In defence of bush


After Galloway’s off-colour remarks on Kylie, maybe it’s unwise for me to turn this blog’s attention to ladies’ front bottoms, but I couldn’t resist Madam Miaow on the HBO series Rome, wherein the female cast (all size zero, natch) have Brazilian waxes of dubious historical accuracy. This is, I suppose, where the ancient Romans’ aversion to pubic hair seems to fit in with modern fashions.

(Incidentally, I refer any readers who haven’t yet seen it to Marc Mulholland’s account of his life in Militant, with its immortal – and quite true – story of Militant’s Ballymena branch putting up posters advertising a “pubic meeting”.)

Louise is correct that the current shaving/waxing mania owes a great deal to the porn industry. In fact, Ariel Levy goes on about this at some length in Female Chauvinist Pigs – I’m sceptical about the whole “raunch culture” thesis, but she is onto something in terms of the pornographication of popular culture, and this obsession on the part of women (and increasingly men) with removing every last follicle of body hair can be taken as a direct consequence of that.

But it was not ever thus, as in the heyday of 1970s porn where women looked like real women, with tummies, cellulite and, yes, big hairy bushes. In fact, a woman like Kay Parker, who had obviously never been near a waxing strip in her life, could be seen in the porn industry as the epitome of sexiness. I’m not sure it would be correct to say that porn was less misogynistic in the old days, but I do think it’s relatively healthier to portray women who look like actual women as opposed to holding up surgically enhanced women who look like blow-up dolls as the standard.

This, of course, has a lot to do with the difference in fashions between the 1970s and today. Don’t even bother with 1970s porn – if you look at legitimate exploitation movies of the same period, you find the same thing. Over in the blaxploitation genre, the wonderfully glamorous Pam Grier’s frequent nude scenes drew attention not just to her spectacular figure, but also to her, ahem, other afro. The late Russ Meyer used to say that one of his biggest battles with the censors, among many, was over Kitten Natividad’s bush, which was just too bushy for the stuffed shirts at the MPAA to cope with.

Today, this all seems like a far-off age. That’s why I found it cheering while watching The Door in the Floor – not a very cheerful film in general – when Mimi Rogers’ brave full-frontal scene came around, to note that Mimi was sporting a neatly trimmed triangular bush. Given that the point of the scene was to show the body of a middle-aged woman who hadn’t been nipped and tucked into oblivion, a trendy wax job would probably have spoiled the effect.

Things change, and not always for the better. The waxing mania seems to be very much a North American fashion, spilling over into Britlandia, while the continental Europeans are less prone to this kind of silliness. Obviously women will do what they want in terms of their appearance, but I can’t help thinking there is something not quite right with a culture that prefers the plastic to the natural.


  1. Louise said,

    December 1, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    “Louise is correct that the current shaving/waxing mania owes a great deal to the porn industry”

    Cheers comrade, a fountain of knowledge me…. 😉

    Madam Miaow raises pertinent issues in her post about the ever changing demands placed on women (to shave or not to shave, that is the question).

    But I have serious reservations re Levy’s thesis on raunch culture. She doesn’t have a clear analysis of capitalism, commodification, contradictions inherent withinh capitalism and power relationships between men and women. Why did women in 1970s porn looked like real women? Could it be partly to do with the height of the women’s liberation movement and the rise of the second wave of feminism? These influences did have an impact on the political consciousness of the porn and sex industry (feminist orgs like COYOTE – Call Off Your Tired Old Ethics – was set up in the early 1970s).

    The problem I have with Levy is that it smacks of radical feminism and it doesn’t help when she describes women as “bimbos” and “trashy” for flashing their midriffs and pants. If you want to engage women to any of these arguments then denegating is going to help.

    I think Lynne Segal is spot-on in her analysis of raunch culture:

    “Sex is always a crucible of contradictions, but I find Levy’s own contradictions uncreative. We do need to talk more about the effects of our sexualised landscapes, but I don’t think we should be hoping for any manifesto that will tell us what good, authentic sex is. To imagine such a thing could exist it is to demonstrate the very kind of pared-down lack of imagination the book projects, perhaps rightly, on to the entrepreneurs of raunch.”

