The landscape of the ladygarden (since most of the information we’ve gathered about personal pubic grooming seems to be primarily about ciswomen) has been discussed with some bemused head-shaking over the past decade or so, as the prevalence of pornography has increased. What’s the link between the two? Some people are convinced that the bald Brazilian look comes directly from porn actors, whose nether regions are hairless for better viewing purposes. But now, no less of a publication than the New York Times has pronounced it: Hairy bush is back.
But WHERE is it back? This guide to pubic hairstyles of the world is far from comprehensive, but you’d be surprised how little solid information there is about that most delicate of areas and the hair that decorates it.
With American Apparel adding merkins to their mannequins, it makes us wonder about the history of pubic hairstyles in the United States.
The trimming and removal of pubic hair seems to have begun in the US with the invention of the bikini in the 1960s. In 1971, Playboy had the first pictorial spread with glimpses of pubic hair; before that, men’s magazines decorously hid the pubic region entirely. The feminist movement notoriously favored the natural look, and having body hair quickly became associated with the outspoken, pleasure-seeking woman as opposed to the nubile temptress.
A few years later, whether in direct or unconscious backlash, Larry Flynt started publishing the Barely Legal series, and the teen bodies of Brooke Shields and Jodie Foster were eroticized in Pretty Baby and Taxi Driver, respectively. This started a decline in the natural look, and the first Brazilian wax was given in 1987, by a salon in Manhattan.
The bare-down-there preference didn’t really take off until 2000, when Sex and the City featured Brazilians in an episode and suddenly everybody and their favorite porn star wanted one. Pretty soon, ladies all over North America were going completely bald…so much so that it may have caused the extinction of pubic lice.
A study done in 2003 showed that 30% of North American women completely removed their pubic hair, 60% trimmed it, and 10% left it natural. Since then, however, many celebrities are actively speaking about their preference for the ungroomed, and even traveling yogis are sending bikini-line trims the way of the dodo.
The United Kingdom (and Europe)
A recent Daily Mail survey found that 51% of British women leave their pubic areas untouched, and 46% of men interviewed said they preferred it that way. Nice to know, lads! Nonetheless, you don’t see a lot of hairy ladies in the public eye in the UK, which may have more to do with their general decorousness and lack of predilection for discussing bodily functions in public than any real pubic preferences.
The same 2003 study mentioned above showed that, Europe-wide, 10% of women completely removed their pubic hair, 15% trimmed, and 75% left it completely natural. Women in Eastern Europe, France, and Spain are notorious for leaving their armpits and legs unshaved, and one can assume this also extends to the pubic region.
In the history of hair, Catherine de Medici of France was a pubic hair zealot and insisted her ladies-in-waiting wear full hairy bushes, even flipping up their skirts to check. The French court also went in for pubic decorations in their flowing locks, including braided ribbons, dying, and even gilding.
Asia is a pretty big continent, and again, we don’t have comprehensive statistics. However, the Pubicstyle blog quotes a letter from a reader in Japan:
When I was a child, my mother always said to me, “You should hide your pubic hair at the baths or in the changing room. It is good manners.” So I cover up with a towel or people might think I was vulgar. Especially the older generation. But as I say, it is changing because we can get a lot of information about everything. Some Japanese women have been influenced by the TV show Sex And The City. One of my friends told me that she was interested in bikini waxing because she saw it on Sex And The City.
The Encyclopedia of Hair says that the majority of Indian women completely remove their pubic hair, and some anecdotal support states that it may be common for Muslim women to remove not just pubic hair but all hair below the neck. The women of the Turkish seraglio, the Sultan’s household during the Ottoman Empire, used early depilatories (including powdered lime) to melt their body hair and scrape it off with special grooming tools.
Other commenters on Asian pubic hairstyles point out that most Asian women do not show their genital region to anyone but their spouse, and they are less likely to have a high number of sexual partners. This means they wouldn’t have any aesthetic pressure to groom, trim, pluck, or shave, as their spouse would presumably have an idea of what their pubic area looked like.
A 2008 study of Australian university students revealed that 60% removed some or all of their pubic hair, with the biggest predictors of going bare being a habit of watching Sex and the City or Big Brother. Australia’s remotest state acts as a slang term for the triangular pubic fluff: The “map of Tasmania,” as with natural hair on women in the United States, has been associated with “free-spirited” women, feminists, and environmental protesters.
Feral Cheryl, a doll billed as the “anti Barbie,” came with natural body hair, flat feet, and comfortably colorful handknit clothing. Overall, Australians continue to lean more towards hair removal for mainstream situations, however.
A weird historical tidbit
Desmond Morris’ book The Naked Woman mentions an early German anthropologist who visited people living on the Bismarck Archipelago in the South Pacific, where “women wiped their hands on their public hair whenever they were soiled or damp, as we are accustomed to use towels.” Hmm.