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Body Image

Vulva Chic

Bikini waxing—removing pubic hair that grows outside the swimsuit line—has been around for decades and seems rather quaint compared to what we must contend with now. Brazilian bikini waxing removes every wisp of hair from the genital and anal areas, leaving only a tiny decorative pouf at the top. Female celebrities and average women alike gush about the transformative power of going bare.

In many countries, a flash of pubic hair on the beach is considered no big deal, but women in North and South America are, in general, very squeamish about exposing hair down there. Today’s craze for totally hairless crotches is due largely to the popularity of thongs, which leave little to the imagination. Once the domain of strippers, thongs are now so mainstream that the corner drugstore sells thong-shaped panty liners.

What often goes unsaid in discussions of waxing (blame the ickiness factor) is that as a result of removing all the hair from the pubic region, grown women resemble prepubescent girls, and this is considered erotic. The popular online magazine Salon published an essay by a woman who wrote about her first Brazilian bikini wax: “I feel like a 12-year-old, but a naughty, Lolita kind of 12-year-old. This is hot.” She quotes a man whose girlfriend got a Brazilian as saying that the “little girl eroticism” of a bare vulva turns him on.4

The effort to make our private parts seem younger and more appealing is not limited to waxing alone; increasingly, women are turning to cosmetic surgery. Some women have their inner vaginal lips cut and shortened to make them smaller or more symmetrical through a surgery called labiaplasty. Others undergo surgical tightening of the vagina, which may be stretched by childbirth; such “vaginal rejuvenation” is touted to increase sexual pleasure. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some men are pressuring their female partners to have surgery so they more closely resemble the women in pornographic movies.5

The growing popularity of techniques that sculpt and style our vulvas and vaginas makes it clear that no part of our bodies—no matter how intimate—can escape society’s critical eye.

Excerpted from the 2005 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, © 2005, Boston Women's Health Book Collective.  

4. Christina Valhouli, “Faster Pussycat,Wax! Wax!,” Salon.com (September 2, 1999). [back to text]
5. Sandy Kobrin, “More Women Seek Vaginal Plastic Surgery,” Women’s eNews, November 14, 2004. [back to text]


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