Some thoughts on the aesthetics & politics of hair removal

I’m writing this post as the proud owner of a newly hairless pussy. Professionally hairless. One lunchtime last week I popped out of the office and into a city salon for my first-ever Brazilian. And now I’m like, I’m 28, how did this take me so long!? Considering the state of my sexual skills and knowledge more generally, I have been oddly clueless on the the matter of what the hell to do (or not) with my hair down there. Anyhow! This is what happened:

My first Brazilian

A much younger and professionally cheerful woman introduced herself and led me into a small, white room. A portable heater – how thoughtful! – was keeping the space at a comfortable 23 degrees, while mid-volume music played from a speaker mounted in the ceiling. Oddly, it was rock, not the slow, soothing, instrumental stuff that’s usually played in such places. The room’s central feature was a bed,  like the ones you see in doctors’ offices, a large plastic box of wipes and a small papery towel atop it. Along one wall was a table with two small vats – they looked like rice cookers – of creamy green wax, and next to that, a large bin. I’d been expecting the place to be spotlessly clean but the bin’s plastic lid was dirty and stained with spatters of hair colour. Against the other wall there was a small table for my clothes.

My chirpy waxer asked me how I was feeling. I told her it was my first time and I was a bit nervous. Wax Lady said not to worry  and that it usually wasn’t as bad as people were expecting. She explained that she would leave the room and I was to remove the clothes from my bottom half,  give myself a wipe (should I so wish) and lie down on the bed, covering myself  – quite pointlessy given what was to come – with the little towel.

She left and I took off my skirt, shoes and stockings, wiped myself down, and lay on the bed as directed. That position left me looking directly at a poster on the wall – a close-up photo of a beautiful woman wearing heavy, colourful eye make-up. They should have a poster of some hot, ripped dude, to remind me of why I’m here. That would be motivating!, I thought. At that moment, perfectly timed Wax Lady knocked and re-entered. I considered making conversation by sharing my poster opinions with her but thought better of it.

Wax Lady removed the towel and told me to draw my knees slightly up and very much apart. While I wasn’t exactly embarrassed, it felt weird to be fully displaying my spread pussy to another woman, and I kind of had to keep fighting the urge to bring my knees just a little closer together. I tried not to think about stories I’d heard of torn (off?) labia, and was grateful for Wax-Lady’s highly effective client distraction-and-relaxation strategy, which was to prattle without pause at high speed while going about her business. She also worked quickly, and almost before I knew it she had trimmed my hair with an electric razor, spread warm wax on my labia and pubic mound (pressing the wax down with her palm as it cooled), and was grasping an edge to go in for the rip.

It hurt, obviously, but not so very much. Within perhaps five minutes she’d finished the front and sides, and asked me whether I wanted behind done as well. I did, so she told me to hold my knees up together at my chest. Honestly, the warm wax going on around my anus felt almost pleasurable, and barely hurt at all when removed. After that came the worst part of the whole process: Wax Lady coming at a few remaining strays with a pair of tweezers.

Overall, though, not so traumatic.  I spent the rest of the afternoon feeling like I was hiding some sexy secret, which made me distractedly horny.

Politics

My upbringing meant that I have always been conscious of the politics of hair removal. My earliest hair removal experiences were, I think, a bit unusual for a woman of my generation. In the nineties, removing your pubic hair wasn’t yet a ‘thing,’ at least not for teens, but shaving your legs was more or less compulsory. Complicating things for me, however, was my mother. Unlike almost all of my peers’ mothers, mine had dark if sparse hair on her legs, plus a healthy crop under each arm. She had discovered feminism as a university student in the late 70s, and I presume it was then that she decided to stop shaving. I grew up hearing stories of anti-hair intolerance, about how, for example, other women had told my mother that her hair was unhygienic and disgusting. I was convinced (and I remain so) that the view my mother passed on to me was correct: body hair is perfectly healthy and normal, and no woman should be obliged to remove it, or derided for failing to do so.

All the same, I wanted to remove my own. As an adolescent I was very deeply jealous of my peers’ shiny-smooth legs and the apparently uncomplicated home lives that allowed for them. By about 13, even the awkward and unpopular girls in my year were removing their leg hair, with me the only holdout. Most of them shaved, often only to the knee, but a couple of the more glamorous girls waxed. In most respects, my memories of high school are scattered and vague – sometimes I even forget which town I grew up in (!) – but I must have spent a lot of year 8 looking longingly at my friends’ legs because I can call up crystal-clear images of them: Kylie’s heavy dancer’s calves, Kyla’s thin, honey-coloured limbs, Catherine’s shiny blond hairs visible only in the couple of centrimetres between the tops of her knees to the hem of her dress. I desperately wanted to join their ranks, but I was scared of disappointing my mother.

