Over the past year I have been embarking on a personal quest: to better understand my fellow females and their psyches, to work out where our shared insecurities really come from, how they manifest themselves and how best to dispel them.
In my journey to achieving this knowledge I have pursued various different pathways, I have been to women’s dance groups, to discussion groups, I have spoken to groups and spoken to people on a more individual and personal level.
a huge number of the women I spoke to suffered from deep anxiety caused by their pubic hair
One of the recurrent themes, which I was surprised to discover through these discussions, was a huge number of the women I spoke to suffered from deep anxiety caused by their pubic hair. They were obsessed when it came to hair removal and over half of the women I have spoken to about this told me that they regularly went to beauty salons for full Brazilian waxes or shaved off all of their pubic hair.
When I asked why they were so concerned about it the general response was ‘it makes me feel ‘cleaner’ and ‘it’s more hygienic’.
This idea plagued me somewhat as I found it hard to believe that the adult female body in its natural form is ‘unclean’ and ‘unhygienic’ – to be honest this idea somewhat infuriated me. I began to wonder where this notion had come from and assumed it has probably filtered into mainstream thought from pornography. I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions but after reading ‘Anti-Porn: The Resurgence of Anti-Pornography Feminism’ the thesis of Dr Julia Long, a brilliant feminist thinker and writer the associations I had been making seemed to completely make sense and solidify in my mind.
Long’s thesis observes the way that the aesthetics of the porn industry and the treatment of women within porn have filtered into everyday imagery and behavior and become part of our daily language and thought process. She identifies a rejection of feminism in young women as a result of them being ‘silenced’ and being ashamed or embarrassed to be associated with the militant imagery of feminism whilst not realizing their daily behaviors and insecurities are arguably a result of a latently misogynistic and patriarchal society.
When I ask my friends why they obsess over their body hair and why it makes them feel ‘unclean’ they were often not entirely sure what had led them to reach that dramatic conclusion. Some stated that it was what their boyfriend’s preferred, others did it because the rest of their friends did and it was the norm, others had experienced ‘bullying’ from men telling them that they were ‘unclean’ or ‘messy’ if they had pubic hair. Some women said their beauticians had suggested it to them because it was ‘fashionable’. Contrary to popular belief no women said she removed her hair to look like a child, but whether this was their intention or not the act of hair removal to this extent is ultimately infantilizing.
When speaking to male friends about the matter, most of them denied wanting their girlfriends or partners to be infantilized and found that idea offensive and irritating; but when the question of why they preferred fully waxed women to natural women was posed they often found it hard to explain. Like most of the women the men mentioned ‘hygiene’ and ‘tidiness’ once more implying the natural female body is unclean. Or some just said they preferred the way it looks, implying the natural female pubic region is somehow unattractive, even visually offensive.
A lot of the people I have spoken to, both male and female, argued that what a woman does with her own body is her own personal choice, however is this a real choice when there are so many signs and messages in popular imagery telling women that actually they really ought to be one way rather than another? With a media that focuses on images of immaculately groomed women and the main source of nude imagery coming from pornography where the majority of women are waxed, can women really chose to reject this obsessional grooming and just be natural women?
What concerns me the most is that even in the privacy of our own bedrooms where no one is watching and judging us when we stand in front of our mirrors and look at ourselves do we really know what we want to look like and why? Are our desires and choices so deeply affected by social expectations that they are in fact not real choices at all? What does a contemporary woman look like and who has crafted this image we are so obsessed with embodying?
When raising these questions to a focus group of women in the past fortnight someone asked ‘does this really matter, is it so bad if my boyfriend tells me to shave because I’m getting a bit unkempt?’ – my gut reaction was YES it matters and it matters a huge amount. It is troubling that after the developments made by radical feminists in the 1970s and 80s we have regressed to a stage where it is acceptable, even normal, for a man to tell his partner what to do with her body and expect her to accept his instruction.
‘what did the feminist movement do wrong?’ to push so many women away
It begs us to ask the question ‘what did the feminist movement do wrong?’ to push so many women away from wanting to associate with it, how did it’s militant imagery and actions alienate women and discourage them from developing some of its most crucial ideas (specifically relating to the objectification of woman and portrayal of women in mass media and pornography). However, these are questions for subsequent articles.
For now I simply wish to pose these questions: do we really have a choice of how we are seen as women and what we do with our bodies? Has the idea of the female body in its natural form become ‘dirtied’ and ‘unacceptable’? Or is the fashion of obsessive hair removal harmless and simple a passing fashion?
Please share your opinions with me as I will gratefully consider all ideas.
N.B This article does not deny or ignore male waxing culture but rather focuses on the female.