A few years ago, a friend and I took a mini road trip from Toronto to Guelph, Ont. to hit up one of their popular outdoor antique markets. It was there that I spotted a large wooden crate filled with vintage Playboy issues dating back to the 1960s and 1970s. I picked up the top one from the stack and casually flipped through it. My eyes took in naked woman after naked woman – posing near haystacks, lounging on beds, crouching outdoors, jumping with abandon. All of them had one thing in common: they each sported a full bush – coarse, thick, au naturel. I recall thinking about what was going on between my legs at the time and mused, “lucky them, they don’t have to wax down there.”
As a woman of half-Mediterranean descent (my father was born in Italy), I’ve spent the better part of my life struggling to keep my body hair in check. Back then, I never would have admitted that I was at war with my body, but I know that I was. Armpits and leg hair were only the beginning – from the moment I got my first period at age 12 my eyebrows have been unruly, my naval and upper lip fuzzy and my arms covered in a significant amount of dark hair, from wrist to mid-bicep. I even have one dark stray hair that grows on the same spot of my chin – lets just say “Spike” and I have a long-standing monthly plucking date. When I got my first tattoo, the tattooist gently shaved the faded hairs on my lower back with a hot pink Bic razor in the spot where I wanted to get inked. Let me tell you: for an 18-year-old making her first real “grown up” decision about her body, it was mortifying. It also did not help my bruised ego that the tattoo artist was hot.
My journey with my bush began
I spent years poking and prodding at my body, willing the hair to just disappear. I spent countless sums of money keeping myself freshly waxed or shaved. I even used the horrific, chemical-riddled Nair in an effort to make my mustache obsolete. (Instead, I wound up with lightened skin above my lip, making the rest of my face look randomly tanned. Lovely.) Yet, once I became sexually active, the wild eyebrows and arm hair were the least of my concerns because I never knew what to do about my bush. Doctors (and a quick Google search) tells us pubic hair protects the vagina from bacteria and skin abrasions (great!), but society tells women that bald is beautiful (thanks, porn).
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for women doing whatever they want with their bodies – if you love waxing yourself bald every month, WAX AWAY. If you prefer going au naturel, then BUSH IT UP. But, with age and hindsight, I’ve had to acknowledge that all the ways I tweezed, shaved and waxed my body weren’t for me at all – in my case, they were to appease societal expectations of what we’re told women should look like (which includes whatever is going on between our legs).
It took me a long time to realize that I’d never gotten the chance to love my bush, or any of my body hair, because I was preconditioned to feel ashamed and embarrassed by it.
I had started gently: As a teen, I regularly shaved along my bikini line in an effort to prevent strays pubes from popping out the side of my underwear or bathing suit. Eventually, though, that method became tiresome (and painful due to razor burn) so I graduated to waxing in my 20s. I started with the bikini line, moved onto a narrow “landing strip” and then one day worked up the courage for a full Brazilian. What can I say: I’d recently re-watched that episode of Sex and the City when Carrie gets her first Brazilian and thought I could handle it – which I could (I have decent pain tolerance). But I still hated it. Despite this, I kept monthly appointments for Brazilians for the next three years.
Learning to embrace my bush
If you’d asked me then why I did it, I would have said something along the lines of wanting to feel “neat” and “tidy” and “clean” – as if having body hair was inherently dirty. In reality, I did it because I thought that’s what men wanted.
Even though I was well into my 20s by this point and considered myself to have a decent amount of self-esteem, I didn’t feel comfortable enough in my own damn skin to trust that people could desire me, body hair or not. I even had proof that my anxiety was all for naught – I’d taken my full bush on dates with men before and had never gotten any negative feedback. But because I once overheard a long-ago crush comment to his friends on how gross he found body hair “down there”, it was embedded in my brain. And so, I still felt self-conscious about it enough that, at the age of 27, I got that first Brazilian.
In recent years, western culture has (finally) started to expand its horizons around beauty standards, in general. It’s still an uphill battle, but the beauty industry has been making strides towards more inclusivity and representation. One area that remains overlooked, however, is body hair. Although there’s been a slew of celebrities who have been photographed with armpit hair over the years (Amandla Stenberg, Miley Cyrus, Kelly Rowland, Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore and, most recently, The Crown’s Emma Corrin), there’s still the expectation that women be silky smooth – devoid of any body hair that isn’t on their head. Not that long ago, I had a conversation with a friend who admitted she still gets regular Brazilians because her boyfriend “prefers” it. I didn’t know how to respond.
The stigma surrounding body hair (specifically of the pubic variety) is so rampant, in fact, that letting your hair grow out has become reason enough for people to feel the need to comment or make random assumptions. A woman choosing to defy societal norms and do what she wants with her body should not come as a shock anymore. Not in 2021.
At age 31, I booked my last Brazilian appointment. At the time, I didn’t know it would be my last, but I’d gone through a terrible year on a personal level and those body insecurities and hang-ups suddenly seemed inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. I simply stopped caring. I’m married now to a man who makes me feel beautiful, inside and out – but I am proud that I’d finally recognized my own desirability (complete with body hair – the horror!) before I’d even met him. It took awhile, but I eventually got there.
In recent weeks, as we’ve all had to hunker down for a second major COVID lockdown in Ontario, I’ve read countless articles about women who have embraced their body hair while in quarantine. I’m happy for them. My only regret is that loving my body hair (and myself) was something I still had to learn well into my 30s. But better late than never, right?