Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

28 October, 2006

Myths & Misconceptions

(To Part 1, Part 2.)

One woman in "The Trouble With My Vagina" who refuses to have any pubic hair explained this attitude by saying "it's just more hygienic for it to be groomed". But is it? What ill-health effects are to be had by keeping your pubic hair? None, apparently. The following is in the 1994 edition of The American Medical Association Family Medical Guide:

Many women regularly remove hair from certain areas, and most men shave their faces daily. Hair is usually removed if it is considered unsightly. Whether hair is unsightly or not is a matter of personal preference. Removal of unwanted hair is unlikely to improve hygiene or health.

Indeed, waxing can be harmful. Marian Segal wrote in the 1996 FDA Consumer that “waxing—and tweezing as well—can leave the skin sore and open to infection”. The hair on women's heads is (generally) longer and denser than pubic hair, yet it is not considered unhygienic. Is there something in our psyches that equates genitalia and its surrounds with uncleanliness that is at play here?

Later in the program, Scarlet editor Sarah Hadley says:

Because we are sexually open, there will always be side effects to anything positive that happens and because we're so sexually open, women are watching a lot of pornography now. We're looking at women's vaginas and saying, 'Oh! That's a nice vagina, that looks incredibly symmetrical and neat and mine doesn't look like that. And so, as soon as a woman has an insecurity, there's an entire multi-million dollar industry ready to cash in on that insecurity. It's happening now.

A doctor interviewed in the program had this to say:

Part of me just thinks that it's a problem that women are creating for women, ah, simply because I don't know a man who's ever been put-off by the site of somebody's vulval area. By the time they get that far, they're grateful to have gotten as far as they've got.

One woman causing problems for fellow women by cashing in on their insecurities is Marilyn Jaeger, the proprietor of a skincare studio in San Francisco. She's appeared on the radio show-cum-podcast, Sex With Emily a couple times hawking her services and promoting the total removal of pubic hair. These two dyed-in-the-wool fanatics of hairless crotches sound like an infomercial together.

Emily: So Marilyn, what can a Brazilian wax do for me?

Jaeger: Well Emily, after having a Brazilian, you'll instantly attract men and get laid every night!

If you think I'm just being funny, then read these actual quotes from the Hairless Duo:

Emily: "Tonight we're talking to Marilyn Jaeger, who is one of my personal heroes, because Marilyn put Brazilian bikini waxing on the map. She's the first one who did that little stripper strip mound of hair to me several years ago and she changed my life."

Jaeger: "I brought Brazilian bikini waxing to the Bay Area – nobody knew what it was. I've been doing it for 13 years…I have fans all over the world. I walk into a restaurant and five guys are bowing on the floor because I take care of their wives."

Emily: "Married people probably need Brazilians more than straight
[sic] because married people don't have sex and they wanna start having sex."
Jaeger: "Absolutely."

Jaeger: "When I'm doing their eyebrows and they're telling me these stories
[about lack of sex in their marriages], inside I'm all , 'Girlfriend, drop your drawers – I will take care of you and your husband will not leave you alone."

Jaeger: "I have clients who are the biggest prudes in the world and they're so shy and embarrassed. And then they get their Brazilian and they strut out of my salon like they are the hottest thing on this planet."

And these quotes are just from the first few minutes of the first time Jaeger was on the show. Listen for yourself.

Like a snake oil peddler, Jaeger assures listeners that their sex lives will be enhanced or even risen from the ashes like the Phoenix after she removes most or all of their pubes. The implication here is that pubic hair is sole to blame instead of seeing that a couple's sex life is influenced by a myriad of factors. This puffery (at best) or lying (at worst) wouldn't be so bad on its own, but she never misses a beat in trying to make folks who prefer to retain their pubic hair feel inadequate and downright ugly. Her refrain is "You've gotta mow the lawn to sell the house". First of all, having your pubes yanked out is not mowing; it's ripping up the sod. Secondly, why is this all about selling the house? Jaeger constantly warns (threatens?) listeners that, if they have pubic hair, potential sexual partners will flee in terror. And so it seems that for her, if your self-image is just fine with hair between your legs, then there is something wrong with you, you're not part of the "in" crowd, and so you'd best ditch that positive self-image.

