI PECCINOTTI

Lady gar­dens. For decades, we’ve been hellbent on prun­ing, pluck­ing and zap­ping them into sub­mis­sion, in pur­suit of pu­bic per­fec­tion. We’ve dab­bled with land­ing strips, cu­rated tri­an­gles and bar­ber-pre­ci­sion trims, but over the past few years our agenda has been shift­ing, mark­ing a move­ment away from a Bar­bie-smooth aes­thetic to some­thing al­to­gether more nat­u­ral.

The topic is def­i­nitely di­vi­sive: Min­tel’s Bri­tish Life­styles re­port showed that, in 2016, 83% of women aged 16-24 agreed there was too much pres­sure on them to re­move or groom body hair, yet in that same year, a YouGov sur­vey found al­most 50% of women un­der 35 still opted to go com­pletely hair-free. The fig­ures don’t add up, which begs the ques­tion: where do we ac­tu­ally stand when it comes to our pu­bic hair?

‘In an age of ac­tivism, where peo­ple are ral­ly­ing against in­jus­tices across the board, pubes have be­come a hot de­bate,’ says Emma Grace Bailey, as­so­ciate beauty edi­tor at global trend-fore­cast­ing com­pany WGSN. ‘Who are we shav­ing it for? Why are we ashamed of some­thing so nat­u­ral? Where has this mind­set that pu­bic hair is “dirty” come from?’

Bi­o­log­i­cally speak­ing, pu­bic hair is to pro­vide cush­ion­ing against fric­tion, pro­tec­tion from bac­te­ria and to sig­nify our readi­ness to mate. It’s use­ful but, even so, hair re­moval dates back to An­cient Egyp­tian times, when women were said to de­pilate with bronze ra­zors and sharp flints to pre­vent lice. An­cient Greeks saw pu­bic hair on women as ‘un­couth’ (hence the mostly smooth na­ture of many stat­ues born of that era). Then came the merkin in 1450 – a pu­bic-hair wig – made for women who had shaved their hair to com­bat pu­bic

lice and cover up signs of dis­ease. We’ve come a long way on the hy­giene front, but prac­ti­cal­ity has been at the heart of groom­ing for aeons.

In 1946, Parisian en­gi­neer Louis Réard cre­ated the bikini and, sub­se­quently, the ‘bikini line’. Pubes were put in a wider so­ci­etal spot­light, al­though legs and un­der­arms were still the fo­cus for hair re­moval. The sex­u­ally lib­er­ated Six­ties and Seven­ties took a care­free ap­proach to, well, ev­ery­thing, and the bush went big, so it was in the Eight­ies and Nineties that saw lady-gar­den groom­ing – al­beit covertly – be­come the or­der of the day once more. But by far the most piv­otal mo­ment for pubes in the past cen­tury has to be in 1987, when seven Brazil­ian sis­ters set up a wax­ing sa­lon in New York, where the full Brazil­ian wax (AKA com­plete pu­bic-hair re­moval) was born. We’d have to wait until 1998 for this method to en­ter the cul­tural zeit­geist by way of Sex and the City. Car­rie: ‘I got mugged. She took ev­ery­thing I got.’ Sa­man­tha: ‘It’s called the Brazil­ian wax. ’ Mi­randa: ‘You didn’t tell her to stop?’ Car­rie: ‘I tried. I feel like one of those freak­ing hair­less dogs.’

And thus, the world was led down a slip­pery slope to smooth­ness, with Vic­to­ria Beck­ham an­nounc­ing in 2003 that the Brazil­ian should be ‘made com­pul­sory [at] aged 15’.

Today, with a new wave of fem­i­nism firmly es­tab­lished, we’re not afraid to em­brace our nat­u­ral state. We’re told that ‘the bush is back’. In­deed, it’s be­ing cham­pi­oned by A-list celebri­ties, be that

Gwyneth Pal­trow ad­mit­ting to ‘work­ing a Seven­ties vibe’ down there in an in­ter­view with Ellen DeGeneres, or Emma Wat­son talk­ing openly about keep­ing her hair soft and sup­ple with Fur Oil, a lux­ury pu­bic hair-care brand. More re­cently, Am­ber Rose posted a pube-proud In­sta­gram im­age cap­tioned #BringBack­TheBush, and Ash­ley Gra­ham owned up to rock­ing a ‘full bush. Pe­riod’. So if we are in­tel­lec­tu­ally em­brac­ing the bush, why are we still book­ing in for laser hair re­moval the first op­por­tu­nity we get?

Cyn­thia Chua, founder and CEO of London’s Min­istry of Wax­ing, tells us this is the case in terms of her sa­lon chain’s high­est hit­ters. ‘We have a high de­mand for Brazil­ian laser hair-re­moval and most of our clients are

‘Why are we ashamed of some­thing so nat­u­ral? Where has this mind­set that pu­bic hair is “dirty” come from?’

opt­ing for a more per­ma­nent so­lu­tion to keep­ing hair away,’ she ex­plains. ‘There ap­pears to be a shift in the cul­ture to­wards main­te­nance – and with hair gone from down be­low, the fo­cus is on keep­ing the skin sup­ple and mois­turised.’ En­ter the vagina fa­cial – or va­ja­cial – whereby a ther­a­pist at­tends to your pu­bic area as if it were your face, to leave you ‘fresh and glow­ing’ (and in­grown-hair-free).

