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Oddly enough, I feel a little nostalgic when I think about hair removal. I’ll never forget my first time. Probably because when it comes to firsts, an unsolicited Brazilian bikini wax is a difficult thing to forget. In fact, if I had to make a list of core-shattering experiences that shaped the future of my womanhood, I’d put “surprise Brazilian” right after “first orgasm” and “figuring out the tampon.”
When I moved to New York at the turn of the century, the Brazilian bikini wax was as de rigueur as low-rise jeans. Gwyneth Paltrow was extolling the virtues of the J Sisters (the purveyors of the Brazilian bikini wax in America) to anyone who’d listen, and entire episodes of Sex and the City were dedicated to it. What I didn’t know, however, was that taking it all off had become standard practice in Manhattan salons. When I visited a local nail spa for a routine bikini wax, what resulted was a spontaneous Brazilian at the hands of a brutally expedient aesthetician. I left shell-shocked, wondering if I had crossed some imaginary line of propriety that good girls with master’s degrees and pearl earrings weren’t meant to blur.
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Once home, I gingerly removed my pants to examine the results. I hadn’t seen that much of myself in nearly two decades, and the effect was oddly mesmerizing. I silently wore my bare area like a badge of honour. It turned everything society and physiology held to be true on its head: The bare mons of my preteen youth was the ultimate indicator of my womanhood. I had never felt more like a woman: clean, smooth, bold and...proud.
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Last spring, when the full-bush trend began to sprout in popular culture, I found it disconcerting. Was I really expected to casually sport an unruly thicket of hair, like Gaby Hoffmann did on Girls? The winter issue of Candy featured a hirsute Lady Gaga on the cover, and in January, American Apparel displayed mannequins in merkins in its downtown Manhattan storefront—proving that this trend was, indeed, moving into the mainstream. Long-time Brazilian supporters are starting to waver too. Paltrow copped to “working a ’70s vibe” on The Ellen DeGeneres Show last spring, and Cameron Diaz, who told U.K. television host Graham Norton in 2012 that she once forcefully pinned down a friend and trimmed her wild pubic hair (allegedly it was Paltrow), published The Body Book in January of this year admonishing the practice. In a chapter entitled “In Praise of Pubes,” she celebrates what she calls “pretty little draping” and lashes out at laser hair removal: “I think permanent laser hair removal sounds like a crazy idea. Forever? I know you may think you’ll be wearing the same style of shoes forever and the same style of jeans forever, but you won’t.”
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That pubic-hair grooming points to the zeitgeist of any particular moment isn’t surprising. Just look at Playboy throughout the decades and you’ll see that circa 1970s bunnies liked to match the curtains to the drapes (both fluffy afros), whereas those of the turn of the millennium preferred blowouts and bareness. Dr. Vivienne Cass, a Western Australia-based sex therapist and author of The Elusive Orgasm, says that although there are no studies to support the hypothesis that porn has dictated how women groom their pubic hair, there is an unmistakable correlation. “Heterosexual males who watch enormous amounts of Internet porn and absorb images of what they see as part of their own sexual development present such images to the women in their lives,” she says. “Male preferences can easily become translated into expectations that women take on for themselves.”
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Did any one particular man shape my tendencies for how I wear my pubic hair? Not directly, but I’m sure the collective push for less bush influenced me. In my pre-Brazilian days, I watched a scene in a spoof film of a guy taking a weed whacker to his girlfriend’s untamed pubic hair. I hoped that the boyfriend watching with me didn’t think it related to him. I’m not saying that Scary Movie 2 forced me to rethink my pubes, but I’m not denying it either.
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The male influence on women’s personal grooming is being considered. Creative agency Mother London launched a campaign called “Project Bush” last October with the aim of rebranding feminism. Its target: porn. “The proliferation of Internet porn over the past 10 years has created a generation of women and men who think that the only way to be sexy is to have no pubic hair,” says Liam Fay-Fright, communications director for Mother London. Project Bush’s goal was to “take back the bush,” he says, and involved inviting women from all walks of life to anonymously have their pubic area photographed and exhibited. But even he admits that part of how we wear our hair down there is as contingent on trend as any other hairstyle. “We wax and wane on what we consider beautiful,” says Fay-Fright. “Ten years ago, shaved was the niche in porn; now the niche in porn is for a full bush.”
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Like an LBD or a classic bob, some things are less about fashion and more about everlasting style. Jessica Frampton and Florence Gaven-Rossavik, the owners of Fuzz Wax Bar, which has two locations in Toronto, say that the Brazilian is still their most popular service, but demand for modification, like leaving a “landing strip” or a triangle of hair, is growing. “Even when they’re not taking it all off, clients are still coming in for routine cleanups along the sides, and trims,” says Frampton. In New York salons, the “full-bush Brazilian” is the new thing. It consists of removing the hair from the backside and labia while letting it grow free on top, in a reverse-mullet style. (Though one could argue that when it comes to that body region, the business and the party are interchangeable.) Whatever you want to call it, the fact remains that “[women are] definitely not shifting to a completely au naturel look,” adds Frampton.
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And neither am I. From time to time, I still go in for the full bushwhacking (!!) because I want to and I like it, and, as a friend once pointed out, it makes me feel like my skinny jeans fit better. I may let the roots on my head peek through, but not my roots down there. It’s something that I will continue to do, just for me and my mons.
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