Until recently, I was absolutely convinced that there was essentially no “generation gap” anymore. When I was young, adults were up in arms about long-haired hippies and rock and roll music. I don’t love all the current music and its messages, but really a lot of it is not all that different from what people my age have always listened to. And while certainly adults will always long for the “good old days, when…, I just wasn’t seeing the yawning chasm between kids and their parents that existed during the ‘60s and ‘70s.
But then one day when I was teaching a class I realized that there is, indeed, a generation gap — and it has to do with our feelings about body hair. We got into in a discussion during which I pointed out that in no time at all there had been a virtual revolution in attitudes toward body hair — specifically, pubic hair. Women and men of my generation and before were brought up in an era when women’s pubic hair was actually considered sexy because it was a sign of adulthood. A “money shot” was one in which pubic hair was seen. I have always assumed that the term “beaver” came from the idea that women had hair on their genitals. That is not to say that women didn’t “trim.” Most of the women I know shaved their “bikini lines,” and later, many waxed them. And perhaps some tried shaving the area completely a time or two just for fun. But seemingly overnight, and when I wasn’t looking, the presence of pubic hair signaled messiness, dirtiness, and general ickiness. Comic allusions were all over TV shows and movies that pubic hair was unpleasant, dirty, a sign of being unkempt–the “jungle” apparently now needed to be “tamed.”
When did this happen? It’s not that I hadn’t been hearing about the so-called Brazilian wax. But the thought of it was both horrifying (the pain! the irritation!) and funny (who would want genitals that look like those of a pre-pubertal girl?). I never imagined that it would take hold and that young women would begin to think they have to keep their genitals virtually as smooth as we were conditioned to believe we had to keep our legs and underarms. After all, isn’t it obvious that 1) hair is there at least in part to keep dirt from getting in 2) pubic hair is a sign that puberty has been passed through — lack of hair is a sign, well, of the opposite, and 3) maintaining a hair-free pubic area would entail pain, irritation, itchiness, and a very strong commitment?
So why did all this happen? I’m sure there are many factors. Certainly, the fashion industry always plays a role in such trends, as there is money to be made. The more people can be convinced that the way they look isn’t acceptable, the more money they will spend to alter their looks. Women’s magazines and celebrities then perpetuate the ideas. And then there’s porn, which is a subject for another blog entirely. But boys now have access to a lot of porn. And many women in porn are shorn. So boys think that’s how an adult woman’s pubic area looks — like a Barbie Doll’s. Female students have told me that boys/men have made it clear that they’re simply not interested if there’s hair down there. It’s a turn off. A (feminist) male student once told me that he’s so conditioned to there being no hair that the smell is too strong when it is there. I have not had young women who are in relationships with other women weigh in on this, so I’d be interested to hear those reactions.
I haven’t been in a locker room in awhile, but I’m guessing the generation gap would be on full display there if women were as comfortable walking around naked as men apparently are. I think we’d see women “of a certain age” with what we used to call a “bush,” and women of a younger age with little to no pubic hair. However, my guess is that the “certain age” is gradually (or not so gradually) creeping upward. Cultural forces like this can be insidious and have probably already begun to convince even those of us who grew up with the idea that pubic hair was fine and even sexy that maybe it actually is a bit gross and needs to be removed. So I’m guessing more and more women in their 40s and 50s are going and will be going to get those Brazilians (or versions of it) at the ever increasing number of store fronts that offer a variety of depilatory services. And I’ve certainly heard that increasing numbers of men are opting for the hairless look. So maybe I’ll just have to accept that it’s turning from a generation gap into a revolution.