  2. Korolev said,

    December 1, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    I can’t help seeing an undercurrent of paedophilia in this current fashion for scraping off almost all body hair. Hair is a secondary sexual characteristic, a sign of sexual maturity and adulthood. It is pre-pubescent children who have hairless bodies. Why are women, particularly those who display their bodies, expected to look like children? It all seems rather unhealthy.

  3. Louise said,

    December 1, 2007 at 5:33 pm

    But what I would also argue is that, as well, sex is much more aggressively marketised now than it was during the 1970s. Every aspect of life is scruntised and commodified under capitalism.

  4. Mike said,

    December 1, 2007 at 8:01 pm

    When did you last shave splinty?

  5. splinteredsunrise said,

    December 1, 2007 at 8:16 pm

    It wasn’t yesterday, nor the day before. 🙂

  6. Phil said,

    December 1, 2007 at 8:59 pm

    Every aspect of life is scruntised and commodified under capitalism.

    That’s an excellent typo.

  7. December 1, 2007 at 11:33 pm

    It’s not as messy or as hard as some may think
    It’s all about the flow of the wrist.

  8. Lobby Ludd said,

    December 2, 2007 at 12:12 am

    “Every aspect of life is scruntised and commodified under capitalism.”

    I understand the ‘commodified’ bit, but not sure on the ‘scrutinised’ bit (assuming that was the typo). Can you explain, Louise?

  9. Louise said,

    December 2, 2007 at 12:41 am

    Oh well, no Freudian slip tis a typo. Meant to say scrutinised. But you all knew that, didn’t you. Lobby Ludd, what I mean is that every aspect of life is scrutinised with a view to extracting a profit from it.

  10. Wednesday said,

    December 2, 2007 at 8:37 am

    There’s an interesting thesis to be written on how feminism, for all its positive effects (and I would certainly remain unapologetically supportive of it), has largely failed to empower women to resist societal pressures with regard to personal appearance. Maybe things would have been worse without feminism, who knows, but I’m certain that the early editions of Ms Magazine would have predicted only in a worst-case scenario that 35 years down the line women would be removing all the body hair not originating from their scalp and having surgery to ‘correct’ the size of their labia.

    I’m not entirely sure porn has as much to do with it as most people assume. That seems a bit too easy – and for all the talk about the ‘mainstreaming’ of porn, it’s still sufficiently deviant, sociologically speaking, that there has to be some sort of limit to its impact. You certainly wouldn’t see the Size 0 trend if porn was as big an influence as it’s said to be (today’s porn stars may not have tummies, but neither can you count all their ribs). I’m more inclined to think it’s just the inevitable result of a trend toward female hairlessness that began early in the 20th century (see interesting article here) which porn is reflecting, and perhaps reinforcing.

    Removal of forearm hair is the next big shaving trend (it’s already started in fact). Bit frightening to ponder what women will be expected to do then, once there is no more body hair to remove.

  11. Phil said,

    December 2, 2007 at 10:36 am

    Maybe things would have been worse without feminism

    Maybe it’s my operaismo coming out, but I think the pressure to look like a Barbie doll would probably have been less intense without feminism. It’s easy to overlook just how much ground women have taken, just how recently; even twenty years ago I’d have had a slight double-take at the thought of a woman doctor or a woman lecturer. And it’s because of that, I think, that there’s been such a strong backlash in the areas where women can still be policed as women.

    That, and the more everyone obsesses about their appearance the more we all think like atomised, competitive consumers. (They’re selling body shavers to men now. Yeesh.)

  12. Alex Nichols said,

    December 2, 2007 at 11:07 am

    The pressure to remove body hair is subject to strong capitalist market pressures for men too.

    Ever tried to buy a razor blade recently?

