Caroline Rothstein on feminism and bikini waxes

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Shit, is there ever some great food for thought in Caroline Rothstein‘s long-form essay, “The Hair Down There”:

waxingA few bikini waxes ago, I pulled off my pants and underwear, loosely folded them into a pile atop my shoes, hoisted myself onto the waxing table and briskly flopped my legs into a diamond, my feet touching sole to sole. While waiting for the esthetician to return with a cylinder of green wax and conduct my regular procedure – a “women’s deep bikini with top,” which clears the underwear lines and keeps some bush around the labia – I had a montage of thoughts. First, I am a feminist; I claim to do this for myself, not my long-term male partner, or anyone before him, or any societal expectation. Second, the only times I ever got Brazilian waxes, removing almost all pubic hair, were during the year and a half in college when I was deliberately celibate and only my hands, my vibrator, and my full-length mirror saw my crotch. Third, I am a survivor of rape.

Yet here I am, month in and month out, dropping my pants for a stranger, letting her slide hot, green, organic wax along my vulva, around my labia, and across my lower abdomen with a thick, pale wooden popsicle stick just so I can feel “clean.” How can I subject a part of my body with such a complicated narrative to this hedonistic ritual and still call myself a feminist?

Seriously, this is a meaty, thoughtful take on a superficial but oddly big question: why do we DO that to our vulvas? Highly recommended reading.

Comments on Caroline Rothstein on feminism and bikini waxes

    • That’s why I trim (with scissors or a razor). When it’s short it doesn’t bother me. Personally, I would never want to completely remove the hair.

  1. I got my first one done a few days ago – just to see what it was all about. I still cannot stand toilet paper rubbing me there! Eesh!

    If you are shaving there anyways, the waxing is your choice- a more convenient choice for most women. It saves you time and effort. It is also healthier in several regards.

    Being a feminist is doing what you want with your body, not what society or, most specifically, males dictate. If you want it, it is you. If you go natural for a bit and your man complains, seriously complains, not just notices, then you have your choice to make: you and him agree or you stop. You don’t have to burn your bra and stop shaving/waxing to be feminist. Personally, I love how my smooth legs feel when the brush each other.

    You are a strong woman: you survived and you celebrate that area still, with long-term partners. This makes you more than just a survivor, you’re an inspiration.

  2. I get Brazilians. As in, no hair what-so-ever-down-there-even-up-the-butt-crack Brazilian. I’ve been getting them since I was 19. I am a feminist. I do it for a few reasons…

    #1. I feel so much cleaner. It’s so much easier to clean! (Ever had a messy period or a bad stomach issue where you’re pooping all the time? There’s no hair for that stuff to get caught up in, so less tissue/spraying/whatever required).

    #2. Hair is itchy. Without it, there’s no itch. When I was just shaving down there (I used to be on a swim team, and I sure as heck didn’t want any hairs poking out of my suit), the skin would get irratated, there would be red bumps, and since it grew back so quickly…it would be itchy as heck. Even if I trimmed the non-shaved areas, and used special after-care creams.

    #3. I don’t like body hair on myself. I started waxing my arms a couple of years ago too because I didn’t like how they looked or made me feel. A Brazilian is the same, I didn’t like the hair down there, so I thought…whatever it’s just hair…who cares if it’s there or not? Just me, that’s who! So I might as well do what makes me feel good. You know that feeling of freshly shaved legs in the sheets? OMG twice as amazing without arm or pubic hair. I just get butt-naked and roll around in bed for 10min after a waxing appointment.

    #4. It IS cleaner. There’s been recent statistics released showing that STI rates have seriously declined in recent years due to more people waxing. Crab lice especially. So that’s a plus!

    Anyways, those reasons are why I do it. I think if you want to go ahead and wax yourself bald because that’s what you want to do…then do it. If you want to leave yourself as hairy and natural as mother nature intended…then do it. I think the only time you should ever stop waxing/not waxing/shaving/whatever is if someone TOLD you to do it.

    Any personal choices (beauty or otherwise) should be made because it’ll make you happy and feel good about yourself without any outside compliments.

    • I thought that crabs went down because of less hair, but other STIs went up because of more broken skin? Don’t have time to do a PubMed search on this right now…and do I want to?

    • I’m not sure I’m on board with the “more clean” bit. I shaved for a very, very long time and I used to get chronic infections, even when I did the totally horrible thing of not using any soap/gel/etc to shave with (OUCH), so it wasn’t just the soap messing up my pH. As soon as I stopped, no more infections. While you might be considering your outdoor areas (so to speak) to be more clean, pubic hair helps keep your vagina itself clean by keeping out things that don’t belong there. Just food for thought! (Wow not the phrase I should have used to end this comment OH WELL IT’S STAYING.)

    • I don’t know about health issues about keeping pubic hair or removing it. I don’t do it because HELL NO, that’s gonna hurt and I don’t think its worth it. I tried it once and I hated the way it looked like my crotch jumped into a time machine and went back to elementary school. Since I happen to know guys who take better care downstairs with their style, I don’t see why this is a feminist issue. If you had it both ways and you like one better, go for it. That’s empowerment for me. I don’t agree with everything else, but I absolutely support the decision to do what you like best.

    • OMG Swimsuits! I was on swim team through high school and then spent the next five years lifeguarding and teaching swim lessons. There was no way I was going to have hair down there. It sticks in the suits and then they pull on it and it’s like little ants crawling around biting you all the time. The other option is that it sticks through your suit and then it looks fuzzy down there. I haven’t had hair in that particular region since it first started growing in and for me it was all about comfort.

