The conversation in the pub the other night, after admittedly a quantity of alcoholic beverages had been consumed, turned to the attractiveness, or otherwise, of genitalia. The general consensus of the assembled company was that male genitalia was, by and large, rather ugly, dangly and ridiculous, in comparison to the far neater female equivalent. Given this near universal appreciation for the superior aesthetic quality of lady bits, the rise in modification and mutilation of female nether regions for no practical purpose is simply weird.
The widespread deforestation of female pubic regions which has occurred in the last twenty years is an environmental tragedy. It is now relatively normal for women to have no pubic hair whatsoever, and extensive “trimming” is considered de-rigor. Unlike other areas of body hair which women routinely remove – such as leg hair and armpit hair, the public region is rarely if ever seen outwith the context of the bedroom or doctors surgery. Given that removal of such hair is frequently painful and regrowth is damn itchy, it is a bizarre ritual that many, many women now participate in as a matter of course.
Rodger Friedland has tracked its disappearance, linked to the rise of womens’ liberation in the 1970s and the subsequent eroticisation of teenage girls, linking the removal of this hair with a conformity to a sexual attitudes which demand a youthful, clean body as epitomised by sexual regions which resemble those of young teenagers. While the very famous – and very explicit – “Joy of Sex” reveled in the display of pubic hair; porn discarded it leading a trend that women feel obliged to follow. Starting in the mid seventies, female porn stars sported less and less hair before becoming completely bald by the 90s – to the extent that pubic hair is now seen as a “fetish” within porn culture. Over a remarkably short period of time, this porn led fashion has been adopted amongst the wider population led by young women – with teenagers of 14 and 15 no longer seeing the advent of pubic hair as a sign of adulthood, but as the start of an inconvenient necessity to shave as part of “good hygiene with one study reporting that almost 90% of female university students depilitated.
Leading on from this anti-hirstute trend has come the rise of vejazzling: a further infantilisation of women’s pubic regions. Vejazzling involves the application of a pattern of small jewels to the shaved pubic region. This pubic decoration very closely resembles the jewellery of the childrens section, with all its daintiness and innocence, while the main designs of stars, flowers and butterflies would be more suited to primary school aged girls than adult women. What should be the area which denotes adult female sexuality has become infantilised and neutralised beyond recognition to a bland canvas for the display of childish art.
While depilitation is painful, itchy on regrowth and risks infection, far more worrying is the rise of vaginal surgery. Despite genital mutilation being outlawed in the UK, demand for cosmetic vaginal surgery has risen five fold in the last decade, with 2,000 women having vaginal surgery on the NHS in 2010. The exposure of the vaginal region occasioned by depilitation, coupled with comparisons to pornographic depictions of female genitalia has led to a widespread discontent among women about the appearance of their pubic region to the extent that surgery on an infrequently exposed area is considered an appropriate response to aesthetic concerns. While there can on occasions be medical need for labiaplasty, most women seeking the procedure have no medical requirement, yet even after reassurance that their genitalia is quite normal, almost 40% still wish to go ahead with major surgery. A wish that the private sector is only too willing to fulfill; with labiaplasty, vaginoplasty and hymenoplasty all available at private clinics for between £1000 and £4000 and further new and dangerous procedures being developed.
But tomorrow the au-naturale approach is fighting back. Hot on the heels of Slutwalk, the Muff March will take to the streets of London to highlight the danger of the porn culture which leads women to modify and mutilate their bodies for no reason other than to fit in with an aesthetic which is sold to us by porn, by beauticians and by surgeons. Under the slogan “Keep your mits off our muffs”, four hundred women are planning to march on Harley Street to protest at a culture which demands our that our already rather neat lady bits are shorn and hacked at in the name of “beauty”.