Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Girls From Ipanema

Here's another women's health post - so the squeamish types should click out now.

On the local news tonight, a report about the latest scourge - er - trend among young women: The Brazilian.

Now, in the grand local news tradition, this trend isn't new. At all. But according to the report, it has been growing exponentially in popularity in the past few years. Rather than use the words "complete removal of pubic hair, no really, we mean complete," the news opted for the slightly less cringe-inducing "hairless look."

They even found a woman "hair removal client" to talk about why she favors the frequent, painful process. And she didn't mind talking about it. Wonder if she asked her mom and her boss to watch a different station tonight.

Focusing on the youth angle - how high school girls are a growing salon constituency - the new report chose to head to Berkeley to interview the young 'ens. Those of you thinking that Berkeley = underarm hair, oh, so wrong you are.

One girl said she thought it was popular because girls' partners prefer it - "it's a trend." One intellectual wonder of a student said hairless girls were "cleaner" and their brazilians show they try to "take care of their bodies." "I'm just not attracted to hair," said another young fellow. Never mind that the on-screen doctor stated hair is - wait for it - there for a reason. Down there, it's for protection and lubrication. Never mind that lasering or waxing can lead to burns, injuries, in-grown hairs, or - I kid you not, he said this - HERPES OUTBREAKS. The boys like it. Hair is gross. Boys like girls who follow trends! Trends to make them clean! One wonders who implied to them that unshaven/plucked/waxed girls never bathed.

I certainly have many girl friends who have fallen prey to this foolishness (I love you all, but I think you're nuts). Many of them will say that they just feel better themselves, that it has nothing to do with partners or potential partners or magazines or TV shows or expectations. Except I don't believe that. Maybe it's true to a certain extent. Or maybe it's just one of those cognitive dissonance things: I'm doing this, it MUST be for a good reason. But the partner-pressure is there. Or at least the fear of that pressure. Even if it isn't discussed, there's the concern that it might be expected. And better not take the chance of offending him by being . . .well, by appearing to be over the age of 12.

Over at Amber's blog, there's always a lot of banter about gender interaction: are covered Muslim women expressing their faith or being bullied by misogynistic men? Are men who tell women to smile being condescending or complimentary. Well, I would add this question to the mix: are women who undergo painful procedures to make their adult genitals appear pre-adolescent really doing it for themselves? Have we slouched so far from enlightenment that we blithely ascribe to just one gender a presumption of filth? Why would you want to look less like a woman and more like a girl - and why would you want a man who wants you to look more like a girl? The burning? The ripping? The itching between waxings? Tell me ladies, who has time to vilify Cosmo for forcing us to purge or starve when we're so busy mutilating our selves in our spare time?

At least Muslim headscarves have a legitimate connection to an organized religion. This "trend" should end. Now.


Anonymous said...

This "trend" isn't just for women anymore. The real cutting edge news is how many guys (gay and straight) are embracing the bald is beautiful look. It is less invasive for men but some of the same motivations must be at work. Youth obsession? Anti-French? Porn copycat? I'm not really sure.

Anonymous said...

I've heard about the whole manscaping thing. For some extraordinarily hair men, yeah, it's might be a good idea (I'm talking copious, pop out the collar and cuff body hair tyoes), but most men are fine naturally, even if they're a bit furry.

And when manscaped men start growing back, ouch - feel the burn. Scruffy is painful boys and girls.

I think the trend for both sexes is ridiculous. Legs, brows, armpits, fine. Past that, unless you have really, really excessive body hair, leave well enough alone and tell the porn-obsessed whomevers to get over it.

And if it's "youth obsession" then the trend signals some really bad things. It's okay to want to be young - but hairless genitals don't honor the 18 and flirty out there - they mimic children. Children should not be sexualized, nor their appearance copied and forwarded as the new sexy.

Anonymous said...

Can you really draw a principled distinction between "Legs, brows, armpits" and the pubic area? I think not. Hair removal from those areas, not to mention a man's face each morning, does nothing more than make one look younger. If that's the problemn with "hairless genitals" then how can you defend these other acts while condeming the former?

cd said...

Easily, it seems, since I have done so throughout this string.

Perhaps it's just cultural tradition which allows the distinction - but I would argue that in current cultural landscape, there is a much closer tie between hairless genitals - and why the scare quotes, you would rather I say "shaved" or clear cut or what? - and underage girls than between shaven legs and underage girls.

Anonymous said...

It's a slippery slope. For example, are bikini waxes that aren't Brazilian ok? What about chemical depilatories? What about refusing to go out in a bething suit because of your harriness? Which woman is a bigger victim?

Anonymous said...

No, not slippery at all. Cleaning up the edges - much like a brow wax - doesn't render the whole thing bare.