    There’s a continual drive towards planned obsolescence, which has gone from the humble safety razor to the latest incarnation, the vibrating “Gillette Fusion Power Stealth”.
    As in, stare bleary-eyed into the mirror of a morning and imagine you’re at the controls of a state-of-the-art nuclear bomber.

    The blades you once got for your humble two or three blade model are no longer in the shops, so you’re continually forced up-market and have to pay through the nose for the latest model.
    Four Gillette FPS blades currently retail in “Superdrug” for £11.99

    Of course it’s rather more socially acceptable for men to go hirsute than women and even has a certain cachet.
    But not exactly the favoured image for advancement in the corporate world or government.
    (David Blunkett, of course, had a get-out clause)

    Personally, I’ve always flinched at the thought of women having to shave their underarms and think Modigliani had about the right aesthetic on the question and I’ve always quite fancied Kate Bush.

  13. Alex Nichols said,

    December 2, 2007 at 1:49 pm

    “The truth is revolutionary”

  14. Charlie said,

    December 2, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    I must say, Splintered seems to have a pretty comprehensive knowledge of 70s porn 😉 . I’d like to float out another idea here though, that actually the trend towards hairlessness may well be something which has emerged parralel to the idea of sex as a general social trend… The infantilisation of sex has been mentioned as a possible reason, but I’d be inclined to lean more towards the idea that the consumer generations of the 80s and 90s have an almost organic predisposition to dislike anything seemingly as vulgar as ‘nature’.

    Through that period we saw a movement towards the more plastic-wrapped, insincere and ‘glam’ society we know today, the fashion trends amongst blokes moved away from the ‘cave-man chic’ of the 70s to the clean-shaven yuppie baby-face – the sweaty, rugged barbarity of rock-and-roll and Punk to the cologne-drenched, sophisticatedly drug-addled and strangely dainty world of trashy 80s pop. But the 80s wasn’t where it started; the 80s was merely one of the first points at which the Great British public had the cash to be consumers, and to buy into the imagery they saw on TV. Show me a piccie of Marylin Monroe with straggly pits – I doubt such a picture exists.

    Rather than anything innately to do with sex, I think the tendency to lose the body-hair is the organic aesthetic by-product of any society in which the prevailing ideology puts human-beings above their primal, base existence. The ‘sanitisation’ of human being goes hand in hand with an ideology of consumerism. In a consumer society we are constantly bombarded with increasing numbers of amenities which seperate us from the daily-chore of ‘life’, whether they be washing-machines and toasters or remote-controls and hoover-bots… it’s not surprising when we’re increasingly living in a society where we are being encouraged to dispose of all aspects of our life in which we are actually physically required to [i]do[/i] something that we are also encouraged to seperate ourselves from the reminders that we are animals, at the end of the day, full to brimming with icky hormones, smells, germs and a surprisingly variable collection of fungi.

  15. Wednesday said,

    December 2, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    Phil, you could be right with the second point but I don’t buy the “backlash” hypothesis at all in this case. I mean we’re talking about women’s inability to internalise certain tenets of feminism – and that includes women who identify as feminists. I don’t see how we could have been expected to internalise them if we’d never been exposed to them in the first place.

  16. Phil said,

    December 2, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    we’re talking about women’s inability to internalise certain tenets of feminism – and that includes women who identify as feminists

    We may be talking at cross purposes. I’m talking about the pressures & expectations brought to bear on women & girls, and which shape our (not only women’s) sense of what’s normal & acceptable.

  17. charliemarks said,

    December 2, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    I’ve always thought it interesting that gay pornography follows straight porn in losing body hair in the 80’s. Is it something about the 80’s I wonder? Did tastes change, so to speak? Nowadays, porn has become so specialised and widely distributed that it’s difficult to accurately summarise current trends.

    Further to what Korolev says, the use of young adults who look to be underage is more than a little distasteful – the “barely legal” pitch is directed at paedophiles, I’m sure.

  18. andy newman said,

    December 3, 2007 at 1:34 am

    ” Nowadays, porn has become so specialised and widely distributed that it’s difficult to accurately summarise current trends”

    Indeed that would take a lot of arduous research.

