Several weeks ago, whilst in the Honkeytonks ladies’ room, a tall, only slightly intoxicated blonde struck up a conversation with me. The topic of the conversation? Her Brazilian wax. See, the lady in question was frustrated that she kept her – ahhemm – ladygarden in tiptop hairless condition yet had not had sex in months. “It is SUCH a waste!” she declared. She then felt the need to elaborate (because obviously I was standing there with a look on my face that screamed “Oh please tell me about your pubic hair grooming habits I am utterly intrigued!”) so she went on to inform me “I do it for myself. It’s cleaner, smoother… It’s empowering!” At this point I escaped because I had better places to be, and the lady in question no doubt headed to Academy or Moose…. But really sweetie? Empowering?
This is not the first time I have heard the waxing is empowering/I do it for myself argument. Perhaps on occasion I have even been tempted to make it myself. Here’s the thing though. Friends, co-workers, random females in bar toilets, listen up I am talking to you. Every time you try and tell me that you’re hairless down there for yourself and that it is EMPOWERING, I want to slap you.
This is definitely not to say that it is disempowering, or that you shouldn’t be able to do whatever the f*** you want with your own private parts. Because seriously, wax, shave or laser away. Just don’t inflict your unfounded rationalisations about why you do it on me please and thankyou.
Why do we spend so much time and money ensuring that for the most part completely unseen parts of our bodies are hairless? Because we think (often rightly so) that it is what guys prefer. Furthermore, within the framework this ongoing perception of male preference has created, pubic hair removal has become normalised to the point of leg shaving and make-up wearing. In visiting the salon every six weeks or so we are simply adhering to societal and generational expectations of how we should look, of what grooming practices we should undertake.
What perplexes me is whether this particular phenomenon is reflective of broader social trends, of women being pressured to adhere to emerging norms of a specific type of beauty; norms constructed within a society that is still, even in 2012, fundamentally patriarchal. The rapid growth of the weight loss industry, fashion trends with a “less is more” emphasis, and particularly the glass ceiling are all testament to this.
In a time and space where we can vote, obtain a tertiary education, and viably support ourselves economically, a woman’s worth is still somewhat synonymous with her appearance.
Look to the tabloids where independent, intelligent, powerful women are constantly critiqued over their looks; their accomplishments and duties often being seen as entirely periphery to their haircut and weight (see Julia Gillard, Hillary Clinton…). The media are not to blame here, given that they simply produce material they know will sell; they only write the stories we want to read.
Contemporary pressures to look and act in certain ways lead women to undergo expensive and invasive surgical procedures, and to severely compromise their health by going on dangerous diet and exercise regimes. Eating disorders and other mental health disorders are increasingly common. Every year, individually, we spend thousands on cosmetics and our wardrobes.
Perhaps we will be pushed backwards to a point where we as women adhere to these pressures to a point where we are little more than modern materialisations of male desire, dressing, acting, and grooming ourselves in ways our patriarchal society deems appropriate.
The Brazilian Wax only emerged in Western society in the 1980s after the porn industry made a blanket decision to go hairless to improve lighting. Because there is a (not completely unfounded) perception amongst many women that pornography is essentially what menfolk desire in the bedroom, following suit with hair removal practices was a natural and predictable occurrence.
So, next time you visit Brazilian Butterfly, why not ask yourself a particularly hairy question. Why exactly are you there?