I have a serious question, and you have to swear not to judge me: What the heck are women doing with their pubic hair these days? No really, I'm genuinely asking, because we've come so far, and I'm confused.
To go bare, bushy, or something in between has been a personal decision women have weighed since the 1980s when people first started caring about that sort of thing. But this question has been plaguing me with particular intensity over the past few months, and I think I know why: In this particular moment in history, women are becoming aware and outraged over unreasonable beauty standards more than ever before. In a time when even our president is a menace to gender equality, women are increasingly on guard when it comes to other people trying to control their bodies.
Scores of people who didn't think much about gender five years ago are now proudly identifying as feminists. Most of the women I know own shirts that say "The Future Is Female." Half a dozen female celebrities shaved their heads at one point, conveying a message that I interpreted to mean, "I no longer accept your expectations of femininity." There's no denying it: right now is a time of revolt.
You'd think the revolution would have to make its way down to our bikini lines, too—right? It follows that because people are wearing their feminism as boldly as they are right now, we would want to keep the message going by rejecting the Brazilian waxes that the porn industry taught us we need. (For more on the fascinating history of pubic hair removal, I suggest you click through this informative story from Refinery29. Strip clubs, internet porn, Gwyneth Paltrow, and a certain episode of Sex and the City Season 3 all contributed to the mainstream popularity of going bare down under.) However, an outright rejection of any kind of pubic hair grooming isn't right either—the point is that you're not supposed to feel pressured as to what to do with your body hair.
Pressure to grow it out for fear of being labeled a "bad feminist" is a thing too, and some people genuinely don't like the way pubic hair feels.
Personally, I haven't gotten a Brazilian wax in two years. And I state that with pride. (I also just want to quickly mention that I've been in a relationship for seven years, but I'm positive that if that weren't the case, I'd keep the pubes. I've never encountered a sexual partner who was picky about my nether regions—plus, if they never get used to seeing you waxed, then they'll never expect it. But I digress.) What I'm less proud of, however, is that every time I have to be seen in a swimsuit, I still (ambivalently) whip out a razor and get grooming. As angry and rebellious as women are right now, not many people seem to want to bring back the full bush.
Among my female friends, the only people I know who don't remove their pubic hair at all are incidentally dating other women. (My friend Molly says that removing your pubic hair contributes to this fantasy that just isn't as enticing to people with the same parts.) I also know plenty of hetero/mostly hetero women who still shave and wax. So I'm stuck on the question: How are women really grooming their bikini lines at this exact moment? Are women annihilating their hair just as much as they did 15 years ago? Or has there been an actual change?
To get to the bottom of pubic hair trends, I spoke with a group of hair removal specialists from all over the country—people who observe how real women shape their bikini lines every day. According to their insight, grooming trends seem to vary depending on age and geographic location. As it turns out, there is no straight answer to my question.
Katie Slanina, a waxer at Skintuition spa in Woodland Hills, says that in Southern California, the waxing business is still booming. "Over the years, there have been many trends, from a Playboy strip to completely bald," she says. But today most of Slanina's clients still prefer to wax it all off, save for new moms who generally like to leave a little something for coverage. "I still see anywhere from 20 to 40 clients daily for Brazilian waxing," Slanina says.
Other industry insiders say that laser hair removal is on the rise, as it's a more convenient method for women who don't have the time nor the tolerance for waxing. "We are seeing more and more women give up Brazilian waxes because it's causing them irritation and ingrown hairs. Also, waxing is not permanent, and it can be a time-consuming process," says Christian Karavolas, owner of Romeo & Juliette Laser Hair Removal Spa in New York City.
"Over the years, there have been many trends, from a Playboy strip to completely bald."
Meanwhile, Pamela Jeschonek, an esthetician and owner of Everyday Esthetics outside of Pittsburgh, maintains that she's seeing a growing number of women go the natural route. In contrast to the bikini-clad Angelenos and big city New Yorkers, her Pennsylvania clients are "over" the bare look. "Some ladies seem to age out of the style because they have kids and jobs, and it becomes less of a priority. But younger women are preferring a fuller look to keep in line with their more natural, active, organic lifestyles," she says.
"Most women do like to keep the hair trimmed and out of sight when wearing a bathing suit. But for now, it looks like bigger is better may be making a comeback."
So… does this mean I need to move to Pennsylvania? Regardless, I do feel hopeful that the feminist revolution will find its way into our pubes soon enough.