      • Surely this is a problem with the swimsuit design/fabric? I have always been ‘au naturel’ but never had anything poking through the fabric as you describe.

    • I find this “clean” thread really upsetting. If it FEELS better for you, great, but to say it’s “cleaner” to be shaved/waxed is to imply that someone who keeps her hair is unclean… and that’s pretty offensive.

      We evolved with hair. A person’s choice to keep that hair should not be painted as a hygiene issue, just as a person’s choice to get rid of it should be respected.

  3. I don’t think there is ANYTHING negative about this at all.

    I do all kinds of things (shaving, house cleaning, waxing, etc….) because my husband likes it….It makes me happy to please him in these simple ways and it costs me nothing.

    If that makes me (or anyone) anti-feminist, I think we need to reevaluate that term as a culture. The best definition I’ve heard for feminism is about letting women make the choices that work for them. So if I want to be a house wife and cook and clean while my husband works, as long as that’s my choice it’s a good choice. If I want to work, if I want to be a girly-girl, those choices are my right as a person. The point is that I choose.

    The ability to choose is what matters, not the choice in and of its self.

  4. Interesting. Personally, I don’t do much there except trim and shave legs every once in a long while. I almost never shave my legs higher than what I’m wearing will expose, and I don’t even always bother to do that. (I do feel like professionally I have to shave, like if I’m going to wear a skirt and people at work can see my legs, so I guess that is societal pressure.) My boyfriend doesn’t care much either way, which I appreciate; of course, a guy who insisted on an intense grooming regime wouldn’t have been attracted to me, and I wouldn’t have been crazy about him, either …

    However, what struck me as really interesting about the article is the apparent debate over what “counts” as feminism that was alluded to. I don’t identify as a feminist (no offense to anyone who does, I’m just not into it), but I do identify as plenty of other things, and it is fascinating to see how much bickering there is out there over what “counts” for any label people might choose to identify with. It seems like it doesn’t matter what the label is — attachment parent, unschooler, “offbeat” anything — there is a debate over what is enough and who qualifies.

      • But why? I’m perplexed that a feminist can be given constructive criticism of their position on xyz issue and just dismiss it, instead of actually examining why that issue is a problem for a feminist. It’s not about choice, it’s about dismantling the kyriarchy, and not oppressing other groups (eg fat people) while you dismantle the patriarchy. Feminism is fundamentally concerned with dismantling the patriarchy, that’s what it’s for. I’m not saying you’re not a feminist, but you should also be aware of who your choices harm.

        • I’m perplexed that a feminist can be given constructive criticism of their position on xyz issue and just dismiss it…

          I didn’t dismiss the feedback to that 2006 article: it’s part of what shaped the Offbeat Empire’s policies to avoid all weight loss content.

      • So I know I’m nine months late to this thread, but that is the most pretentious woman-on-woman snarkfest I have ever seen. Even if someone diets because s/he wants to look good by societal standards, it’s still a choice that s/he made for her/himself. It’s always sadly ironic to see women chastising women for their choices.

    • i’m not sure i understand when people say they don’t “identify” as a feminist. i was of the understanding that being feminist simply meant believing in equality for women and our right to choose how to live our own lives, not that it’s a lifestyle that someone either identifies with or not. can your clarify what you mean here?

      • I think that the word “feminism” has come to be associated with a moderately negative connotation, where people perceive the word as being associated with loudly outspoken, argumentative, angry, protesting women. I don’t think any women is against women’s equality. I myself don’t identify as a feminist because I don’t want to be labelled under that connotation, and personally, I don’t have the time or strength to fight the fight right now.

        • Ever thought that maybe it has been given a negative connotation *on purpose*? By misogynists and people who are anti-feminist. Just like anarchism has been publicly smeared for ages, so has feminism. People think they are bad words because they don’t know what they mean. I think it is important for us to defend words like feminism, anarchism, communism, etc becaus they stand for very important ideas. When the definitions of those words are distorted (intentionally, I would argue) it takes away the language we have to talk about those important ideas.

          Another way of putting it – ok, so we give up on the word “feminism” because it has a negative connotation. So we’ll come up with another word to represent the struggle for women’s equality…. how long do you think before that new word has a negative connotation?

          • The nitpicking about what personal choice is/is not feminist, the judging of women by women as to what you might be doing that makes you a bad feminist, THAT is the reason that many women claim to not identify as feminist. It makes me sad, as someone who has identified as feminist for a very long time (possibly longer than some of the young women I’ve met who’ve been too happy to list all the reasons that I’m a bad feminist have been alive) that something that is so necessary today with rape culture and the broad attacks on reproductive freedom is getting diluted into just another thing for women to judge other women about on the internet.

      • Some people don’t identify with feminism as it often is largely based on able-bodied, middle-class, white cisgender women’s struggles – with no room or time to talk about the struggles of disabled women, poor women, women of colour, or queer issues. Which I think is a valid point, even though I personally identify as an intersectional (aka, I believe all of these issues belong in the movement) feminist.

      • As a person who is adamantly opposed to elective abortion, I don’t often feel comfortable labeling myself as a feminist. Even if you share the ideology, the finer points can be a wedge between yourself and other people. And don’t even try labeling yourself a pro-life feminist; you will be laughed–or cussed–out of a discussion before you can say “But I do agree that we need comprehensive sex-ed in schools, and I know that rape culture does exist!”

