I like bush. By bush I don’t mean a tidy few millimeters of geometrical English garden, I mean I like something I can grab in my hand. A year ago when American Apparel’s NYC display windows featured mannequins in sheer lingerie with thick, dark ungroomed pubes, I rejoiced. The media said the bush was back and I said, “hallefuckinglujah”. But then in June, Leena McCall’s Portrait of Ms Ruby May was removed from a London art gallery on the grounds that it was “pornographic”, “disgusting”, and inappropriate for children because of May’s indistinct strip of pubic hair. Those poor kids in NYC!
Our culture’s fear of female bush is so extreme that we’re not only protecting children from it and censoring art, some people are even missing out on sex because of it. For the past two weeks I spoke to Berliners around town about pubic hair and an alarming number of smart, sexy women told me they sometimes didn’t have sex when they wanted to, because they were ungroomed (often only as little as a week or two) and worried their hook up might be put off.
This panic can come from the common misconception: pubic hair is unclean. Actually, the fuzz helps regulate your body temperature and traps dust and bacteria. Like the hair on our eyelashes or in our noses, it protects us from dirtiness. The BBC reported that waxing and shaving even a little of that delicate, moist skin can cause microscopic open wounds, which may increase the possibility of herpes, streptococcus, and a viral infection called molluscum contagiosum.
And what about the pain of this high maintenance? My neighbor, a gorgeous part-time model from Italy, told me that getting her tattoo was “heaven” compared to her one and only excruciating bikini wax. Add to that the danger of accidents, the expense, time, and effort, and we’re looking at a pretty big hassle over a little hunk of hair.
Of course, men aren’t free from the hairless tyranny either. A grown man with hair on his chest, stomach, and legs and a bald spot smack in the middle of his body always gives me a good chuckle. But the weight of social expectations for the male body is much lighter than for the female form. “I don’t think about it too much”, was the overwhelming male response in contrast to most of the women I talked with. Both gals and guys often told me they asked their male partners for more fur (compared to a handful of guys and girls who asked girls for more hair), yet there seems to be some concern with hairy balls. I appreciate the effort, but I still have to agree with Brenda from HBO’s Six Feet Under, “please tell me you’re not serious shaved balls”.
And then some of us freaks actually enjoy hair. A handsome, 33-year-old Berlin-based designer from Chile told me, “licking hair is extremely erotic”. To see some sensual feminine fluff, check out Marilyn Minter’s new aptly titled book Plush, a glammy photographic collection of eye-popping painted fingernails in and around luscious hairy vulvas. Or erotica before the late 90s. Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde. Artists Egon Schiele, Petra Collins, and Stephanie Wilson. And music videos from Amanda Palmer and Peaches.
Some say a grown woman sporting 7-year-old “down there” parts symbolically reverts the female body back to childhood, restraining a woman’s sexuality and power. Others say you can see everything better. If you do choose to shave, electrocute, wax, laser, or depilate your thatch, just make sure you’re doing it for you and not to conform to the patriarchal prepubescent porno precedent. But why not give your groin the gift of painless freedom this holiday season? In 2015, let’s all let down our hairs.
Banging Berlin is a new monthly column by Mary Katharine Tramontana.
The image is “Der Berg Ruft” by Oliver Rath.