Dr. Emily Gibson, the medical director of the health center at Western Washington University, is calling for an end to the war on pubic hair. That means no more brazilian waxes, no more vajazzling, no more depilatories or electrolysis. While I understand her concerns about the widespread cultural trend of hairless genitalia, I think the doctor might be magnifying the issue. After all, your vagina is your vagina.
Dr. Gibson explains that microscopic cuts in the skin left by waxing or shaving might leave you more vulnerable to STDs and other infections, including abscesses, boils and cellulitis (Ew). She says:
“Pubic hair does have a purpose, providing a cushion against friction that can cause skin abrasion and injury, and protection from bacteria. It is the visible result of adolescent hormones and certainly nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.”
Do you feel embarrassed about your pubic hair? I wouldn’t say I’m embarrassed, exactly, but I do prefer having less pubic hair. I’ve gotten quite a few Brazilian waxes in my time and I stopped not for health concerns, but because they’re so damn expensive. But I think of lot of women my age feel the same way about their hair down there: we’ve grown up in a culture that idealizes smooth, hairless, waxed women (thanks to the rise of the porn industry and debateably, the influences of Carrie Bradshaw, Barbie, and Hugh Hefner). It’s what we’re used to and what we feel comfortable with (some of us, at least).
The thing is, this isn’t necessarily news. I got my first Brazilian wax in 2003, the summer after I graduated from high school: a full nine years ago. This is a cultural trend that’s been going on for ages, so I’m not sure why Dr. Gibson (who, as the head of a university health center, should be pretty on top of what the young’uns are doing) is speaking out about this now.
Granted, the health concerns she brings up are perennial, although apparently the risk of infection after waxing or shaving is minimal. She also points out the large amount of money people spend on pubic grooming, a number that reportedly reached $2.1 billion in the United States last year:
“The amount of time, energy, money and emotion both genders spend on abolishing hair from their genitals is astronomical.”
I’m sure that if you wanted to, you could spend the money you spend on waxing on something else. But I think that what Dr. Gibson is missing here is that this isn’t only a simple trend, a way to get consumers to spend money, or a way to please sexual partners: women are doing this because it makes them feel better about themselves and their bodies. Is it weird that some women feel better about themselves when they have hairless vaginas? Sure, I guess so. Is some of that a result of cultural pressure? Undoubtedly. Are women smart enough to make their own decisions about whether to have a “full bush” or a “full Brazilian?” Yep.
The elimination (or lessening, as it may be) of pubic hair is a beauty standard of our time, just as powdered wigs were a beauty standard during colonial times, or beards and facial hair were de rigeur for men during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Maybe all of our waxed nether regions will strike future generations as strange and barbaric, but they might be equally as taken aback by Lady Gaga’s cloven hoof shoes and all of our crazy nail art, as well. I just don’t see waxing or shaving pubic hair as some kind of dire cultural situation that women need to be saved from.
Dr, Gibson thinks that it’s “time to declare a truce in the war on pubic hair and allow it to stay right where it belongs.” I think you should do whatever you want: wax it, shave it, trim it, let it grow wild (although, if you do remove the hair in some way, just make sure you’re using clean, disinfected tools in that sensitive area). It’s your body and you should be comfortable with it. Because honestly, what you do with your hair down there is only your business—no one else’s.