      • While I agree with the gender equality definition of the term and I fit that, my personal reason for not identifying as a feminist is that I don’t agree with calling the problem “patriarchy”, because while it’s a reference to the fact that its characteristics are the ones *associated* with masculinity (erroneously), I think calling it the patriarchy actually perpetuates that association. Similarly, as feminism has always been about equality, calling it feminism in the first place is in my opinion a bit of a mistake as it’s for everyone. So yeah, I have an enormous amount of common ground with most feminists and in practical terms I guess I am one, but the words used are not ones I agree with.

      • Just came back to this and didn’t realize the conversation on this article had gotten so big! 🙂

        I’m hesitant to clarify, because I’m a little afraid of being flamed (although these sites are awesome about keeping discussions calm) for my views. And I really don’t want to offend anyone here, because ultimately — we are all entitled to free speech and our own opinions. So I genuinely believe it’s possible to have an interesting conversation and disagree respectfully.

        My first inclination is to say, of course I believe in women’s equality. And I do — but you know how there is also that thing where you come from a large family and your parents are always saying “fair is not always equal”? I guess I see certain strains of feminism as insisting on men and women being the “same” and I don’t think that. I do think they are of equal worth, equal importance, etc., and that *individually* any given man or women may be equally “something”, but I don’t see any problem with the idea that men and women are fundamentally different. It seems like some types of feminism (maybe this is a more old fashioned feminism) seem to say that success comes in being just like a man. I see the differences as unique and beautiful and equally important to society.

        I think some of my disinterest in feminism comes from the fact that I am more familiar with it in my mother’s generation than in mine — my mother was raising children and staying home at a time when some women felt pressure that doing so was giving in to “the patriarchy,” even if it was what a given woman wanted to do at the time. I do think today that there is more room for women to choose what they want to do and feel free to do so, which is healthy.

        I definitely agree with what some other commenters have said below — about feminism at times (or in certain branches) seeming slightly privileged, or tending to misandry, or focused on protesting. I am also strongly pro-life, and even though I don’t intend to judge anyone who has different religious or political opinions, my stance on abortion would probably make me feel ill-at-ease or unwelcome in a feminist group (ironically, judgmental goes both ways, as I’ve often experienced).

        And ultimately, we all have limited time and resources, even within our own heads … there are just a lot of things that I’m more interested, knowledgeable, and passionate about, so I put my energies into those. So I’m not anti-feminist, it’s just hardly a term I would use to describe myself, because so many other things would come first.

        Again — I’m just answering the question because I was asked, and only in the interest of furthering dialogue. I don’t mean to offend anyone or make sweeping generalizations about feminism, especially as I’ve admitted, it’s not something I am particularly knowledgeable about!

        • I just have to pop in here: twice in this thread I’ve seen comments alluding to feminists being … militant (my word) … about abortion. I’d like to clarify: I honestly haven’t ever, not once, met a feminist who’s “pro-abortion.” Pro-choice? Absolutely – the operative word being “choice” between termination, adoption, or keeping a child, and includes the fight for universal daycare, for paid maternity leave, for subsidized/free birth control and universal sex ed, for pre-natal and delivery care that is covered under state/provincial (Canadian, eh?)/federal laws, and the right to choose who provides that care to said pregnant person. “Feminism” as a concept gets a bad rap – as another commenter pointed out, this is deliberate – and, honestly, if the feminists you’ve encountered are all man-hating, horrible, and/or ultra-judge-y individuals, it’s time to get to know different people. Those types of individuals will be jerks no matter what cause they espouse – they’re not jerks ’cause they identify as feminists. 😉

          • Right, but regardless of whether feminist groups can/should be called “pro-choice” or “pro-abortion”, it’s been my experience that if you do believe that abortion is the murder of a human being, then you are not welcome in almost all feminist groups (Feminists For Life is probably the sole exception), even if you check off all the other “I’m a feminist!” boxes.

            Our reticence over identifying as feminists has nothing to do with whether feminists groups identify/behave as pro-choice or pro-abortion. It has to do with the fact that we identify as *neither* of those, and that makes us unwelcome in those feminist circles, no matter how many other feminist issues we agree on. It doesn’t matter if I call out rape culture, fat-/body-/slut-shaming, pregnancy/motherhood discrimination, etc. Because I believe an unborn child is a human with rights, I am informed that I have a pathological desire to control women’s bodies–which is not the angle I approach this issue at, I assure you–and therefore cannot be considered feminist in the slightest. Hell, it happened right here in this thread! (Though the comment I’m referring to seems to have been deleted or otherwise lost.)

            In short, feminists kicked *us* out of the group, and until we give up the belief in the personhood of the unborn, we are not welcome back.

            And I could “reclaim” (the original feminists of the 19th century were anti-abortion) the title all I want to refer to myself in the solitary, but if I vocally identify as feminist there is a good chance other people will believe that I am not pro-life (since the association between feminism and abortion in the cultural mindset is so strong), and I do not want to give off that impression.

            Hence I do not call myself a feminist.

          • Sorry, my post above was intended to make it clear that not ALL feminists are judg-y, man-hating, jerks 🙂 I might even have a few feminist friends myself, you know … but then, I don’t feel that I have to agree with my friends on everything.

            However, I have to agree with Rev Caitlyn that being strongly pro-life (as in, I do believe that abortion is murder, I attend peaceful prayer vigils and sidewalk counseling at abortion center, it is against my beliefs, philosophical and religious, to use or promote artificial birth control) is an issue that would put me at odds with most Feminist groups. And I’m okay with that — I’m ok not being part of those groups, and I’m ok that there are people who take a different approach on this topic — this is America (rather, I’m in America, I know there are lots of different countries represented on here), there are lots of different thoughts on this issue.