Chemical depilatories if applied to the entire area gives you the same result as waxing, so that's the same.

Applied to the edges so everything stays inside the swimsuit is the same as a bikini wax, so the method here isn't the madness.

If women are victims, it's at their own hands, so I don't feel wholly bad for them. However it is ENTIRELY within their power to say hell no to the immature, scardy cat, seen too much porn, listened to too much locker room talk, jerk she's dating who insists on such things because otherwise she's dirty or smelly or whatever foolish lie-of-a-reason he offers.

So again - I see no problem at all distinguishing between leg and genital waxing, nor between the brailizian and your average bikini line trim.

Prune if you'd like, but save the mowing for the grass.

Anonymous said...

I saw that report too, Channel 7. I found it disturbing. Although I really enjoyed the Cal student who said he thinks a woman is cleaner when bare - how ignorant. That hair, of all hair on a woman's body, is there for good reasons (all listed in the report and your post). I would never wax of my pubes. It must hurt even more for a woman. And I prefer my partner to be identifiably not a 10 year old girl.

JB said...

SO SO BAD...BUT I couldn't resist.

Deep down Christiana I guess your just a big fan of Bush.

Sorry sorry sorry.

Anywho, my retinas are burning as I type this ;-). Personal opinion...trimmed is best, not bare, not jungle...trimmed....But there that's way too much already.

Bet you didn't think I'd comment on this one.

Anonymous said...

Eww. Eww. Eww.

I hadn't thought one way or the other, however, now I wish I had hoped that you wouldn't comment.

Of course, what is most offensive about your comment is that you used "your" instead of "you're." But I'll let it go.

Don't want to lose the forest for the . . . nevermind . . . .

Fitz-Hume said...

CD, you say you have made a distinction between trimming and waxing and between pubic hair and leg and underarm hair, but I don't see this distinction explained anywhere in this thread, only asserted. You've drawn a line, but it's an arbitrary one. How is waxing your legs to look more youthful and attractive acceptable, but waxing your pubic hair is not? Both are done purely for aesthetic reasons. More importantly, why is trimming your bikini line okay, but waxing your bikini area is somehow only the product of pressure from men to look like a child? You say that there's a reason for the line drawing, but you've not explained that reason. The line you've drawn seems to me based purely on your personal preference for what is acceptable and what's not.

Also, why are you so quick to dismiss the notion that a woman might choose on her own to wax her pubic area? That seems like such a paternalistic view of women, and that's odd coming from a feminist. Feminism is about the freedom to make choices, right?

Finally, it is very insulting and narrow minded to presume that all men who like the sight of a woman's shaved pubic area are either porn-fed perverts or pedophiles at heart. Are women who enjoy bare men also pedophiles? Frankly, I like a woman bare because I love seeing her naughty bits rather than a tangled mass of hair - it's a visual turn on and it makes oral sex much more enjoyable. I don't find anything erotic about a girl-child, but I don't find anything erotic about a clump of hair, either. Having said that, I don't demand waxing from my girlfriend or expect it or try to guilt her into it, nor would I expect anything from her that I would not be willing to do myself. I wasn't raised on porn, I don't use pornography, it's just a personal preference that I think people ought to be permitted to have without close-minded judgments about their motivations.

Anonymous said...

Oh my god, how tiresome is your argument?

I don't really care what women do with their privates since I can pretty much guarantee that I won't be seeing any of them since I'm neither a gynocologist nor a lesbian. Nor a regular watcher of porn, etc.

I don't think I ever asserted that men are out there issuing orders to either wax or no playtime for you. But I think for some younger women, the pressure is there because you have boneheads like the ones interviewed on the news report saying that pubic hair is dirty and its presence implies a general lack of concern over one's body.

I don't think I ever dismissed a woman's choice to wax as she will. I happen to think it's a helluva lot of pain and expense to appease the "eww a hair" contingent of men. Nor have I said that men who prefer bare women are pedophiles.

And if you want to call me closed-minded, then why don't you just surf over to some other website. I've expressed my opinion. I don't run a blawg here and needn't back up my opinion with a clear, legal line of reasoning.

Brazilians and bikini waxes are different in the same way a hair cut and shaving your head are different. I suppose you could argue those are the same as well. How about waxing/plucking one's brows and just ripping them all out and grabbing the eyelashes while you're at it.

All body hair serves a purpose. Arm and leg hair to a lesser extent given our evolution - but hair does grow in the areas most suseptible to heat loss and areas most in need of protection.

If you and your lover enjoy bare gentials - knock yourselves out, I don't care. But it will continue to pain me to see women and men on the news talking about cleanliness and pubic hair and how the two are mutually exclusive.