In " The Brazilian Wax: New Hairlessness Norm for Women?", Magdala Peixoto Labre takes a look at the Brazilian Wax, which is generally understood to be a treatment whereby all hair between a woman's legs is removed excepting a small patch on the Mons Veneris - the "landing strip". As Labre notes, the fad of the Brazilian is thought to have started, not in Brazil, but in New York by the J. Sisters – seven Brazilian sisters whose names all begin with the letter "J". They supposedly learned the technique from their aunt's beauty salon in Brazil and brought it to America. Labre shows how the procedure has been promoted by magazines aimed at women as well as by the TV show Sex and the City. But the most interesting section is when she tries to inform readers about what the media left out of its frenzy of promotion.

In promoting the Brazilian wax trend, the media failed to question whether the procedure was, in fact, espoused by a majority of Brazilian women. Although I was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro and visit the country regularly (at least once a year), I had never heard of the Brazilian wax procedure until it became popular in the United States a few years ago. Growing up in Brazil, my friends and I did go to beauty salons for a regular bikini wax, not a Brazilian wax. In searching the Web sites of Brazilian beauty salons, I have found that some do offer a more extensive bikini wax (referred to as “virilha cavada”, or deeper bikini line)—for women who wear smaller bikinis. However, few bikinis are small enough to require the complete removal of hair.

According to Pello Menos Depilation Institute, which has 13 clinics in Rio de Janeiro, the complete removal of pubic and anal hair is referred to in Brazil by its scientific name, “tricotomia” (response to e-mail request for information, August 22, 2001). It is a procedure that is usually performed on pregnant women right before they give birth. According to Pello Menos Institute, because the Brazilian wax procedure requires specialized training, it is not offered by many Brazilian salons. However, the institute noted that its clinics do offer this service, which is now becoming popular among Brazilian women.

It seems that The Brazilian Wax was not a fad in the country for which it is named but was instead an American creation that was exported later. She also touches on what I mentioned previously about pornography being a model. Labre notes:

…the disappearance of pubic hair among Playboy models. Although there is anecdotal evidence that this has occurred, this phenomenon has not been the topic of research. In our society, Playboy models often are the first images of female beauty to which boys are exposed. The consumption of these images may contribute to adolescent boys’ conception of what a female body should look like and generate dissatisfaction with women’s bodies. For example, a study of male college students found that those exposed to pictures of Playboy and Penthouse centerfolds subsequently described their girlfriends as less sexually appealing (Signorielli 1993).

Perhaps this explains my own personal preference for women having their pubes. I hit puberty in the first half of the 1980s back when Playboy models, although neatly trimmed, still had hair between their legs. I guess I really just don't know. I would also hazard to guess that my attitude towards women's body hair generally was shaped, at least in part, when I was in high school. A friend's parents were hippies right out of the 1960s. In the 70s, they took the notion of "getting back to the land" to heart and moved to a very small farm here in Wisconsin. Unsurprisingly, my friend's mom didn't shave her underarms or legs. I don't recall my initial reaction but I suppose it was just one of curiosity as she was different. As time went on, it became a non-issue as I simply recognized her as a woman who refused to conform to society's norm of female beauty. I think that, because of this experience, I tend to view women who refuse to depilate one area of their body or another as being non-conformists or rebels in their own little way. And this quality of not simply following the herd is one I respect greatly.

"The Brazilian Wax: New Hairless Norm for Women?" – Magdala Peixoto Labre
"Caucasian Female Body Hair and American Culture" - Christine Hope
"The Hairless Ideal – Women and Their Body Hair" – Susan A. Basow
"Women and Body Hair – Social Perceptions and Attitudes" – Susan A. Basow and Amie C. Braman
"The Hairless Norm: The Removal of Body Hair in Women" – Marika Tiggemann and Sarah J. Kenyon
"Attitudes Toward Women's Body Hair: Relationship with Disgust Sensitivity" – Marika Tiggemann and Christine Lewis
"Body hair removal: the 'mundane' production of normative femininity" – Merran Toerien, Sue Wilkinson, Precilla Y.L. Choi
"Who decided women should shave their legs and underarms?" – The Straight Dope
Sex With Emily - podcast
The Madison Public Library (Libraries rock!!)

Pictures found at:
Vintage Paper Ads
Hippie Goddess

For some interesting discussion on this topic, I recommend the following blog entries:

"Buffing the Teen Beaver" - I Blame the Patriarchy
"To Shave or Not to Shave" - an eighth
"Taking 'parental consent' to a whole new level" - Feiminste
|| Palmer, 2:00 PM


Ah, very nicely done. There are so many great lines that you have here. I am jealous.
Blogger Suzanne, at 12:12 AM  

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