  5. I’m totally with Stoya that it’s a conversation surrogate. It’s easier to talk about body hair choices than to look around at a big, wide world full of problems and say “Oh, huh, there’s a lot at work here.”
    When people make an issue out of body hair, they’re blaming the women who participate/don’t participate in grooming and not really looking at the issues that led to that conclusion. Even by assuming that there’s stuff at play in a woman’s decisions regarding her body hair, you’re saying she’s caved to something, some pressure from somewhere!
    Call a spade a spade. If you’ve got a problem with society telling women how to look, tell society to stop putting in its two cents. Don’t go around telling women they’re wrong for feeling pressured by society–or not feeling pressured by society!

    • This. I also agree that the discussion of body hair is a surrogate. But in practice, I see why it can be a starting point for feminism. If a woman is feeling completely controlled by society, body hair is something that is really easy to manipulate herself. It doesn’t require the consent of voters or doctors. So I totally get the early (or current!) feminists who don’t shave since it’s the easiest first step towards body independence. Next stop : uterus! And let’s not stop there, how about our emotions, and, GASP, our minds!

      So maybe you’re a feminist who exerts control over her own body in other ways. Shave/wax/whatever if you want. Don’t shame other people by calling them dirty if they don’t or calling them an anti-feminist if they do!

      • This can go other ways, too. I’ve known women who grew up in very conservative religious households where (at least for unmarried women) hair removal was bad because if you were grooming it, it must mean you were planning to show it to someone. “Shaving your thighs? Why? Are you going to wear shorts, you harlot? Shaving your pits? What are you, a flapper? Shaving or waxing pubic hair? Out of the question. If it exposes any place where public hair grows, you shouldn’t be wearing it for anyone but your husband!!!”

        So, for these women, choosing to show what they want, when they want, and to whom they want, and to do so in a conventionally groomed manner, is an act of establishing control over their own bodies, and I respect that as a feminist act.

        • Well, yes, you made my point in a different way. I was trying to avoid the “Is altering your body hair in any way feminism?” discussion because that isn’t what interested me about Rothstein’s article. I was saying that altering your body hair is the first step towards regaining control over your body when you feel that society has more control over it. This is the part of the article that I found the most interesting:
          “My vagina is not holding back women as a gender,” says Stoya. “One thing that is holding us back is that we spend so much time bickering over whether it’s anti-feminist or feminist to wear lipstick. What about workers’ rights? Isn’t that a more important thing to question? The fact that Texas and North Carolina are making political choices to take away women’s reproductive rights – that’s a problem. The fact that transgender people are being discriminated against: that’s a problem. Lipstick and pubic hair? Not a problem. [It’s an] aesthetic choice. It’s like getting mad at people for wearing a blue shirt.”
          It’s easier to talk about superficial things than the real issues. So altering your body hair or not, wearing makeup or not, etc. are much easier to talk about than body autonomy. They are part of the conversation, but if the conversation stops there, and doesn’t continue to being able to date who you want, do what you want with your body, have kids, not have kids, be taken seriously for your mind and not just seen as a baby machine, mothers being seen as contributing to society in many ways, being able to twirl your hair AND say something profound, breaking through the glass ceiling, etc. etc. etc., we’ve done ourselves a great disservice.

          And even beyond the bickering about superficial things distracting us from the real issues, is the fact that women ARE still part of the evil society that body shames other women FOR THE STATE OF THEIR PUBES. Women who shave/wax/whatever are NOT slutty, infected, shameless, cleaner, more or less sexually appealing, or have festering ingrown hairs. Women who DON’T shave/wax/whatever are NOT chronically itchy, smelly, dirty, more or less sexually appealing, more or less in control, or have crab-infested poo wads between their legs. If we as women just LET GO of all the judgement that goes along with personal grooming, makeup, and whether or not you care about fashion, it would free up our minds to think and discuss other topics.

          • Just had to comment to say, “being able to twirl your hair AND say something profound” really gets at the crux of the issue for me, and encapsulates a few interlocking ideas really well.

            There’s the sentiment that looking nice, shaving your legs, and wearing makeup is a must for looking “professional” (not to mention never having naturally curly hair and all the race issues with that). There are TV shows devoted to tearing apart women’s appearances at award shows, magazines that label women “do” or “don’t,” and ads everywhere about such-and-such miracle product that will make you prettier and therefore happy.

            Then, we turn around and trash women who care TOO much about their appearance, who wear too much makeup, who spend too much time doing their hair, who spend too much money on clothes. Even at Burning Man the term “Sparkle Pony” is meant to deride those mythical people (presumably female) who spend too much time and brain space constructing the perfect costume for each day and are therefore so ditzy that they forget to bring water to the desert. In engineer circles, too, it’s considered shocking when a girl who wears dresses and grooms herself is also able to use power tools. Plus there’s a scene I saw long ago in House that’s stuck with me, where House is asking Cameron why she even bothered to become a doctor because she’s pretty and could just marry rich instead. I could go on.

            Basically, I totally agree with you. We don’t have to choose between caring about our appearances (because we want to) and caring about our minds and society, and anyone who thinks we do is part of the pointless and dangerous cycle of body policing.

  6. I read this over the weekend, and found myself identifying most with the interviewee, Rachel.

    Like her, my teenage body image issue was hair, not weight. I was a hairy girl with hair in places my friends didn’t have, and a whole lot more of it. I grew up in a place where swimming and beach-going and wearing body-baring clothing was what you did. I had a terrible relationship with my mother, so no help there, and it was before the internet really existed as a resource for trying to figure out these things.