Soon enough, of course, the desire to be like my girlfriends got the better of me. One afternoon I picked out one of my father’s old razors from the back of a bathroom cabinet drawer. Leaning awkwardly against the bathroom door so that I wouldn’t be sprung, and using only water, I inexpertly shaved my legs for the first time.

Aesthetics

Henceforth, I was hooked. Obviously, I would never have thought to shave my legs had I not lived in a society where this was standard and all of my peers were doing it. Social norms and pressures blah blah, yes, OF COURSE. All the same, when I shaved my legs that first time I was taken with the sensation of smoothness – the way my legs felt rubbed against sheets, or each other.

And as it turns out, smoothness can be a pretty neat sensation in other places, too. I’ve known this for quite a while, and from time to time I’ve shaved. Sadly, pubic hair is coarse and thick, so when you shave the stuff it’s only smooth for a few hours, after which it becomes, in the (playful) words of one bed-friend of mine, ‘vicious.’ Not really a quality one wants associated with her pussy.

More politics

I’ve spent enough time around hard- and medium-core feminists to know how the debate about pubic hair removal usually goes. Someone suggests that it’s paedophilic and creepy. Someone else points out that adult women don’t look at all like children, whether they’re hairless or not (I certainly don’t. BREASTS AND HIPS FTW). Another says that they do it and they like how it looks or feels  SO THERE and why can’t we all just support each other’s personal choices? A fourth chimes in accusing the third of naivete and obliviousness w/r/t social structures and cultural dynamics. Ugh. It’s really boring.

I like how it feels, and simultaneously, I know that I live in a cultural context that helps to shape my aesthetic preferences. Since what I do with my down-there-hair doesn’t materially affect anyone much, though, I tend not to give a fuck. If I had my way and didn’t have to worry about what anyone else thought, I’d probably get lasered or something.

But things aren’t quite  that simple for me. I’m in the odd position of having a boyfriend who prefers a woman with pubic hair. (He also, by the way, likes a little  armpit hair. He’s quite the individual!) Most of my other lovers, in contrast, have a mild or strong preference for hair that is at least tamed, if not removed entirely.  Since my boyfriend is, like, the love of my life and stuff, I’ve mostly let his preferences be the deciding factor.

I know that my situation isn’t the usual one, and that it’s likely to become less and less common for men to like (or even tolerate), pubic hair on a woman. That leaves me a little confused. I don’t think aesthetic preferences are right or wrong. I don’t condemn any man for preferring hairlessness. But if that becomes the preference of the vast majority, this will inevitably create a pressure on women – including women who like their hair, or who can’t afford or bother to have it removed- to get rid of it. I don’t really like that idea, but I’m not sure there’s anything to be done about it.

On the other hand, there’s a certain kind of freedom in being able to do things, even things that are cultural norms or that other people want you to do, without worrying about having to resist them. I feel kind of sorry for people who find themselves stuck within a reactive opposition either to their own deep-if-possibly-culturally-determined-desires and/or those of a partner. I’m of the view that I’m going to live once and not for so long, and so I must get my pleasures where and when I may, rather than attempting the impossible task of extricating my desires from my environment. And within reasonable limits and an overall dynamic of give-and-take, I’m happy to cater to partners’ preferences and do things to please them, without feeling that I lose anything of myself.

POSTSCRIPT!

After months of wearing jeans and tucking my legs up underneath me when I sat, my mother finally noticed I’d shaved my legs. ‘Have you shaved your legs?” she asked, surprised. I can’t remember her reaction when I told her I had, but it wasn’t such a big deal. In fact, soon afterwards she began shaving her own.  Huh.

POSTSCRIPT 2!!

A sexual health friend tells me that she’s heard that up to 50% of people waxing have folliculitis, and vulvodynia is increasing, but that correlation may or may not be causal. I don’t know what either of these conditions is, but they don’t sound exactly fun so I thought I should let you know!

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Some thoughts on the aesthetics & politics of hair removal

  1. You continue to be my very favourite writer on all aspects of, y’know, sexy stuff.

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