Warning: This post is about pubic hair. If you don’t want to read about that, you may prefer to go look at this lovely video of a cute lamby instead.
A bunch of people shared this post about Instagram censorship. I’m not going to post the picture for several reasons: It’s not mine; Everyone’s seen it already; I don’t need my blog censored (just in case). To sum up, apparently, artist Petra Collins had her Instagram account deleted. According to her*, it was because of her bikini-clad, waist-down selfie in which her unaltered pubic hair is clearly visible, both above the waistband and around the legs. If you are one of the six people who haven’t read the post, be sure to read it.
After reading this, I had several thoughts. First, I don’t really care what Petra Collins puts on Instagram. I don’t care if she wears a bikini and you can see her pubes. I probably wouldn’t even wear a bikini at all, so good for her that she feels confident in her body like that.
Second, I get why it’s provocative–I know some won’t agree with me, but I think there is more sensuality implied with just-barely-exposed pubic hair than with no hair or full exposure. I think it’s actually artistic and interesting and beautiful, but it’s definitely suggestive. I don’t know that I think it violates any Instagram terms, however; it’s not what I would call “nudity” by any stretch.
Third, I think she’s right in her assessments about a culture that simultaneously wants to possess and reject female sexuality. Songs about “dubious” or no consent (you know, what I just call rape) clash violently with the film industry’s policing of female sexual pleasure. (For more on this, you really ought to watch the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated.)
Finally, and the point I’m most interested in, is the expectations for beauty and sexuality placed on women by our society. Culturally, even twenty years ago it wasn’t the norm to have a completely shaven pubic area. I remember back in college having that conversation with some of my dorm-mates. Most of us admitted to not shaving anything (hey, when you’re part of modesty culture, you don’t wear bikinis anyway, so no need to wax the bikini line). We all giggled about the girl who kept things neat with a pair of tiny sewing scissors. But we didn’t shell out money to have everything waxed bare. Well, other than my one classmate who told us about going on her honeymoon to Mexico and seeing–oh my god–A STRAY PUBE! We all thought she was a little odd anyway.
These days, it’s the norm for young women to take it all off. It’s becoming increasingly common for young men to do the same, though there doesn’t seem to be the same pressure on them. Although there are people who say sex is better for them when they and/or their partners are bare, the cultural trend is absolutely not about pleasure. Young teens, barely into puberty and already trying to remove their hair, are not doing it because they think they’re going to have better sex, and neither are the young adults who are not currently (or not yet) sexually active.
It’s all about beauty standards.
What are we teaching these young girls? How are they learning that their pubic hair is so unacceptable that it must be removed partially or fully? I’m not sure I agree that it’s about looking like children, although that is a disturbing thought (and I’m sure that there are people out there who prefer that). It’s about the monitoring of our bodies. We cannot go anywhere without seeing at least one thing that tells us what we should look like, how we should dress, and what makes us acceptable. Models in magazines. Internet porn. “Health”-related ads. Television and movies.
I don’t know about you all, but I’m sick of being told what is or isn’t acceptable about my body. As if it weren’t enough to be told I need a thin figure, big boobs, and flawless skin, now I also need to shave off my pubes, or spend thousands of dollars either waxing or having treatments to prevent the hair from growing? No.
I’m not interested in having anyone tell me what to do with my pubic hair, whether it’s media or friends or the person I’m having sex with. I’m grateful that I’m not married to someone who believes he has the right to tell me what to shave. If you want to shave/wax/whatever because you like it, go right ahead. But please don’t do it just because someone else said they don’t like what’s naturally there. There’s no problem with couples determining what’s best for them, but no one but me decides what I will do with my body. No one should feel pressured to change for a partner, and if you do, then perhaps that person isn’t right for you.
You know what else I don’t need? I don’t need other people to tell me what I should find sexy. As much as I despise being told that my own body hair (or anything else about my body) is “unsightly” or “unappealing,” I also detest being told that I should agree with that perspective. Hey, if you are having awesome bare-crotch sex, that’s great–for you. It’s pretty important, though, that you don’t spout off about it as though the rest of us are somehow lacking in intimacy because we either don’t care or actively dislike the idea. When someone says that it’s “more” or “better” in some way, without qualifying that they mean personal preference, implicit in the statement is that it’s “less” or “worse” for the rest of us. It’s just another way to shame and police others, and it needs to stop. That’s like saying you’re having better sex because of your size (body, breasts, penis–whatever).
It’s important that we understand the distinction between an individual or couple’s preference and a cultural trend. The former is only the business of the people directly involved, whereas the latter affects all of us. We should also be aware of the degree to which we are influenced by societal pressure. I’m not convinced that most of the people who remove their pubic hair are doing so because they genuinely prefer themselves that way. Too many of us have been shamed about our bodies for me to believe it’s all about feeling or being “confident” and “sexy.” I’m also not convinced that the vast majority of people care all that deeply about having their partners be bare.
When will we as a society reach a point when we stop referring to pubic hair as “dirty” (yes, that’s a thing) and removing it? Maybe it’ll happen around the same time we stop referring to our vulvas as “down there.” Hopefully, that will be when we can also stop looking to photoshopped models as the measuring stick for our own beauty.
*I have no idea if that’s the real reason the account was deleted. I have only one acquaintance who ever had an account deleted anywhere, and he was given warning. When he refused to comply with the request to remove certain images, he was asked to delete his account–which he did. So I’m not sure why Instagram would randomly delete an account without first giving a warning or asking for the photo to be removed. I don’t think that matters, though, with regard to the larger point being made here.