Amara Coelho

Writer

As another Januhairy rolls around, Amara Coelho asks why female body hair is still so controversial.

Pubic hair is renowned for often being an extremely sensitive topic or one that is avoided altogether due to its extremely personal nature. From a scientific standpoint, pubic hair is highly beneficial to women; it deters the entry of various pathogens and bacteria into the vaginal area which could result in the development of diseases such as yeast infections, vaginitis, and UTI’s. In addition, hair removal practises such as shaving can cause irritation and any cuts could leave you more susceptible to infections due to the small tears in the skin providing an entry pathway. However, considering that it’s a completely natural phenomenon for most, how does society and the media still hold sway over how women should feel over having (or not having) pubic hair, when it should be completely up to the individual? 

Historically, there is a wide disparity amongst different cultures and regions in regards to when hair removal was introduced. The ancient Egyptians used to not only remove their pubic hair but also the rest of the hair on their body (yes, including all the hair on their heads!) They utilised devices such as pumice stones, sharpened flint, tweezers made from seashells and sugar, and beeswax-based waxes. This was due to body hair being perceived as unhygienic and dirty, alongside religious and ritualistic reasons. 

During the Roman Empire, tweezers, razors, stones and creams were similarly used to remove excess hair. Less body hair was a sign of better class and pubic hair was deemed uncivilised. In turn, statues and paintings produced during the era depicted mostly hairless females, such as The Birth of Venus

In the middle ages, hair was removed from the face to create the illusion of a larger forehead, alongside the Catholic church encouraging women to grow out their hair, however not to display it publicly. 

During the 17th century, many female sex workers used merkins, which were essentially vagina wigs that were used to replace pubic hair that had been removed. This was because, at the time, men had a preference for pubic hair and sex workers were wary of catching pubic lice and as a result would remove their actual pubes. There is also evidence from 4000-3000 BC of hair removal in ancient India, in particular women of the Hindu Nair Caste. 

The Industrial Age saw the creation of razors for men, which would allow them to shave at home. However, it would be another three decades until a razor would be created targeting a female audience. Milady Décolleté, a razor for females, was developed by the company Gillette with advertising and marketing being centred around the idea that body hair was unhygienic, urging women to remove any so-called “objectionable hair”. From the 1970s to the 1980s, changing fashions and style (along with the birth of the bikini a few decades earlier in 1946), meant a combination of fashion photography and the media became partially responsible for normalising images of women with shaved genitals.

However, there is another significant factor that has greatly affected women’s personal grooming: pornography. With magazines such as Playboy being established in 1953 and Penthouse in 1965, alongside the popularisation of sex tapes, resulted in not only the wider circulation of hairless women but also had a massive influence on the people, especially men, who would view them. The changing normalisation of what female genitals should look like to men prompted the birth of the Brazilian wax. As a result, pubic hair grooming patterns began to shift from trimmed hair to a completely hairless look. 

Comparatively speaking, there is a significant difference in the amount of exposure society receives from female and male bodies. Whilst men are allowed to walk around shirtless with relative ease, women cannot - unless in the safe haven of a nudist beach or a life drawing class. The topless woman would most certainly have a higher chance of receiving negative, unwanted, or hypersexualised attention. For example, Instagram’s nipple censorship disproportionately affects women, with many women using emojis to cover nipples, superimposing an accepted male nipple template onto images and some women even resorting to changing their account gender to male to evade the sexist censorship system in place. 

There is even dispute over the idea of whether or not parents should allow their children to see them naked. However, within reason and taking their age into account, this should be perfectly natural within a completely non-sexualised context. 

Women today are still, to an extent, shamed for having pubic hair as there is a significant lack of exposure to normal female bodies. Female porn stars are often completely hairless, and some men expect that their partners are meant to be completely hairless too, when in reality it should be the choice of the woman herself, not her partner, the opinions of her peers, society, or any form of media and targeted advertisement. How this topic is approached needs to be changed; pubic hair should not be seen as shameful, instead, it must be seen as a topic of discussion where there is no correct answer. It needs to be recognised as something empowering rather than something embarrassing or seldom talked about due to fears of judgement or scrutiny.



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