A few years ago I went for a bikini wax.
On spying my unkempt nethers, the young technician teetered back in alarm. Admittedly, it was a wilderness down there (with three young children, I barely had time to tend to my head hair, let alone anything else). But still, it was only harmless pubic hair, and not a wolverine about to rear up and bite her. Wincing visibly, she trimmed it with scissors held at arm’s length before the actual waxing could commence.
Humiliated, I switched to shaving whenever I needed to tidy things up. Even that’s pretty minimal – as little as I feel I can get away with, really. It’s the intimate grooming equivalent of dumping unwashed dishes into the sink and throwing a tea towel over my Brillo Pad prior to visitors arriving.
Until fairly recently I’d assumed that younger women would be disgusted by my relaxed attitude. After all, intimate waxing has become big business since the Brazilian (all hair removed apart from a thin “landing strip”) was first introduced to the US in 1987. By the 2000s, the Hollywood (ie, all hair off, smooth as an egg) had become a favoured option. However, amazingly – and happily – it seems there’s a return to leaving our down-there hair as nature intended.
“It’s the over-forties who tend to request Brazilians and Hollywoods now,” says Kirsten Maine, co-director of Live True London, a group of salons across the capital. “We are also finding that clients want more hair left on top, rather than just a thin strip.” As for younger women? “They’re asking more for basic bikini and extended bikini options,” Kirsten says. “Perhaps millennials don’t see a need to remove all their pubic hair, and like the way it looks and feels just with a tidy up.”
For our health, our comfort and purses, this is excellent news. It’s as if we had almost forgotten that pubic hair serves a purpose (to offer protection against injury, abrasion, bacteria and other pathogens). And who hasn’t endured the discomfort of ingrown hairs, or cringed at the sight of regrowth? “Like a stubbly man-chin”, as one friend bemoaned when she was between waxing appointments.
A study suggests that 85% of women – and around two thirds of men – have opted for some kind of grooming of their intimate regions. However, it’s by no means viewed as essential. Fur Oil is a popular high-end product designed to “condition” our undergrowth and lessen ingrown hairs (actress Emma Watson is a fan). Its makers are big on embracing “a more inclusive definition of beauty, whether you think that the bush is back or skin is in.”
“But what about pornography?” asks a 55-year-old friend when I tell her I’m writing this. “Younger guys have seen all these performers without a single body hair, so the idea of pubic hair repulses and terrifies them.” I don’t buy the thought of a young heterosexual man witnessing a naked woman in bed and experiencing fear.
Of what – that he’ll become engulfed, left to blunder through the forest until a crack team arrives to guide him to safety? It’s true that smoothness has long been favoured within the adult entertainment business (it offers greater visibility of the action – plus on men, it makes their equipment look bigger). However, attitudes are changing, with female performers being asked to grow back their pubes, or are doing so by choice. According to a report in Vice magazine, “Hair has made a significant comeback in the industry.”
Meanwhile, in the real world, it seems we are opting for whatever feels right and fits into our lifestyles. Janette, 48, works in recruitment and says, “I had a Brazilian for years, but it started to feel rather dated and unfeminist. When a friend spotted it at the gym, I bluffed, ‘It causes less drag when I’m swimming.’ I felt I had to excuse it somehow.” Janette has since gone au naturel: “I’d been waxing for so long, I thought it might grow back as this wild mass, but it’s actually quite dainty,” she says with a trace of pride.
Amanda, a 50-year-old nurse, varies her grooming according to the seasons: “I go natural in winter and save waxing for late spring and summer. It’s like swapping a heavy winter coat for a lighter jacket.” Unsurprisingly, several friends switched from professional waxes to home shaving when their children went to university and they were whacked with student rental bills. After all, a Brazilian will set you back around £35, a pack of razors under a fiver. As for men, a full intimate wax (including bottom and – ouch – testicles) is still the go-to option for hardcore groomers. However, less tear-inducing alternatives are becoming popular.
Last year, men’s brand Manscaped launched an electric trimmer named The Lawn Mower, designed specifically for de-fuzzing the tackle. Perhaps we are all growing tired of the pain and the upkeep – or we’ve gone off how it looks.
As Lucy, 41, points out, “I’m favouring ‘neat natural’ these days. I was in Paris recently and went to a salon, just wanting the sides to be done. The whole lot was whipped off – every hair, without discussion. I was flipped over like a kipper. I felt robbed, and cold – and no one wants a chilly vagina in Paris.” Or anywhere else for that matter.
A brief history of body hair (down there)
✢Those smooth-operating Ancient Egyptians aimed for entire body hair removal using pumice, sugar or beeswax.
✢Regarding it as “uncivilised”, women of the Roman empire would painstakingly tweeze those short and curlies away.
✢By the Middle Ages, pubic hair was routinely shaved to combat lice. Enter the pubic wig – or merkin – sported to create the appearance of a luxuriant rug.
✢Those supposedly buttoned-up Victorians considered pubic hair alluring. Witness the abundant shrubbery in the erotica of the era.
✢The bikini’s arrival in 1946 prompted a swift tidy up of the region.
✢By the late 1960s and early 70s, feminists had rejected the notion of body hair removal, preferring to let it all hang out.
✢In 1987 the Brazilian “J Sisters” started offering extreme waxing at their Manhattan salon. “In Brazil, waxing is part of our culture because bikinis are so small,” explained Jonice, one of the seven sisters.
✢In 2000, Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw was shown getting her first Brazilian: “She took everything I’ve got!”
✢“Pubes keep the goods private, which can entice a lover to come and take a closer look at what you have to offer,” wrote Cameron Diaz in The Body Book (HarperCollins), published in 2013.
✢In 2014, fashion brand American Apparel displays mannequins with full bushes visible beneath sheer lingerie in a NYC store.
✢By 2017, the #noshavenoshame movement has taken hold, as a new regeneration of Instagram influencers wear their body hair with pride.