For a more man­age­able main­te­nance ap­proach, con­sider pu­bic-hair brand Fur. What started as a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween sis­ters Emily and Laura Schu­bert soon led to a prod­uct line that ad­dressed the need for straight talk­ing and tar­geted body-hair prod­ucts, which they be­lieved were miss­ing from the mar­ket. ‘As we talked, we re­alised the avail­able prod­ucts were not in line with the cul­tural move­ment – the in­gre­di­ents were harsh, the pack­ag­ing was un­so­phis­ti­cated, and they seemed to fo­cus only on re­moval – [pre­sent­ing] hair as a “prob­lem”,’ ex­plains third co-founder, Lil­lian Tung. Nur­tur­ing it, whether the hair is in abun­dance or oth­er­wise, is where we should be set­ting our stalls. Ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished by JAMA Der­ma­tol­ogy in June 2016, more than 80% of women groom their pu­bic hair, in a va­ri­ety of ways, but until re­cently it’s not been dis­cussed. ‘Emma Wat­son has al­ways been such an out­spo­ken ad­vo­cate for hu­man rights and ev­ery­day fem­i­nism, and for her to open up [about her groom­ing habits] re­ally helps bring self-care and green beauty into the main­stream di­a­logue,’ Lil­lian adds. In­deed, when Emma re­vealed her love for Fur Oil as an ‘amaz­ing all-pur­pose prod­uct’ that she uses ev­ery­where from ‘my eye­brows to my pu­bic hair’, Google searches around it spiked 55 times higher.

‘In terms of women’s body hair, the land­scape has al­ways been very re­moval-cen­tric and open dis­cus­sion has been taboo,’ says Lil­lian. ‘The fo­cus in the past has been on the aes­thetic of hav­ing or not hav­ing, rather than about care and feel. Now, there’s not only a va­ri­ety of hair-re­moval op­tions that cater to dif­fer­ent skin types and body hair, but also in­for­ma­tion out there for women to de­cide what the best groom­ing op­tion is for them.’

And that’s just it: pubes or no pubes, the most im­por­tant shift go­ing on here is the break­ing of stig­mas. Con­ver­sa­tions have been started and women no longer feel the need to pussy­foot around the sub­ject of their pubes. This is open pu­bic politics. ‘As women be­come more body-con­fi­dent, es­chew­ing re­stric­tive no­tions of fem­i­nin­ity im­posed upon us by a mas­cu­line

so­ci­ety, the bush is be­com­ing a tool to re­gain our in­de­pen­dence and our voice. A phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of an in­creas­ingly head­strong at­ti­tude,’ adds WGSN’s Emma Bailey.

OK, we may be ‘es­chew­ing’ th­ese no­tions now, but how does our per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with our pubes cor­re­late with how much we want to ap­peal to our sexual part­ners? Porn plays a cru­cial role in what men and women are pro­grammed to find ‘sexy’. In 2016, al­most 92 bil­lion videos were viewed on Porn­hub (12.5 for ev­ery per­son on earth), with 64 mil­lion vis­its daily, and 23 bil­lion yearly. Di­rected pre­dom­i­nantly for the male gaze, they fea­ture women with lit­tle hair go­ing on down there – if any.

In the name of in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism, we reached out to male friends and col­leagues to ques­tion whether their ex­pec­ta­tions of fe­male pu­bic hair were shaped by porn. Let’s call them all John for anonymity’s sake. John 1, 28, said: ‘To be com­pletely hon­est, I don’t think I’ve ever watched porn fea­tur­ing a full bush. It’s ei­ther to­tally bare or one of those lit­tle mous­tache strip things – more hair would just be sur­pris­ing.’ John 1 can­not ac­cu­rately de­scribe a land­ing strip, never mind ap­pre­ci­ate the pain be­hind achiev­ing it. Is John 1 in­dica­tive of the com­mon male at­ti­tude to­wards pu­bic hair? We would hope it is more aligned with John 2: ‘Most porn is clean shaven, but that doesn’t leave me with ex­pec­ta­tions for real life; I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced a va­ri­ety.’ Well said, John 2. Much more im­por­tantly, where do women stand on the sub­ject? An ELLE of­fice poll re­veals that while 85% back the bush move­ment as an em­pow­er­ing cul­tural shift, that same 85% will still con­tinue groom­ing their pu­bic hair in some re­spect, for now at least. Why? One team mem­ber says, ‘Like wear­ing new un­der­wear, it just makes me feel good. But mostly, it’s part of my rou­tine. And rou­tines are hard to break.’ More in­ter­est­ing still – a ma­jor­ity of 95% are adamant that they trim, wax or shave en­tirely for their own sat­is­fac­tion, to feel con­fi­dent and in charge. A ‘my pubes, my pre­rog­a­tive’ sit­u­a­tion.

As the founders of Fur put it: ‘The most im­por­tant thing is that we don’t tell women what to do with their pu­bic hair, or what’s on “trend” or what’s “nor­mal”.’ The ques­tion is not whether or not the bush is back, it’s more that we are do­ing away with the last taboo. Al­most. The world may not be ready for Am­ber Rose’s full-frontal so­cial me­dia admission – In­sta­gram promptly deleted her post – but that is a com­ment on ex­plicit nu­dity in an un­re­stricted public fo­rum, rather than the na­ture of her groom­ing ideals. Yes, she can be a role model for the Fuck Your Beauty Stan­dards move­ment, but parental ad­vi­sory still has a part to play. There is no doubt that we are carv­ing out a more free­wheel­ing path for pubes; what­ever shape they are cur­rently tak­ing, it is the at­ti­tude that is new. And what can be more lib­er­at­ing than that?

‘Like wear­ing new un­der­wear, it makes me feel good… it’s part of my rou­tine’

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