Are bikini waxes over?
Melanie, by email
Well, it would be about bloody time if they were. Whereas in the 1970s fat, according to Susie Orbach, was a feminist issue, I reckon in the early 21st century pubic hair is the feminist issue (and fatness, to be honest, still hasn’t quite been resolved yet, either). How far we have come, ladies!
The rise of the bikini wax, so to speak, happened in a very different era than the one in which we live now. As all historians of women’s pubic hair know, Brazilian waxes became common in the US – and, soon after, the UK – when a group of Brazilian sisters, known as the J Sisters, started providing the – what, service? Torture? – to New Yorkers in the late 80s. By the mid to late 90s, they were the dernier cri among a certain type of young woman, one whom New York magazine summed up as “Us Weekly-toting, Juicy jeans-clad” (that description acts like a Proustian madeleine on me – ahhh, the early 21st century, I knew thee). Ridiculous celebrities were barking on about how removing all of one’s pubic hair was truly an act of liberation (“You have changed my life!!” Gwyneth Paltrow, for it was she, scrawled across her photo in the J Sisters’ waiting room – her life and, presumably, her pubic hair). And shows – including, inevitably, Sex and the City – trumpeted how trendy such an act was, and, more importantly, sexy.
With the benefit of retrospect and decades of wax rash, it is time, perhaps, to ask if it is any of these things. It’s certainly not trendy any more: these days Gwyneth insists that she “usually rocks a 70s vibe” down there (turns out the J Sisters didn’t change her life all that much after all). I once associated the actor Gaby Hoffmann with cuteness thanks to her youthful appearance in films such as Sleepless in Seattle and Field of Dreams. Now the mention of her name makes me think of a delightfully full thicket after seeing hers twice in one week: first in the film Crystal Fair and the Magical Cactus, and then in Girls.
It would be cheering to think that this turnaround in the fortunes of women’s pubic hair reflected the rise of the fourth wave of feminism, but I suspect something less commendable and more inevitable lies at the heart of this shift. In an article in last week’s New York Times’s Style section, always the bastion of hard-hitting journalistic truths, Marisa Meltzer wrote about the demise of the Brazilian and high bikini waxes and suggested that “the bald look of the Brazilian has become déclassé, more suggestive of a reality television starlet than an organic lifestyle of cold-pressed juice and barre classes”. In other words, Brazilians have gone the way of designer jeans and towering high heels with platforms: they became too successful, were worn by too many tacky types and are therefore no longer considered stylish. A hairless mons pubis simply does not accessorise well with one’s kale, cucumber and pear juice, you see, and kale juice is just so terribly, terribly NOW, you know, what with it being tasteless, sugar-free and overpriced.
Well might you wail at the shallow nature of our world, where some people can see how tacky something is only when the woman who came third on The Apprentice talks about how much she likes it in an interview with Pick Me Up magazine. But at least the tackiness is revealed, however shallow the means.
So what, in the cold light of retrospect, are we to make of bikini and Brazilian waxes now? Are they a Bad Thing, and were women collectively insane to get them? Let’s return to the aforementioned kale juice and its sugar-free qualities. As you may have noticed, there has been a great deal in the press about the dangers of sugar and how we should all go on a “no-sugar diet” immediately or else wake up tomorrow the size of the Gruffalo. The media – and large swaths of the public – like absolutes such as this (no fat! No sugar! No gluten!) because they are more fun than boring truths such as, “Eat everything, but not too much”. The truth is, yes, most of us do eat too much sugar but we also have organs in our body with names such as “liver” and “kidneys” that deal with toxins for us, so unless you suffer from coeliac disease, you don’t need to cut out gluten and, unless you’re a diabetic, you don’t need to monitor every grain of sugar you eat.
This (boring) attitude of moderation can be carried over to pubic hair. It strikes me that telling a woman exactly what she should do with her vaginal bush is about as contrary to the spirit of feminism as bidding for pictures of Lena Dunham’s un-Photoshopped body (hello, feminist website Jezebel). If a woman wants to get waxed before going on a beach holiday, that hardly seems worth a war crimes trial, and ditto if she doesn’t. To say that the only way a mons pubis can be sexy is if it is hairless is both gross and untrue; to say that it must be fully haired up in order to be properly womanly is similarly unhelpfully absolutist. Feminism is about giving women choice, and surely there is no choice more central to the cause than what she does with her vagina. I hope bikini waxes are over in the fashion sense so that women no longer feel they have to get them to appear trendy, but it seems fair enough for them still to exist. So, yes, I declare them Over. But they will always be an option.
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