What, if some people like doing something I'm supposed to withhold my opinion? Blogosphere would be a pretty quite place, wouldn't it?

Shave away Fitz-Hume, but save your accusations of "closed-minded[ness]." If I'm closed-minded, you're WAY too touchy to assume my opinions are a personal affront to you and your sexual proclivities.

Fitz-Hume said...

I'm not trying to be touchy, but the last two sentences of your post say that "This trend should end. Now." So you ARE saying that you care about what other people do. And you do dismiss women's choices, as you so clearly dismissed your friends' choices to wax. You called it foolishness and said they were lying about doing it for themselves.

I'm not trying to attack you, and I don't feel like you attacked me personally, I just wanted to put it out there that men can and do have reasons for liking the bare look other than a fascination with girl-child genitals (which I've never seen EVER) or porn or some misunderstanding about hygiene.

Again, if leg hair and pubic hair are different as you assert, you haven't really explained why that is. I enjoy reading your blog but I disagree with your premise in this post. I hope that doesn't mean I'm not welcome here.

Anonymous said...

You're welcome here if you don't call me closed minded.

Let me clarify further. I think the trend should end. Now. Or soon. But I hardly lay awake nights lamenting the loss of friends' pubic hair. If they want to continue waxing, I'll continue to think they are a bit foolish for doing so. I won't stop hanging out with my friends either. But the trend is a stupid one.

And I do think for the most part, the decision have someone else smear wax on one's genitals, apply muslin, and have it ripped off is frequently tied to having a partner, expecting to get a partner, and being concerned about what a partner might think about your natural state. Largely because of recent pop-cultural attitudes.

Also, I haven't focused solely on the pre-adolescent angle. I've already gone over all the other reasons the practice bothers me - not the least of which, for the 5 millionth time - is the faux-hygeine concerns of ignorant young men perpetuated by i-don't-know-what that leads girls to fear the "eww" reaction from their boyfriends.

Again, prune all you will, but baring all will forever be goofy to me.

Anonymous said...

I think the problem here is that you can condemn this practice in more than one way. One way, on health and education grounds, makes sense. The other, on abstract ickiness grounds, makes much less sense, especially from the social libertarian perspective.

Let's presume for the sake of argument that this waxing is generally done for purposes of sexual pleasure (for both parties). Indeed, this thread is the first I’ve *ever* heard of the practice representing a desire to infantilize women. For better or worse, I’ve heard it discussed many times in my life, and always in the context of tactile sensation.

In that context, I would say that, like many, many modern sexual practices, there are elements of the "unnatural" involved. In this instance, it is hair removal; in another, it might be placing a body part somewhere unusual; in another, it might be putting metal objects through pieces of flesh. Point being, attendant to all of those unnatural acts are significant health risks. And indeed, there is often significant misinformation surrounding such practices; see, e.g., the prevalence of oral and anal sex among teenagers for probably indefensible reasons.

So, do we think all of these practices must be stopped as a general matter? No, because we know that with proper hygiene and safety habits, these practices (though perhaps bizarre, and though as a strictly factual matter unnatural) can be perfectly safe and enjoyable.

To bring it back to my first framing, then, we should definitely condemn the misinformation surrounding the practice, and we shoul condemn the pursuit of such practices by minors - especially to the extent they are most afflicted by the misinformation. But it probably doesn’t make much sense to condemn the practice as a general matter, because it is, in the panoply of weird things people do to themselves for sexual purposes, pretty middle-of-the-road. And once you have maturely addressed the risks, it’s of course a personal choice whether any given person wants to engage in the practice.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I'm violating social libertarian tenets here. I'm not advocating making such practices illegal. Nor restricting salon services based on age.

Whether or not the practice represents a formal infantilization of women, I don't know. But - and while it pains me, a confessed Britney fan to say so - it's hardly arguable that popular cultural enjoys sexualizing young girls (I'm talking the 13 to 17 set, not 9 year olds. Yet, anyway. Unless you count the dolls with which they play . . . .)

Humans have bare genitals before the reach sexual maturity. For many the tactile aspects are the prevailing force. But underscoring the decision and the look - the mysterious underbrush and hidden sexual pleasure organs - is the fact that hairless genitals look more like those of immature girls than of sexually mature women. Disagree if you will. And I'm far from the first person to make such a statement.

Hell, no one in our generation acts their age anymore, why should their genitals look it?

You comments on the health risks involved in many modern sexual practices are spot on. Especially the incredible danger faced by the hordes of kids foolishly led to believe that as long as it isn't intercourse, it isn't sex, nor dangerous, nor something to be saved, avoided, entered into carefully, etc. I blame abstinence only education for a lot of that. Though it's hard to blame any one factor too heavily.