  19. Wednesday said,

    December 3, 2007 at 6:32 am

    I’m talking about the pressures & expectations brought to bear on women & girls, and which shape our (not only women’s) sense of what’s normal & acceptable.

    Well the implication of what you’re saying is that those pressures and expectations wouldn’t have existed, or would be greatly lessened, if not for feminism and I don’t see how you can possibly arrive at that conclusion. Such pressures existed before feminism and they exist in cultures where feminism has had minimal impact.

  20. Binh said,

    December 3, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    So what about armpit hair? In America, it’s expected that women shave their armpit hair to be “sexy” and you often see comedians joking about French women who don’t shave. Just wondering where that came from, I suspect it has a similar but distinct history from the subject of this post.

  21. splinteredsunrise said,

    December 3, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    I suspect they are linked in some way – it seems to be one of those Anglo-American things. Certainly the French, Germans or Italians don’t seem to have a phobia about female armpit hair, while in the Anglo-Saxon world you now see men going for the hairless armpit look. Puzzling.

  22. Garibaldy said,

    December 3, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    I think the female armpit thing is changing in France. Men who remove hair or moisturise need to watch Fight Club, and think about the nature of consumer capitalism and the creation of demand.

  23. Mbari said,

    December 3, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    Men too are increasingly under societal pressure to shave/ wax their chest and back. Men’s Health, which I believe is still read by some heterosexual men, apparently has a ‘no hairy chests’ policy for its covers.

    Garibaldy, I don’t see what you mean about Fight Club. When I watched it, I thought it was a sly pisstake of fascism. Is there more to it?

  24. Phil said,

    December 3, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    the implication of what you’re saying is that those pressures and expectations wouldn’t have existed, or would be greatly lessened, if not for feminism

    Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. To put it another way, I’m suggesting that pressures for women to match a physical norm may become greater – and more invasive – when the norms governing gender roles are successfully challenged. It’s a backlash, but not on the same terrain as the original… um… lash.

  25. Wednesday said,

    December 3, 2007 at 9:40 pm

    I don’t know that those pressures actually have become greater, though. It’s not like they’re a modern/western phenomenon. It wasn’t a feminist society that created foot binding for example. It isn’t feminist societies that compel women to insert big plates in their lips, or to wear debilitating neck rings. These pressures seem to be fairly close to universal – where feminism comes into it IMO is that we would have hoped it would do a better job of enabling women to resist them.

    Binh – the page I linked to in my first post on this topic explains the origin of armpit shaving.

  26. Phil said,

    December 3, 2007 at 10:11 pm

    I don’t know that those pressures actually have become greater, though.

    Not globally, century on century, no. But there have been changes in both these areas over the last 20-30 years in Britain, so it’s not entirely implausible that the two apparently contradictory trends might be connected.

  27. Wednesday said,

    December 4, 2007 at 6:26 am

    How exactly have the pressures on women changed – apart from in terms of the specific demands, which have always changed from one generation to another?

  28. December 4, 2007 at 11:50 am

    Is there a political space for the Bolshevik Union of Socialist Hirsutes?

  29. Phil said,

    December 4, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    Thirty years ago there were a few women who thought it was possible for a women to become a lawyer or an MP, but the vast majority didn’t. Thirty years ago there were a few women who thought women should manage their appearance to the level of facelifts, breast implants and Brazilians (I’m crossing my legs at the very thought), but the vast majority didn’t. Only one of these changes is empowering!

  30. Garibaldy said,

    December 4, 2007 at 12:13 pm


    I thought Fight Club was taking the piss out of consumerist culture and how it emasculates the male as much as fascism. All the stuff about furniture, cornflower blue ties etc. Surely it’s about how modern consumer capitalism is unfulfilling? American Beauty does the same in a more middle-aged way.

  31. charliemarks said,

    December 4, 2007 at 9:50 pm

    In Fight Club, as well as a critique of fascism (and anarchist praxis) and consumer capitalism, there’s the more disguised critique of the portrayal of homosexuality as effeminacy and the whole notion of a discreet gay culture or lifestyle.