    Considering my treatment by girls, I was terrified as to what would happen when I started getting naked with boys. It’s hard for me to say, because I am certainly not an unbiased source, but I think we can’t really call it a feminist choice if not choosing it or not fitting the norm still brings a lot of pain and angst to those who don’t choose it or can’t easily conform.

    And yes, I agree, it’s a problem with a larger societal context, but I don’t think it is wrong to ask women to think hard about how that larger societal context is influencing their decisions, and what the larger consequence of those decisions are.

    There’s a lot of debate about choice feminism (because I chose this choice it is a feminist choice) versus choose your choice, but know that that choice doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and does have an effect on other women. Similar arguments/conversations go on around all choices women make, most widespread probably being working vs. staying home with kids and changing one’s name after marriage. I’d say it’s just one facet of a really large conversation that’s happening in feminism, not a distraction. What does it mean when we choose a choice out of personal preference that is in line with not-so-equal, not-so-advancing women societal standards/pressures?

  7. i think being a feminist is all about making choices that make us happy.
    I shave EVERYTHING because i want to and because i like how it feels. I started trimming when i was 15 just out of curiosity and when i was 18 and started to have sex i decided to take everything off. It was a personal choice and one that was never discussed with my partner. i just feel clean and fresh, otherwise i feel messy and sweaty. I also like how it feels during sex, and excuse the amount of information here, but oral sex just feels incredible with nothing blocking the way. do whatever makes you comfortable and happy!

  8. I identify strongly as a feminist. But I shave my legs and trim body hair (admittedly a lot less now I have a six month old and no time). I do it partly because my partner likes it/people stare otherwise, and partly because it’s more comfortable, and doesn’t itch.

    The body hair debate reminds me a lot of the surname change debate. During which, I rely a lot on this Kate Harding piece about whether feminists can do anti-feminist acts, whether someone’s going to revoke your feminist card, and whether an act magically becomes feminist just because a feminist does it.

  9. I wax, and I’m definitely a feminist. I’ve gone periods of time where I skip a month or two, and my husband never seems to care (or, if he does, he’s wise enough to keep it to himself). But I’ve found that I feel more attractive (and less itchy!) when I do it. I suppose you could argue that I only feel more attractive because society has indoctrinated me to believe that my natural state is unattractive, and maybe that’s true… but you could probably argue something similar about pretty much everything that any of us does in life ever. Whatcha gonna do?

    I figure this is similar to the arguments about being feminist while choosing to be a stay at home mom. The point of feminism isn’t to go against ALL societal “norms” or “traditions.” The point is to have a choice. To do whatever you want to do, without anyone telling you that you have to do something else. If you want to wax, do it! If you don’t want to, don’t! Just don’t let anyone tell you which one you “have” to do, and it’s all good.

  10. Huh, I had never really even given thought to waxing my lady parts. I barely shave ’em, but then again I barely I shave my legs. I really hate that just-shaved feel; it feels slimy. I’m pretty happy with a nicely trimmed bush of flaming red curls!

  11. I just had my first Brazilian a few weeks ago. My esthetician was an amazing gal. We laughed it up over why we do this and my faux fears of “Wizard Sleeve” due to stretching from wax removal and the realization that I’m letting her do “what, where?!” to me, the reasoning behind it and watching my “lady beard” that more resembled a chia pet disappear. I had it done before my annual river tubing trip, and mercifully the bruising in the leg-meets-crotch area subsided before I paraded around in a bathing suit. Sadly, I got my period a week early, so I had to break out the shorts day of anyway and my fiance never did see me completely hairless, not that he even cared anyway. Frankly he thought I was nuts for even going through with it in the first place. Again “You’re letting a stranger do what, where and you’re paying them?!” If it were up to him, the esthetician would need to at least buy him dinner first.

    Aside from having my phone stolen by a plumber fixing a sink in the salon during my pedicure after the wax, I can say I’d do it again, but not any time soon. I mean, the winter is coming up and I don’t need my ladybits to get frost bite.

    CONS: I had an issue with toilet paper fuzz getting stuck to the skin and chub rub was an issue too. (I’m fairly curvy, but not overly voluptuous) Being half Italian, the hair started to grow back in within 4-5 days.

    PROS: It’s been just about 3 weeks and while it’s not quite braiding length, it’s definitely back, just thinner in some spots and the hair is softer and doesn’t itch much. It’s definitely easier and less terrifying than shaving it, because lets be honest, there is nothing worse than nicking yourself shaving in and around your vag.

    • I just had to say that reading your post was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do at work. Your phrases, such as “wizard sleeve”, “lady beard” and “chub rub”, had mean in “inside” stitches!

    • The more you do it the less hair there is between appts. Stick with 1x a month or every 6x weeks and it will get easier and less painful. I am Italian and have always had issues with body hair. Keeping it up definitely has many benefits to me.

  12. Why can you do x to your hair and still call yourself a feminist? The question is so common, and it is also silly. Feminism has nothing to do with hairstyles–anywhere on your body. That is all.

    I personally keep a full bush, for the record, and have never had any male complaints.

  13. I shave my underarms almost every time I shower, and my legs about once every two weeks to once a month depending on the season. I pluck my eyebrows a little bit, but other than that I have never removed any other hair on my body. Interestingly, I’ve also never felt pressured to from friends, lovers, or family. My mom was very open about her body, and didn’t wax or shave her bikini area, so I was honestly stunned to discover that other people did. My reaction (in my mid-teens) was a very visceral “NO.” I couldn’t imagine doing that, and that really hasn’t changed as I’ve aged. That reaction, combined with the fact that I’m almost always mistaken for being younger than I am (and therefore sometimes desperate to look my age, even if only to myself), are two of the biggest contributing factors to my embracing hairiness. The other reason, and arguably the one with the most weight, is that I honestly love my pubic hair. I love the texture, the curliness, the fact that it’s so dark and wiry. I love the way I can arouse myself without even touching my skin, and the way unexpected sensations find their way to me during foreplay because my hairs stick out at weird angles. I don’t think I could ever give that up.

