Private parts, pubic debate: an intro to grooming

pubichair-6
Photo Illustration by Ethan Epstein, Emily Montenegro/Senior Staff

Americans think women’s pubes are gross.

UC San Francisco assistant professor Tami Rowen says that external pressures in the past decade have caused more women to groom. Eighty-four percent of women in the United States do some form of lady-scaping, and 62 percent have gone completely bare down there at least once, according to a recent study Rowen led.

So we can blame Barbie dolls, string bikinis, porn stars, Carrie Bradshaw and that scene in “The Wolf of Wall Street” where Margot Robbie spreads her legs to reveal a cooter that looks like it could belong to a toddler — basically all the leading causes of unrealistic expectations for women’s bodies — for the multi-billion-dollar pube-destruction industry.

But it turns out, fetishizing manicured crotches goes much further back than bikinis. Women have been removing body hair essentially since the dawn of civilization. Ancient Greek women would go as far as to singe off their pubes with oil lamps, according to UC Berkeley alumna Paige Walker, whose undergraduate research on genital depilation (academic speak for man- or lady-scaping) in classical Greek sculpture was published in the Berkeley Undergraduate Journal of Classics in 2012.

According to her research, the more hypothetical power a women had, the shorter their pubic hair was in art — meaning many statues of Aphrodite depict her completely bare down there, whereas a slave woman might be shown with a full-on muff.

Part of the motivation for Walker’s research was dismantling the idea that “good girls like (her)” should not explore or talk about sex. She added that she thinks heteronormative principles still dictate the way women present themselves, just as they did in ancient Greece.

“As a woman, you want to appeal to a man, because that’s the pinnacle of achievement in society,” Walker said. “You’re supposed to do anything you can to achieve that.”

Today, there are far safer methods of grooming than hot oil lamps. But according to the UCSF study, going completely bald at least 11 times a year doubles one’s chance of sexually transmitted infections — non-groomers experienced STIs during their lifetime at a rate of 8 percent, as compared with 18 percent of so-called “extreme groomers.” All methods — shaving, waxing, electric razors — seem to have about the same effect as they all cause micro-tears, or tiny cuts, which increase the risk of infection, said UCSF medical student and researcher Thomas Gaither.

Moreover, pubic grooming injuries are one of the most common causes of injury in the United States, according to Gaither. But he said that women should still make their own decisions when it comes to personal hair removal and just be mindful about what they are doing down there.

“Overall, my recommendation is it is still your choice,” Gaither said. “(But) I wouldn’t shave everything off bare and then go have sex, because there could be these microtears.”

Some women are veering away from grooming. UC Berkeley sophomore Maddy Aragon said that for her, growing out all of her body hair, including her pubic hair, has been empowering. She shaved in high school but stopped because she felt that she was only doing so because of “heteronormative pressure.”

Aragon noted, however, that for some women, shaving is empowering, and that women should wear their pubes in whichever style they choose.

Berkeley may have contributed to her change in lifestyle, Aragon said, and she thinks that men and women in Berkeley are much more accepting of her body hair than those back home in Los Angeles.

“When I go back home, I get really insecure to lift my arms there,” Aragon said. “I may feel safe to not shave in Berkeley, but maybe in other places not so much.”

For those considering a new hair-do for their coo-coo:

pubichair-1

Full bush
Full bush was all the rage in the 1970s, according to the results of literally any Google search for old porn. But it may be making a comeback — celebrities such as Cameron Diaz and Gwyneth Paltrow have said they are letting it hang loose, American Apparel (R.I.P.) featured mannequins with hairy crotches, and most importantly, Vogue magazine said so. Aragon said many of her friends, especially those within the Berkeley Student Cooperative system, have chosen to go au naturel.

pubichair-4

Brazilian wax
A Brazilian wax means getting rid of everything — from the tufts near the tummy to all the way back in the crack. The Brazilian came to popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s, especially among younger women. The J Sisters Salon — owned and operated by seven Brazilian sisters whose names all start with “J” — in New York City brought the style to the United States in 1994. The style rocketed to fame after being featured in an episode of “Sex and the City.” Berkeley-based Malimor Skin Care owner Mali Weinberger said waxing is better for the skin than shaving, as it irritates sensitive skin less. Many who get Brazilians done regularly say it improves sex because the newly exposed skin is extremely sensitive.

pubichair-2

Full-bush Brazilian
This seeming oxymoron creates the illusion of full bush while removing all hair from the labia and buttcrack area. This new style has emerged as going natural has come back in style, but some women have grown accustomed to the lack of hair in their more intimate places. Some sport the style to maintain the hippie-ish full bush look while getting the benefits of “feeling clean” or improved sex that a Brazilian might provide them. Others simply say it hurts less than going all the way bare, according to one Salon story.

pubichair-3

Landing strips and other in-between styles
Landing strips, also known as a French wax, are basically a Brazilian with just a strip of hair on the pubic bone. These in-between stages are popular for women who want to “feel cleaner” or more trimmed but may feel uncomfortable being completely bare. The idea that having manicured pubes makes one “more hygienic” is, however, a fallacy. According to Walker, although ancient Greek women would generally leave some hair down there, she is unsure why. Some things are better left a mystery.

pubichair-5

Fun shapes
At the end of the day, pubic hair is just hair. Like hair on one’s head, pubic hair can be used to express oneself. Some women choose to dye or shave the hair into stars, arrows or lightning bolts because, well, they can. Campus junior Adiba Khan said she has done just about everything with her pubes: She has grown them out, gone bare and even tried shaving a star once. She said there is something special and exciting about having her pubic hair shaped well. “I would almost relate (shaving shapes) to having a matching set of bra and panties,” Khan said.

Contact Pressly Pratt at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @presslypratt.