Waxing Philosophical

Up North, summer comes and goes but it looks like Brazilian waxing is here to stay -- as a permanent resident, not a visitor.

This begs the question: Is pubic hair the new garter belt?

In the 1960s, an entire generation of men -- holdovers from the Fifties -- mourned the disappearance of the garter belt and swore they would "kill the man who invented pantyhose." Today's analogous protestors are vehemently opposed to the current passion for extreme bikini waxing. These thwarted voyeurs, yearning for a glimpse of lush nature, are the 21st century cousins of those who once bemoaned the demise of garter belt and stockings.

My friend Sally had a romantic run-in with one such man after their second bedroom encounter. "Tim is hinting that I should grow it back!" she told me. Men like Tim think there is something inherently noble and glorious about pubic hair growing wild on a woman's body. They see themselves as part of a wilderness preservation movement, and they want to prevent profiteering beauticians from destroying this natural resource. If you buy into their Rousseauist assumptions, they are valiant eco-defenders, protesting the defoliation of the female rainforest. And if you don't? Maybe they're trying to impose old-fashioned ideas about womanhood on a culture that is outgrowing its Northern chauvinism, embracing the styles and sounds and sexual attitudes of the Southern Hemisphere.

The Brazilianization of the North's hidden regions is now a fact of urban life. Globalization is not always about U.S. values imposed on other cultures. It can work both ways: Our most personal body parts are being "colonized" by beauticians from below the equator. As one with roots in both regions -- North and South -- I find this new trend encouraging.

There are fashions in pubic hair -- for those who doubt me, a quick perusal of porn through the decades will confirm this. But you don't have to be a porn consumer to know what's up down there. At one time, waxing was ladylike. Adventurous women kept their nether locks untrimmed as a gesture of womanly defiance against all that was prim and proper. In those days, emphasis was placed on how the waxee would look in her bathing suit and many salons provided a proxy bikini (made of paper) to wear during the session.

All this has changed. Waxing is no longer for prudes and the paper panties are pointless if you want the full treatment. Extreme pubic waxing is now associated with exotic dancers, porn stars and hookers. It has little to do with swim wear and more to do with how you look in the buff, perhaps during certain sex acts. My friends in the sex industry are all self-appointed experts on the lay-out and design of the female pubic region. To opt for a light bikini waxing (removal of a few stray hairs) -- in lieu of a Brazilian job (removing all but a few stray hairs) -- is to be "natural" and therefore conservative.

Lisa is a Brazilian waxing partisan, a New York call girl who began by grooming her lower lips, leaving "a small growth on the mound" because, she explains, "removing hair from the lips is less painful -- my nerve endings are more sensitive up top." She had been waxing for seven years, removing more each time, until she "went for it" and requested a "total Brazilian." Lisa takes ibuprofen before each waxing to reduce redness and swelling. Others take naproxen, the generic form of Aleve. Curiously, the hair on her head is long and wavy, creating a memorable contrast when she undresses. To be completely natural below the waist "is a sure sign that you're monogamous or celibate," says Lisa. To her, there isn't much difference.

Sally, who is still sparring with Tim over the length of her pubic hair, didn't start waxing until she was 24. Now in her thirties, she says, "It bothers me when I hear about 15-year-old girls removing all their pubic hair." What ever happened to that moment in a young girl's life when she takes pride in her budding womanhood? Is it disappearing as we speak -- like the rainforest?

"These girls are . . ." Sally gropes for the right words. "They're growing up too fast! I'm old enough to take my pubic hair for granted," she explains. "They're not!" But thirty-something notions about innocence and experience are often meaningless to people in their teens. A Toronto friend reports that her 17-year-old niece "is dating boys her own age who remove their own body hair. Her new boyfriend is a cyclist who says excess hair will just slow him down. For her, extreme bikini waxing isn't extreme, it's normal."

If mass body-waxing is about the normalization of the exotic, surely it is just a matter of time before pubic hair -- once taken for granted -- becomes a hot new fashion statement. Can pubic hair be "repackaged"? Can it be redefined as a deliberate architectural style choice -- rather than a gift of nature? By next June, we may have some answers.

Tracy Quan is the author of "Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl." Her next reading will be on Tuesday, June 17 6:30 pm at Barnes&Noble (212-807-0099) at 18th Street, 105 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10003. Her website is www.tracyquan.net.


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