    No judgement on those who DO wax or shave. If I can have a visceral “NO” reaction to that thought, I’m sure some people have a visceral “YES” reaction! I’d be interested to see if there’s a correlation between degrees of pubic grooming and other body aesthetics – makeup, piercings, tattoos, etc. I’m very reluctant to make permanent or even long-term temporary body modifications (2 whole holes! In each ear!), so I’m wondering if those of you who are more enthusiastic about piercings and such have a more casual attitude about hair removal.

    Also, if there are any guys lurking on this thread I would be FASCINATED to hear your perspective on all this.

    • “No judgement on those who DO wax or shave. If I can have a visceral “NO” reaction to that thought, I’m sure some people have a visceral “YES” reaction! I’d be interested to see if there’s a correlation between degrees of pubic grooming and other body aesthetics – makeup, piercings, tattoos, etc. I’m very reluctant to make permanent or even long-term temporary body modifications (2 whole holes! In each ear!), so I’m wondering if those of you who are more enthusiastic about piercings and such have a more casual attitude about hair removal.”

      I think there might be a bit of a correlation with physical sensitivity, too.

      TMI alert: I’ve never waxed, though I trim a total of about 2/3rds of the hair off the sides and the ends to keep the edges within my underwear and the ends from getting wedged *up there* and OW. I am also very, very responsive to touch, get aroused very easily, climax very easily etc. I have heard some people say that they like getting waxed because it increases sensitivity, so I wonder if those people are also the ones who can cope best with actual waxing as maybe for them it wouldn’t hurt so much. Not only do I not need to be any more sensitive down there (I still get asked if I’m lying about having had sex before, and I can’t use vibrators as they’re too much for me, so it’s not all good!), but maybe it would hurt me more to have done, which I could have figured out from the occasional pull on the hairs while trimming. I’ve got other reasons too so I’m assuming there’s more to it than that, but I wonder if it’s part of it.

      I have no tattoos or piercings either, but that’s not because of potential pain, it’s more because of what I suspect you were thinking of, K, about actual modification, which I wouldn’t associate with hair so much. I find this subject fascinating too!

      I’m totally with the no-judgement thing. I’m interested in people’s reasons because I’m nosy, but I just wrote the curly hair thread the other day about how creepy I feel it is to tell other people what to do with their bodies, and whatever your choice, at least fewer people will know about it than they will about you changing/not changing your name upon marriage or staying at home to raise your kids or whatever.

      I have been in a room with a load of women discussing their waxes as if everyone does it, I mean completely taking for granted that no-one would not wax their genital region, and it was super-awkward as I was 20 at the time and wasn’t confident going against the flow of the conversation, but they were kind of like that about a lot of things, so I kind of assumed it was a thoughtlessness issue rather than a feminist issue.

  14. I’m reminded of the concept of masculinism…privileging culturally masculine activities (such as not shaving) over culturally feminine ones (such as shaving), as if the mere fact of being associated with maleness is liberating. In this case, the narrative would go like this: men aren’t expected to shave, and women are, so women who choose to not shave are freer than women who choose to shave, and women who choose to shave are more oppressed (or are traitors to the feminist cause), even if shaving is a personal preference.

    This is of course nonsense. The whole idea that we should have a society–any society, be it at large or an ideological subculture–tells us what is an acceptable way to treat our body hair, based on gender, is antithetical to any gender equality movement. If you want to shave or wax, do it. If you don’t, don’t do it. Not needing to measure every private use of your body against a social standard is what feminism is all about, imo.

    • A big YES to, “privileging culturally masculine activities (such as not shaving) over culturally feminine ones (such as shaving), as if the mere fact of being associated with maleness is liberating.” Little girls who roll around in the mud and like robots are fine and often encouraged; little boys who want to play with dolls and wear sparkles are shunned.

      It reminds me of Sheryl Sandberg’s brand of feminism, where she urges women to act more like men in order to be more conventionally successful. Why not change society to allow space for more differences and more inclusive behavior at the top, or shift what success itself means? It’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture, and the shaving/not shaving debate is just one more proxy.

  15. Getting waxed is typically seen as a girly thing by society at large, as are most physical maintenance type things. Because it’s seen as girly, it’s also seen as frivolous and silly and you’re somehow buying in to the patriarchy to take part in. But it’s not. It’s liking the way you feel with less hair on a certain part of your body. I shave my pits because I simply can’t stand having hair there. I don’t shave/wax my pubes because I simply can’t stand NOT having hair there.

    Owning the ‘girly’ things about our lives, whether we are men or women, cis-gendered or not, is part of feminism. Seeing those things as valid and valuable and worth are time is important. Not judging others who decide differently is equally important.

  16. I find conversations about body hair are frequently very fraught with tension, but perhaps this is because I don’t shave or wax any part of my body, so it’s a conversation I have to have kind of a lot when other people want to talk about my body hair and how much they hate/are freaked out by/appreciate it.

    I don’t care what other folks do with their body hair, and I don’t think waxing or shaving makes you less of a feminist, but whenever I think about why I don’t shave, my mind returns to a quote I once read, by Hadley Freeman:
    “I’ve tried to justify it [shaving] to myself by saying that while I applaud any woman who doesn’t succumb to the underarm razor, I don’t like the look of it on myself (nonsense: this is just social conditioning), or that I do it for the sake of hygiene (again, nonsense, and this seems something of a slur on unshaven men). The truth is, there is no real justification beyond peer pressure that stems from a sexist source.”

