Trimming the bushes? How 2001.

The fashion in female hairlessness returns to pre-Brazilian times


Photo illustration by Sarah MacKinnon

Last week American Apparel set Twitter afire with news that mannequins at its Lower East Side store in New York now boast a healthy thatch of pubic hair. The merkins, evident through sheer lingerie, are intended to convey the “rawness and realness of sexuality,” a company rep said. But in making pubes public, the eager-to-shock retailer is decidedly lagging pubic-hair fashion, a topic given a thorough airing earlier this month when Cameron Diaz endorsed going au naturel in The Body Book: The Law of Hunger, the Science of Strength, and Other Ways to Love Your Amazing Body. One section of the book, titled “In praise of pubes,” extols the hair surrounding “that glorious, delicate flower of yours,” calling it “a pretty draping that makes it a little mysterious to the one who might be courting your sexiness.”

Removing it all is a recent fad, Diaz posits incorrectly (in fact, Egyptian women applied a toxic poultice of arsenic, starch and quicklime for statuary smoothness). Permanent laser removal, the 41-year-old writes, is “a crazy idea?.?.?.?your labia majora is not immune to gravity,” before asking: “Do you really want a hairless vagina for the rest of your life?”

One assumes Diaz (or her ghostwriter) meant “vulva,” not “vagina,” because otherwise the answer is a resounding “Yes!” But it’s a common error in a culture that uses the term “va-jay-jays.” Likewise, Diaz’s pubic-hair advocacy reflects a larger pendulum swing from the waxed Barbie-doll aesthetic. Last year, self-appointed taste-arbiter Gwyneth Paltrow admitted “I rock a ’70s vibe” on The Ellen Degeneres Show, a 180-degree swing from her cheerleading in the ’90s for the all-bare Brazilian introduced to New York City by the J Sisters salon. The mainstreaming of porn, where shorn shrubbery helps display the machinery, is routinely credited (or blamed) for hairlessness. But it was celebrities, including Paltrow and model Naomi Campbell, raving about their $75 monthly J Sisters visit that made it a fashion statement. Women who didn’t comply were mocked, seen in the 2001 movie Lovely and Amazing, in which Emily Mortimer played an actress who asked for a full-body critique from her lover: “The bush needs a trim,” he tells her. Mortimer reported men would shout to her in the street: “Do something about that bush, girl.” Such directives underlined the hair-removal industry: “Mow the lawn!” a 2009 Schick ad barked.

By 2010, strip malls boasted waxing salons and fashion was getting bored with the denuded look. Vogue fawned over Betty, “colour for the hair down there,” a dye in 10 hues that suggested there was hair down there. The cutting-edge British fashion magazine Love featured nude models on its cover, including Campbell, all with pubic hair. Suddenly, pubic hair’s presence, not absence, was risqué. The shocked response echoed that to Goya’s Maja Desnuda, viewed as pornographic in 1800 for showing female pubic hair.

So it wasn’t surprising that a 2013 poll of nearly 2,000 women by a U.K. online pharmacy found 51 per cent don’t “style or groom their pubic hair”; 45 per cent can “no longer be bothered to keep up the grooming”; 62 per cent said their partner “prefers the natural look.” In part, the Brazilian blowback is practical. It’s expensive; it can lead to infections; it summons pain that Christopher Hitchens likened to “being tortured for information that you do not possess” when he underwent a “Boyzillian” for Vanity Fair.

Women’s refusal to return to their prepubescent state also reflects a defiance seen in Caitlin Moran’s seven-page appreciation of pubic hair in How to be a Woman: “Lying on a hammock, gently finger-combing your Wookie whilst staring up at the sky is one of the great pleasures of adulthood.” Pubic hair’s return also eliminates creepier by-products of hairlessness: “vajazzling” and comparing nether regions, which gave rise to labia envy, “labia loathing,” and the market for cosmetic labiaplasty. Now we get to watch ad agencies court women by celebrating pubic diversity; last fall, the U.K.’s Mother London staged a “Project Bush” photo exhibit of 93 “London lady gardens in all their variety.” After that, American Apparel’s bid to play the trump card is strictly bush league.


