There are circumstances in which a woman might need to subject herself to surgical correction of her labia majora and minora. But as I heard in the car driving home yesterday afternoon, more women are seeking cosmetic refinement of their pudenum femininum.
I also heard that many young women anticipating their first sexual encounter submit to a Brazilian wax, because their male partners expect a bit of tidiness down there, and pubic hair isn’t considered tidy. One must be groomed. As a Kardashian declared, the only hair a woman should have on her body is the hair on her head.
The Brazilian, in case you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know, is the total deforestation of the pubic area.
In contrast, in pre-revolutionary France women teased up their pubic hair and decorated it with pearls, finishing off with diaphanous gowns through which prospective suitors could view their luxurious, bejewelled bush.
The modern woman also engages in the odd bit of vajazzling, gluing, pasting and sometimes piercing her Brazilianed bits with various kinds of bling.
This reminded me of my first introduction to these practices, apparently inspired by the porn industry, and about which I wrote as follows:
The last few weeks have been interesting. First up, I was bored and channel surfing and I came across the ABC’s Hungry Beast at the beginning of a report of cosmetic surgery on female genitals. This is apparently popular in Australia. It’s performed by plastic surgeons on women who think their genitals need a bit of a tidy. As I come from the generation who thought it revolutionary to crouch over the mirror and have a look, I was immediately engrossed in this report. I thought it might tell me how far we’d come.
How do you actually know your genitals need tidying, I wondered idly, as my revolution didn’t consist of a wide-scale comparative survey of loads of others. And this is where it really got scary.
The soft porn industry in Australia is allowed to publish images of female genitalia. However, these images may not be too explicit. You can’t show too many bits. So the photographs are airbrushed, with the result that the women in these magazines are portrayed as having genitals that are more likely to belong to a pre-pubescent girl.
In a wonderful example of a Baudrillardian nightmare in which the virtual not the actual has come to define what is ‘normal’, I learned that women and oftentimes their partners are taking these airbrushed models as guides to the way women’s genitals should be. The mature genitalia with their wrinkly bits and pieces are now perceived as imperfect. We can, and some think we should, get our genitals surgically deconstructed and reconstructed to look like we looked when we were ten.
The processing of photographs was described by porn industry air brushers as altering the appearance of the “vagina.” This confused me greatly for a while, being as the vagina is the inside bit. It seemed even more frightening than slicing up external bits. But to my relief the reporter explained that the industry prefers to use the term “vagina” rather than the term “labia,” due no doubt to some bizarre desire not to offend by being explicit.
I then watched in anguished disbelief as we were taken into the operating rooms of a plastic surgeon who was in the process of injecting anaesthetic into the genital area of an attractive young woman. After a bit of chat, and then getting down to some business we couldn’t see as he was filmed with his back to the camera, the surgeon emerged triumphant from his flurry under the blue sheets, holding aloft a piece of bloodied skin that immediately put me in mind of Van Gogh’s severed ear. It was, in fact, a good-sized chunk of one of the young woman’s labium.
What all of this has led me to conclude is that humans can be odd. I say humans because men also avail themselves of extensive pubic waxing, and they can buy sparklies for their dicks if they want. The beautician I heard says she stays away from waxing blokes’ bits. She doesn’t really want to go there, she said.
Clearly, intense attention to the appearance of the pubes is nothing new. The form that attention takes is dictated by the fashion and technology of the time. We are fascinated by one another’s bits, always have been always will be. Unlike baboons, we aren’t blessed with a natural involuntary aptitude for brilliant display. We have to figure out other ways to signal our sexual readiness. There is nothing to be done about this. In fifty years everyone may well be hairy again. But will everyone be more real?