    In terms of pubic hair- shaving makes me itchy, waxing is painful (and come on, there is no way it’s not itchy when it starts to grow back in before you get your next wax!) and expensive, and I don’t really care how much pubic hair I have, so I don’t shave, and am never itchy, which is fantastic. But I do wear a bathing suit with a skirt or boardshorts to the beach because bathing suits aren’t really set up for the nonshaving types, so there’s the downside, I guess.

    • I think that’s a good quote, because it’s kind of a perpetual dilemma “do I really like it or do I do it because I feel I should, and if I do really like it is that ok when it’s come from a negative source”; I was sexually abused as a child so that question comes up about a lot of things sex/genital-related and I kind of accept that it’s ok that I’m not sure, but it’s good to think about it from time to time.

      I do shave my legs and armpits, and I have to say I’m with you on the itching. I shave every time I shower, and the itch only starts on about day 3 so because I shower more frequently than that I don’t tend to get it. However if I were to get my vulva waxed I would have to go through the itching stage, and it would drive me crazy. On the occasion when I haven’t been able to shave my legs before the itch, it’s amused other people in my household enough to see me roll up my trouser legs and scratch like I’ve got fleas, growling “stubble!”. I don’t like to think how I’d deal with that on my private parts!

  17. In my ideal situation, I would have a permanent (achieved through waxing or maybe magic — but I’d be willing to go through the waxing process repeatedly for upkeep) modified Brazilian. I really liked the descriptive “women’s deep bikini with top” — my preference is for a small triangle on my mons, trimmed short, with all hair on my thighs, crack, and labia gone. I do that because I feel smoother, cleaner (especially during my very heavy periods), and neater without stray hair escaping my underpants or making an obvious bulge. Again, ideally that would be my state all the time — but waxing is expensive! Around here it goes for $60-70 a pop. Add in tip and figure I’d be going in about once a month, and I’d be spending almost a thousand dollars a year on my pubic hair situation. It’s not sustainable for me, so I wax a couple times a year around events where I have a reasonable expectation of people seeing me naked or barely clothed in public. The rest of the time, I ignore it or have my wife trim me with an electric beard trimmer. I’ve considered paying for her to learn how to wax properly and investing in the supplies, ’cause it would pay for itself fairly quickly.

    • I don’t wax for the same reason…but reading this made me realize that it is not only convenient to have your partner give you a hand with it, it is also sexy in a way. So kudos!

      • Ha! So not sexy, at least in my experience. It’s several steps up from having a partner change your tampon or your diaper, maybe a few down from having her wash my hair or scrub my back. But it is frugal and practical, and mine doesn’t mind.

        • People who need assistance with self care ARE still sexy as hell, they still feel sexy and they still have sex with their partners, even partners who assist them with self care. Tenderness and compassion are incredibly sexy and love, physical attraction and desire don’t wane with age, disability or health issues, least not for everyone. I hope I’m still doing it when I’m 90, more importantly I hope I give less of a crap about all the ways we’ve been trained like monkeys to view our bodies and the bodies of the people we love. Sexy is a state of mind.

    • My husband and often help trim each other, and it IS sexy! His trimmer vibrates which is much better than being alone in the shower with my non vibrating one. Hah! I remember when we first trimmed, I think I was pregnant, and I had no concept of what other woman did down there so I was really nervous about getting checked by my female doctor! I didn’t want to be judged!
      I can attest that trimming always leads to coupled showering which always leads to sex. It’s win win win!

      • I once shaved in anticipation of a pelvic exam, and the doc (or NP, I don’t remember) complimented me on the good job I did! That was… odd. 😀

      • Pro-tip: watch for groupons and other such coupons. They make laser hair reduction almost affordable.

        (Also, Caroline totally acknowledges laser hair reduction in her article.)

  18. I just asked my husband how he would feel if I stopped shaving. He said “well, you can do whatever you want, but it would be kinda icky.” I asked him why, and he said because of the cleanliness issue. He feels like I’m cleaner, and therefore sexier, if I’m shaved. And, I agree. I have no intention of not shaving, because I’m more comfortable that way. For me, the issue isn’t necessarily visual sexiness, but “cleanliness = sexiness” and “shaved = clean”. This is not just a body hair issue, but also a how-often-you-shower issue, a deodorant issue, etc. And this might be not so much a feminist issue as an American issue. After all, I ask my husband to shower daily and to trim up his man-bits, not because it visually appeals to me, but because it reduces smells and tastes I find unattractive. So for me it’s not a feminist thing at all.

  19. I know the reason I started doing it, and it was for a boy. Who am I still with now. I’ve always kept a trimmed and maintained fluff of hair down there. On occasion I would shave it all. And I LOVED it. Till 12 hours later when it was itchy. And the red bumps. So I stopped shaving it but still maintained it. Then Matt and I got together and I knew he preferred a woman to be bare. Knowing I would not shave it anymore, I thought, “what the hell! Why not get a wax?” And I did. Full Brazilian. All of it… GONE!!! It’s thinner when it starts to grow in, it doesn’t itch and it feels SOOO good!

    So, here it is, 3 years later. And I do it more for me than for him. Even though I know he enjoys and appreciates it. Getting a wax saves me time, pain and effort (sometimes I just love being lazy!).

    I don’t think it makes the poster not a feminist. She’s doing what she wants with her body. And I think that is part of what DOES make her a feminist!

