For over 800 years, women have been told what to do with their pubic hair…

bikini hair removal history
| Feminism > UK Feminism

From Victorian potency talismans to today’s Brazilian wax… for over 800 years women have been told what to do with their hair down there.

You overhear many strange things when you’re about and about, especially when you’re shopping in busy town centres. Standing in the toothpaste section of a superstore a few weeks ago, I noticed a group of 16/17 year old girls giggling and pointing to a selection of hair removal products. No harm in that, you’re thinking. No, not until I overheard one of them say, “Yeah, my boyfriend doesn’t like it if I don’t shave down there. He refuses to come anywhere near me.” (I’m paraphrasing – she put it far more graphically than that.)

Shocked doesn’t really encompass my reaction to what she said. A young woman, at the start of her life, was already being told what was or wasn’t acceptable ‘down there’.

It’s no surprise that women and young girls of our generation are feeling their most insecure. Instagram feeds, TV ads, YouTube tutorials on how to create the perfect contour, pictures of women modelling the clothes we want to buy when we online shop… the visual messages are inescapable. We are force-fed a fairly limited version of what is deemed to make a person ‘beautiful’ on a daily basis.

Back in 2016, Dove carried of over 10,500 women aged 10 – 60 from 30 different countries around the world.  The statistics are shocking, with 9 in 10 women reporting that they would stop themselves from eating or otherwise put their health at risk if they were not feeling good about the way they look. Half of all the women (5 in 10) reported that, if they were having a day where they didn’t feel good, they would become less assertive in their decision-making or would be more likely to change their mind.

With data like this, it’s no surprise that young girls are letting their partners dictate to them what is and isn’t okay in terms of pubic hair. How do 16-year-old boys even know what they like or what is preferential? Are they being taught this in Sexual Education classes? Or, more likely, are they picking it up from porn-familarised peers? I’ve total respect for sex workers, but the industry itself has a substantial impact over the years on unrealistic expectations surrounding women’s bodies.

Thinking back to those girls chatting in the toothpaste aisle, when did our obsession with hair removal become everyone else’s topic for discussion – or has it always been that way?

Hair removal in history

Historically, the choice to be ‘bare down there’ was always dictated by the fashions of the time. Did you know that the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks favoured what is now commonly known as the Hollywood? The Egyptians choosing this option for hygienic reasons and their cultural dislike of bodily hair, and the Hollywood was common in Greece because men felt that women with pubic hair were ‘uncivilised’.

In the 15th Century women would shave their pubic hair to avoid lice and then don a merkin, otherwise known as a pubic wig. Queen Elizabeth, wonderful rebel that she was, opted to keep her public hair and remove her eyebrows instead. Then women decided to go ‘au naturale’ for a while (or at least history seems mute on the topic) until the Victorians turned up in the 1800’s. For all their prudity and aversion to anything ‘not proper’, Victorian gentlemen were known to collect their lover’s pubic hair as a talisman of potency and wear it in their hats.

The arrival of the bikini in the 1940’s meant that women felt obliged to keep the area trim and neat, and it wasn’t until the 60’s and 70’s and ‘free love’ culture that women ceased to worry about keeping up with fashion trends down there. Then, with the arrival of Sex and the City, women lined up outside beauticians simply needing a Brazilian.

Over 800 years of history and we’re still feeling pressure from partners, peers and people in general to be objects of perfection. Ugh. Well done world.

Shave, don’t shave. Wax, don’t wax. Do it because it makes you feel good. Don’t do it because some media mongul says you should, or because a boy made you feel bad for not looking like a porn star ‘down there’. Do you for you. Always.

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