By Fiona McKim
Here we are in month who-knows-what of whatever this will all turn out to be. How are you doing? How is your bikini line doing?
I’ll assume your mental airspace is already congested with matters large and small. But if you’d like a diversion from careering between choosing Christmas gifts for friends you probably won't see beyond a laptop screen and full-blown existential dread, let's talk about the hairy bikini line.
Lockdown really shines the spotlight on which bits of your grooming routine you’ve been doing for other people all along. Personally heat styling my hair was swiftly and happily dropped, my skincare routine has never been so extensive (I have mastered the DIY facial) and salon gel manicures transitioned into a DIY file and clear polish, a process I find so gratifying I may never go back.
The biggest surprise has been that despite claiming, and truly believing, I enjoyed wearing makeup “for me” it’s barely come out the drawer save for the odd pre-Zoom eyebrow scribble. And that’s only because, left unfilled, my gappy left arch appears permanently, sneerily raised and I’d like to be unleashed back into society with my relationships in tact.
Otherwise my face has been almost entirely pigment-free and – spoiler alert – it’s been extremely liberating. That’s not to say you can’t genuinely love lipstick and find it cheering in these dour times, everybody's different. The point is this pandemic has cleared the smoke and mirrors between the beauty practises that uplift us and the ones that oppress us, and it’s interesting.
Even more interesting are the bits we preen that other people (mostly) don’t see. I’m talking about body hair, specifically the bikini line.
Why do we prune our bikini lines?
Maybe you're the proud owner of an entirely untitivated bush, or an at-home tidier with professional intervention for holidays only, in which case it’s business as usual. But what about the every six weeks wax woman, staring down the barrel of a rapidly developing situation?
Are you considering the perilous world of intimate shaving or even – clench teeth – letting rip with a home waxing kit? According to Google, search for DIY Bikini Waxing is up 25%, so clearly some brave souls are planning to have a crack (pun very much intended) at their hairy bikini line.
But just as a legally-enforced breather on seeing dull mid-tier acquaintances makes you wonder why you ever agreed to so-so social commitments, could the inability to pay a stranger to whip off your pubic hair offer up another 'what the hell was that all for?' moment.
A brief history of bikini lines
Widespread bikini waxing may be a relatively modern phenomenon (and lets not even start on vajazzling) but body hair as the subject of nonsensical fashion diktats isn’t.
Women have been finding new and toturous methods of intimate grooming since the Egyptians (who used pumice stones) Classical-era Greeks (plucking) and Ancient Turkish women (an alkaline hair-melting concoction called rhusma – think Nair, 3000bc Edition). By the middle ages a full bush was back for fashionable English women, albeit an artificial one to cover de-fuzzed nether regions as a lice-prevention measure. So if you ever wondered what on earth merkins were about, now you know.
Subsequently, the world ping-ponged back and forth telling women ‘be hairy’ or ‘don’t be hairy’ for centuries, until the early 1900s when two things happened: Gillette invented the first razor for women, and clothing started to become skimpier. As hemlines rose and the bikini was born, razor adverts kept up, informing women that their newly exposed flesh must be as smooth and shiny as a baby salmon.
A brief ‘70s pendulum swing dictated that the full bush was actually pretty groovy, baby, but the slippery slope to sleek hairlessness prevailed. This was almost certainly linked to a combination of capitalism - new hair removal technologies to sell, persuasive adverts telling us why we need them - and the early ‘90s waxing explosion, brought to New York’s J salon by a group of Brazilian sisters’ and immortalised in an episode of Sex & The City.
Porn's effect on bikini lines
These days, much is said about the influence of internet pornography, and rightly so.
Although arguably those most impacted are young men and their partners, whose expectations of women’s bodies are shaped by porn well before they come into contact with an actual naked woman. For the rest of us it’s fair to say a slow drip feed of several hard sells, some centuries old, brought us to the point where for many the prospect of going several months without a bikini wax is a source of real panic.
Why it's time to let your garden grow
And so here we are! And look, the point with tending to a hairy bikini line, as with all beauty, is absolutely do it if it makes you feel good. But also, interrogate that choice. The unfairness of the lifelong shave, pluck and rip-athon women are expected to carry out to make our bodies ‘acceptable’ is no secret. And despite articles surfacing every few years claiming The Bush Is Back (usually based on one extremely rich, powerful and conventionally gorgeous celebrity with a token sprout of fuzz) many of us can no more switch off the hardwiring that tells us a hairy bikini line = unattractive than the even more insidious one that says we should all constantly strive to be a dress size smaller.
We can’t help how we’ve been conditioned, but we can acknowledge that conditioning and consider trying something different.
With no waxing appointments forthcoming and no holidays on the near horizon, why not have a go at letting your garden grow? Just to see what its like. You don’t have to go full 1970s bush, maybe just a little fuzziness round the sides, a trim length but fuller shape, whatever you fancy. This is about choice and embracing an opportunity for some very low-stakes grooming experimentation. You might find you love feeling a bit softer and fuzzier down there in which case - brilliant - you'll be liberated from the expense, pain and general life admin attached to a lifetime of battling your body hair.
You also very well could hate it and keep counting down the days to your next wax, which is fine too. In that case I have it on good authority that Veet Sensitive Spray On Hair Removal Cream, £7.49 is a very effective stopgap.
Or, perhaps you’ve been a moderate at-home trimmer all along? In which case I can personally attest to the tidying powers of the nifty USB chargeable Magnitone Fuzz Off, £24, which is also very useful on eyebrows and facial fuzz.
Whatever you choose to do, I hope this brief deep dive into, well, the contents of your briefs has got you thinking or at least diverted your mind from the matters we could all use a break from fixating on. Say what you like about beauty, but there’s a lot to be said for a bulletproof distraction technique when we need it most.
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