  20. I still identify as a feminist despite people telling me why I’m not or how I’m doing it wrong (They’ve been telling me for a LONG time). Waxing IS weird. Hot wax and tearing out hair in the most intimate of places and by strangers. If someone bumps into me in the street fully clothed I can get antsy about them touching me but I’ll drop my pants and have someone fiddle around the edges of my knickers removing hair for the supposed visual delight of maybe two people, myself included AND pay for the privilege? What’s that even about? But I still do it occasionally. Mostly I just use the bikini trimmer and marvel at how, despite my best efforts not to get sucked into the bullshit parade, I still do. Maybe the answer is to ask yourself what you would do and how you would define yourself if you couldn’t keep up this hair maintenance tomfoolery on your hoo hoo? Would the world cease? Would you still be able to hold your head up? Would you still consider yourself a feminist then? Would you consider yourself more of a feminist? Are you ever going to look back on this time and wonder why in the hell you subjected yourself to it on a regular basis? Most importantly how would anyone know anyway if you didn’t tell them? What I want to know is, how come, more and more women will willingly go get waxed right up their crack but they’re still not regularly getting pap tests done because of the “discomfort” and “embarrassment”? We live in a strange world.

  21. I identify as a feminist and I don’t wax, although I do trim up the edges myself with a razor during swimsuit season.

    But I don’t see pubic hair as a feminist issue. Pubic hair has a long history of following fashion trends ( witness the merkin ). Although waxing is popular now, 10 years from now, it could all change so I don’t consider it a political statement any more than I consider what color shirt I wear a political statement.

  22. I do identify as a feminist, and I don’t wax, but that’s because I find it creepy that society is selling a pre-pubescent look as an ideal for women, but not for men. So a woman is cleaner if she’s waxed? Then why isn’t the same true of men? It doesn’t seem, from my experience, that men are “expected” to go hair-free down there for reasons of cleanliness or aesthetics, so I don’t see why the same should be expected of women. And I don’t buy into that hygiene argument anyway; I figure that pubic hair is there for a reason, much like eyebrows/lashes and nose hair, and that’s to stop unwanted stuff from getting into places where it can cause an issue. Also, I don’t do well with pain so waxing is a straight-up no-no! I do shave my arms, mostly because that’s the sweatiest bit of my body, so I feel dryer without the hair there. And I shave my legs when I need to (I’m so lazy…) because I think the look nicer that way, although you can totally put that down to societal ideals, too. I trim my bikini line if I’m going to be swimming or something, but otherwise it stays largely au naturel, and I’m fine with that.

    • I don’t understand the association of hairlessness with cleanliness *at all*. Provided you wash, how can it possibly be dirty? Even if it’s a question of pleasantness for someone giving you oral sex, just a quick wash before getting jiggy would sort that and anyway, just because a body part/fluid doesn’t taste great it doesn’t mean it’s dirty. Some sexual fluids don’t taste wonderful if someone’s got a poor diet or a health problems (and that can be worked round), and urine probably isn’t pleasant to taste but as we all know, at the point of leaving the body it is sterile. I think it’s a false association and it does remind me rather of the whole “douche” cultural fiasco that should never have happened.

      • Me either. And it also implies that if you wax to be cleaner, then people who don’t wax are UNCLEAN. And since people have a whole host of reasons to not wax, using the cleanliness justification just gets weirder. Can’t afford monthly waxes? Poor = UNCLEAN.

        A group of us in college all went and got our first ever waxes together, and we all had vastly different experiences. Some girls loved it. One girl said she’s never doing it again because she kept peeing all over the toilet seat without the hair to direct the flow. One girl loved it so much she’s been getting it done monthly ever since. One girl said she couldn’t stand how sweat now trickles down her butt crack when working out. One girl got ingrown hairs sooooo badly that she vowed never to do it again. And the rest of us feel somewhere in between. So not everyone’s skin reacts the same to it. Not everyone has the same priorities- for some people waxing is totally worth the money ( and others like it but don’t think it’s worth the money all the time.

        • I get your point…however , I think it’s not about BEING clean or unclean, but FEELING clean or unclean. At least in my case. I do it because i feel clean when i am hair free, but in no way do i believe people who don’t do it are dirty or poor. I believe it’s a matter of personal preference. I just feel itchy and sweaty when i dont shave everything off, and i enjoy physical intimacy more when i literally have skin to skin contact, but i do know a lot of people who feel differently about it and it’s ok. We all have different tastes 🙂

  23. It takes me about 15 minutes once or twice a month to wax myself. I only do my underarms and the bikini line. I can only shave my legs, everywhere else gets horrible ingrown hairs-like almost every follicle. I still get ingrown hairs with waxing, but it’s nowhere near as bad as shaving and since waxing lasts longer they’ve usually cleared long before the time I need to wax again. Shaving my bikini line was nearly impossible: by the time I needed to shave again (maybe 2-3 days later) my skin would still be irritated and bumpy and I couldn’t shave if I wanted to, underarms were just as bad.

    My progression with waxing myself started with the prewaxed strips, then I progressed to a cold sugaring/waxing product and now I’ve moved to a microwave heated warm wax. A $15 kit every 6 months plus whatever extra supplies I need seems well worth it to me since there are very few people that I don’t mind touching me, I will probably never be able to let some stranger do it for me.

    • Waxing my underarms, which I’ve only ever done once, was amazingly quick and painfree! It took half the time that shaving does, and the hair was gone for much longer, and I didn’t get itchy ouchy stubble or razor bumps. It was SO simple that I don’t feel like it’s a value to pay for it… I want to learn to do it for myself.

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