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Friday, September 24, 2021

Carpets and drapes

Before a night out, I spend a lot more time in the shower. No, I’m not shampoo-rinse-repeating. I’m shaving.

My complaint is nothing new — as far as I know, no woman actually enjoys the process of hair removal. Sometimes, it can be downright painful. Still, for all the laments about razor burn, ingrown hairs, Nair-induced rashes, stubble and wax burns, nobody ever seems to wonder why we go through with this so often.

Many women will complain that men are to blame. If we don’t shave, they don’t find us attractive, so we go through with it to make them happy. This may be partially true, but it doesn’t explain those hot summer days when a girl wears jeans because she forgot to shave for a few days. It also doesn’t account for lesbian and bi couples with smooth underarms. We shave because we feel our best, our most attractive, when we’re appropriately smooth — even if our inner feminists don’t agree. This means the issue goes well past the desires of men.

Female hair removal, especially in the armpits and on the legs, is so ingrained in our society that not doing so for an extended period of time is almost taboo. Interestingly enough, body hair removal in the United States was not common until the early 20th century when sleeveless dresses became popular. An onslaught of advertisements insisted that underarm hair was unsightly and unhygienic, and the first women’s razors and depilatories were sold in the early 1920s.

Leg hair remained a non-issue until hemlines began to rise and sheer stockings became fashionable around World War II. Once again, hair-removal companies jumped on the chance to expand their consumer base, and pin-up girls like Betty Grable popularized the notion that leg hair was just as unseemly as armpit fuzz.

And that’s not the first time sex has motivated hair removal practices. More recently, partial to full pubic hair removal has become the norm for young Americans. Most famous is the “Brazilian,” in which the entire vulvar-anal area is waxed, usually leaving only a “landing strip” of hair in front. Though it was introduced in 1987 by the J. Sisters Salon in Manhattan, the style remained rare until 2000, when an episode of “Sex and the City” popularized the term and the practice.

Around the same time, the internet began providing young people with an endless stream of free, easily accessible porn. Gone were the days of secretly looking through Playboy at the natural vulvas of the ’80s — online porn was the new source for the tech-savvy youth of America, and the Brazilian was the trend of the new millennium. Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a full bush on PornHub, unless you specifically searched for videos featuring this newfound “fetish.”

The hairless trend has even jumped genders. Many guys who previously only had to worry about facial hair are now “manscaping” their pubic hair, as well. Some simply trim, while others shave completely, often for the benefit of gaining visual length.

Despite having already admitted to maintaining my own hair-down-there, there are some aspects of pubic hair removal that disturb me. First is the widespread belief that a bald vulva is healthier and cleaner than a natural one. There are no health benefits to removing pubic hair unless you have terrible hygiene (or a susceptibility to pubic lice). In fact, hair surrounding the vagina functions to trap bacteria and prevent infection.

Second is the oral sex question. Many cunnilinguists feel entitled to a perpetually smooth woman, and are disgusted by the thought of going down on anyone whose vulva appears post-pubescent. To them, I say: get over it. Men and women have dealt with a pubic hair or two in their mouths for centuries. You can, too. Or if you remain insistent, be ready and willing to shave yourself to the same extent that you’d prefer your partner to.

Many of the decisions we make about our bodies are pre-determined by social norms. I’m not suggesting that body hair removal is ultimately a bad thing, or that this should be an off-the-table conversation between sexual partners. I’m simply hoping that you take a moment to consider your motives the next time you’re taking a particularly long shower, and to make sure your shaving habits are not merely for the sake of someone else’s preferences.

Whether you choose to go au natural or completely smooth, your body hair (or lack thereof) should make you feel as comfortable and sexy as possible.

MARISA MASSARA loves beavers and bald eagles alike. She can be reached at mvmassara@ucdavis.edu.

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