Trimming the bushes? How 2001.

    • LOL!

  1. Definitely prefer the natural look (maybe with a little trimming for neatness). Hairless, to me, seems a bit pedophilic…

    • A BIT pedophilic?

      Anyway, impressed that you two guys are the only two to comment so far. LOL, two men’s opinions on women’s body hair. I find the history of female hair removal fascinating — says a lot about a society, whether they can accept hair on a woman or not. So far this century, we’re not doing very well with the old acceptance. When did this all start, the removal of female body hair anyway?

      Oh, and Lainey Lui covered the difference/Diaz mistake of the vagina/vulva distinction a good two weeks ago, Anne Kingston.

      • Okay…..nobody should shave their legs, everybody should shave their armpits, and anybody who shave/waxes nether regions need their heads read.

        On edit: I mean men too

        • LOL: “defuzz” legs everyday, and ditto the old armpits. Nether regions: like Gwyneth, women should “rock a Seventies vibe.” Wax and blades lead to blood and pain — and who needs that?! Just braid ’em up nice, maybe put beads on the ends of the braids like Bo Derek … hahaha.

          • Each individual should do what they want to do although the waxing of the pubic hair can cause a very painful condition called folliculitis as those curly hairs become ingrown and infected. Not pretty!

          • Yes, I believe Emily and I were just feeling a shared imperious urge to share grooming “notions” for a brief, gaudy moment. Or something; do forgive us. And to your comment, I say — and WORSE than not pretty…

          • If I go the Bo Derek route will I be considered a ’10’ – asking for a friend.

          • Yes, and you’ve long been a 10 in your comments here. Replying for a friend …

  2. At first I thought this would be a good time for MacLeans to inject some photos into such a newsworthy article.
    Then I see words like vulva and labia tossed around, and what the hell is a labiaplasty ? Then I see where Christopher Hitchens cried like a baby when he had some hair pulled off his nethere. Them I read the comment section and ………..Nah, I don`t think I wanta see any pictures.

    • A labiaplasty is a kind of ratcheting up everything to it’s original condition or better – think Joan Rivers lips.

      • Yeah, it’s just one more way to make women feel insecure and abnormal, isn’t it? Like, how many people are going to be seeing that, and won’t those lucky, chosen few just be happy to be there? Truly, we have passed all semblance that anything is personal anymore — not only did Gwyneth discuss her landscaping choices, but now I’m commenting on a public (pubic?) forum…

        • “Like how many people are going to be seeing that..”
          There is the catch…a person’s allure and popularity will supposedly increase if they just make themselves more attractive, including in their pubic area. That people buy into this scam is why the fashion and cosmetic industry is worth trillions of dollars yearly.

          • I wonder if they have celebrity styles to choose from?

      • Now I’m picturing a woman going to her surgeon and saying, “Gimme Joan Rivers’ lips … but not on my face (nudge wink).” oh no

      • Actually labiaplasty isn’t about making go back to what it what was originally (assuming you are referring to vaginal ‘tightness’) it’s about cosmetic surgery of the labia majora and minora, usually making the labia minor (the ‘inner’ lips) smaller as not everyone’s tuck neatly within the labia majora.

  3. Well, I for one am a fan of personal grooming. Especially for women. I’m sorry, but rampant body hair is just so… so… caveman.
    And the day my wife quits shaving is the day I quit performing cunilingulus. The choice is hers.

    • I don’t understand this. Why would you deny yourself that pleasure just because of a little hair? I mean, seriously, if you care for her, being able to make her scream, squirm, and beg for something that much is.. ..I don’t know the right word.. something that combines gratifying and empowering.

      Unless she doesn’t, I guess. In which case I’d suggest you look up some techniques.

    • You must not be doing it very often, because hair grows back pretty quickly. And it’s quite prickly to the face when it does.

  4. I imagine Gwenyth Paltrow got fed up with dealing with ingrown hairs. Not pleasant.