    To bring it back to porn, is the growth in homemade pornography – made possible in “the developed world” by technological advances – something that is liberating, or does it just mean that porn becomes more exploitative (unpaid “performers”)?

  32. Phil said,

    December 4, 2007 at 10:23 pm

    or does it just mean that porn becomes more exploitative (unpaid “performers”)?

    I’d imagine it’d also be more alienating (self-consciously performing for the camera, putting yourself on display). Now we can all be voyeurs and exhibitionists…

  33. Wednesday said,

    December 5, 2007 at 7:14 am

    Phil, did you stop reading my question before the “apart from” clause?

    And it actually the case that there are more unpaid performers in homemade porn? Maybe it is but that doesn’t seem self-evident to me. So much homemade porn is just women setting themselves up with webcams – I suppose that would be liberating when compared to making porn under someone else’s direction and in order to make someone else money.

    I’m not sure why it would be more alienating than traditional porn; surely “self-consciously performing for the camera” etc applies to that too.

  34. Phil said,

    December 5, 2007 at 8:34 am

    Weds – no, but if I took it literally I’d be left with “how has the situation changed, except in terms of the specifics?”, which is a bit of a meaningless question. Besides, add up a lot of quantity and you get quality.

  35. Alex Nichols said,

    December 5, 2007 at 8:55 am

    Pubic Sociologist:

    “Is there a political space for the Bolshevik Union of Socialist Hirsutes?”

    There’s a thesis to be written on whether the transition to the moustache amongst the Soviet leadership was a marker for bureaucratic degeneration, or simply increased steel production.

    Compare for instance:-


    Big hats can help prevent degeneration though:

    On the other hand, the “Imperial” seems to be a definite marker for direct action anarcho types:-

  36. Wednesday said,

    December 5, 2007 at 9:11 pm

    Phil, the thing is that the examples that you’re offering aren’t different pressures – they aren’t even examples of new ideals of feminine attractiveness. Facelifts = youth. Breast implants = voluptuousness. Brazilians = hairlessness. All of these demands existed before feminism, even if the current technology by which to achieve them didn’t.

  37. Phil said,

    December 6, 2007 at 10:27 pm

    My argument is that they’re greater and more invasive pressures. I don’t see any qualitative difference between “you must wear lipstick” and “you must wear eyeshadow”. The shift from “look thin” to “*be* thin” – or from “shave your legs” to “shave everything” – is a qualitative change, I’d argue.

  38. Elizabeth said,

    December 7, 2007 at 6:01 pm

    Narcissism, pedophilia and consumerism all intersect.
    The more body hair you remove, the more products you use to remove it–or the more often you use them, and need replacements.

    Nothing is less sexually appealing than a man with a shaved chest in my opinion. But that’s just another example of how gay trends affect fashion– negatively, in my opinion.

  39. Wednesday said,

    December 8, 2007 at 8:43 am

    I’m not sure, first of all, that they are actually greater pressures. And they’re still less invasive than some of the feminine ideals I referenced above from other (non-feminist) cultures.

    What you see as qualitative changes, I see as just further moves along a continuum that preceded feminism. A move from shaving legs to shaving armpits to shaving – or more usually waxing – everything else. A move from corsets to padded bras (=external props) to implants (=internal props) to make the breasts appear bigger. From external face creams to Botox injections. These are processes that were already in train before feminism – and it seems far more reasonable to me to think that feminism has failed to stop them than to think that they would somehow have stopped themselves before this point if it wasn’t for feminism.

  40. Phil said,

    December 8, 2007 at 10:37 pm

    Sure, but that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that those processes may have accelerated and intensified, in reaction against the victories of women’s liberation elsewhere.

  41. Wednesday said,

    December 9, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    Yes, but as I’ve said, I don’t think the case has been made that the processes have accelerated or intensified. I don’t suppose we’re going to come to an agreement on this.

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