And yes, with proper safety, hygiene, etc, all the practices you list can be safe and enjoyable. I'm not advocating ending them all.

But I still maintain that the practice is a beauty advancement that advances little. It's painful, largely unnecessary, and turns what - for some - was private sexual preference, into something that's expected and the norm.

It's the improper training of young men that I fear. They learn so many stupid things from popular culture these days and it's not getting much better.

Sex writer, blogger, and podcaster Violet Blue has commented frequently on the dangers of modern porn trends to the sexual development and expectations of kids who - in the sex ed vacuum that is the American school these days - take their cues from bad porn. And then there are the girls who, sadly, mold themselves to those expectations.

Anonymous said...

I agree with a lot of what fitz-hume said. I prefer less hair down there on women mainly for tactile reasons. A lot of women don't like kissing guys with beards for similar tactile reasons, and we don't accuse them of wanting to infantilize men.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your thoughtful reply!

First, I agree that more education is definitely the right response.

Second, we have identified, obviously, another dichotomy, which for purposes of sensationalization I will term "pleasure vs. pedophilia." I would say that to the extent waxing is pursued for the former reason rather than the latter, it is basically indistinguishable from many other sexual practices.

However, you may very well be right to suggest that the pedophilic aspects are inextricable from the pleasurable. My hunch is that it's a case-by-case analysis.

I could not agree more that the ideal image of sexuality in this country is dangerously youthful; in fact, I would go so far as to suggest that there are virtually no aesthetic cues left to distinguish the illicit from the acceptable. (See, e.g., The Olsen twins, and how their coming-of-age was clearly nothing more than a formality for many men). In that sense, then, I also agree that waxing can be seen as merely a manifestation of that trend.

What fascinates me about this discussion, though, is that I honestly never thought of the decision to wax or not wax as a "beauty advancement" -- as I stated before, I always thought the idea was tactile rather than artistic. So my question is: why didn't I? Why didn't, so far as I know, any of the people I've ever discussed the practice with? Is it that we tend on balance to be educated? That seems smug. The larger point, though -- that I think some people are genuinely making the choice for decent reasons -- seems worth exploring, to determine what factors go into reducing the abominable aspects of the practice in favor of the acceptable.

Finally, I do agree that it would be bad if waxing became a coercive norm. Although, in a utopian society where 1. everyone is perfectly educated, and 2. the child sexuality elements are absent, I think that waxing qua waxing is probably no worse than a number of other trends that have reached norm levels.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I follow you on the "educated" comment as it relates to my use of "beauty advancement" - and I use the word "advancement" mockingly, obviously.

It's an appearance thing - which also leads to the tactile angle, of course. But over time, many beauty fads have come and gone and likely have related to what people found more pleasing - to they eye and to the hand.

Shaving legs and armpits is or is not fashionable depending on where you are in the world. Earrings, type, number, location, all beauty decisions. Fat or thin? Different worth in different countries/cultures. Corsets? Beauty marks? Hairstyles? Facial hair (beards and mustaches have come and gone from style - handlebar 'staches, soul patches, goatees, etc - and all of THOSE in the right sub group also take on sexual overtones). Breast size? And of course, bikini trimming (landing strip, tortilla chip, brazilian, etc).

All of these things are adopted or dismissed as standards of beauty. In some cultures, more body hair was historically valued because it indicated more European and less native blood. So while it also has touchy feely aspects, as mentioned by several commenters, it's visual too. (And really, isn't it a widely held view that males are a very visually-motivated bunch. Hello, porn? I'm not saying that's bad at all - just that it backs up the beauty aspect of the evaluation).

So, while I don't understand the education aspect, I do think calling the trend a beauty industry one is appropriate as well, because the practice ISN'T solely done with sexual enjoyment in mind (or mutual sexual enjoyment in mind). It's an appearance thing as well.

As is, to borrow an earlier example, piercing. Yes, yes, we all know, wink wink, what a pierced tongue means, har har, except that many girls today don't. They just want to pierce something, and that's a fashionable body part. Same with a lot of tattooing. It's less a statement than it is a following of a trend.

Anonymous said...

I was (I think) theorizing that perhaps, on balance, more educated people make the decision to wax, if at all, for the non-aesthetic reasons.

Upon one or two conversations with my co-workers, today, it seems I may be an outlier. I just have to say, I really never thought of it as an appearance thing. And I'm a male. Perhaps I never thought that one would want to go through anything that potentially painful for anything but the promise of later enjoyment; seems to me that just "looking good" wouldn't be sufficient recompense.

(Talk about naive! Look at the women's shoe market.)

Anonymous said...

I'm a guy, and I have a slight preference for shaved, but I don't think it's just about men and porn, because I saw this movie with two lesbians who were shaved.