Capitalism's surprising connection to shaving your pubes and oral sex

Capitalism's surprising connection to shaving your pubes and oral sex

CultureNovember 02, 2018 By Isabelle Kohn

"OUCH. Fuck."

That's the all-too-frequently war cry of those of us who make the brave decision to shave our pubes. As we drag the razor's sharpened blades along the delicate skin of our curves and crevices, we pray to God one of two things happen:

1. We don't slice anything off.

2. Pubic hair becomes trendy again.

After all, shaving a place that has no business being shaven sucks. It's time-consuming, painful, expensive and one rogue muscle twitch away from an embarrassing hospitalization.

So, why do we do it?

The drive to depilate is a social one, propagated by the desire to feel attractive or clean. However, there's a loftier, much more nebulous entity responsible for those feelings we have to point the finger at: capitalism.

Yep. America's favorite economic system actually has much more to do with the shape of your pubes than you might know.

Throughout history, pubic hair removal had a minor historical precedent amongst the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, who saw public hair as shamefully animalistic remnants of the human connection to the animal kingdom. However, outside those more famous examples, women had been letting their hedges go untrimmed for centuries, particularly in Europe. For them, pubic hair wasn't an issue, as long as it was kept private. It was regarded as a salacious symbol of female sexuality and fertility, and posed no threat to the person who owned it or the masses they existed in ... save for the occasional scabies outbreak.

As we all know though, capitalism is famous for creating problems out of thin air, then inventing brands, products and services to solve those imaginary issues. That's exactly what happened in July of 1915, when American women began experiencing a new kind of messaging never before conveyed to them in advertising: hair was out. Smooth was in.

The impetus for this message was women's changing fashion. Skirts shortened, ankles were revealed and pale shoulders saw the light of day. As women's arms and legs became increasingly more exposed however, they were met with the newfangled suggestion from razor company Gillette that the body hair these new fashions revealed was "unsightly" and "objectionable."

Thus, it needed to get gone. That summer, Gillette introduced the first razor for women, and suggested they do something about that. For these women, body and pubic hair had not been a problem. Yet, here was a well-known company offering a cheap, accessible solution for it.

photo - shaving ads for women

Capitalism, meet pube. Pube, meet capitalism.

From that point, the world of depilation exploded as women were inundated with advertising marketing hair removal products to them. Soon enough, it became clear that hair removal was beneficial in containing outbreaks of pubic lice, and suddenly women who went bare were seen as both cleaner and safer.

Yet it wasn’t until the Ladies Home Journal publisher and marketer, Cyrus Curtis, delivered an infamous speech to his advertisers that it became clear just how much hair removal had become a product of the capitalist mentality.

“Do you know why we publish the Ladies Home Journal?" he asked his advertisers. "The editor thinks it is for the benefit of American women. That is an illusion…the real reason, the publisher’s reason, is to give you people who manufacture things that American women want and buy a chance to tell them about your products."

By the time the bikini was introduced in 1946, the hair removal craze was in full force. Women, having believed for decades now that body hair was to be ripped out or sliced off, knew well and good what to do with their pubic hair so it wouldn't (god forbid) stick out the sides of their swimsuits.

In the intervening decades, public hair has ridden the rollercoaster of acceptance. In the '60s and '70s, the rising feminism and sexual liberation movements steered pubes into decidedly woollier territory, but in the '80s, pubic bareness regained prevalence with the growing popularity of S&M porn. In S&M, it was common practice to shave women in order to make them appear weak, vulnerable and submissive. Something about that aesthetic caught on, and nude magazines like Playboy and Hustler began to print images of shaved vagina soon thereafter, thus influencing the tastes of generations of men and women who visited their sticky pages. In the late '90s, Brazilian waxing became a celebrity trend thanks to New York's J. Sister Salon in 1987, but it didn't enter the cultural consciousness until 1999, when stars like Gwyneth Paltrow began claiming that the look was "life-changing." Things really exploded when Carrie Bradshaw got waxed on Sex & The City. "I feel so free!" she exclaimed.

People went nuts. Public lice went extinct.

Here's where things get even more interesting though; the enthusiasm totally bare bits provoked is directly related to the rise in the popularity of cunnilingus, as well.

In his 2011 article "Looking Through the Bushes: The Disappearance of Pubic Hair," Huffington Post article Roger Friedland pointed out that as women went through the extreme discomfort and inconvenience of shaving their entire genital area a la Paltrow or Bradshaw, they began to feel a little more entitled to requesting reciprocal pleasure from their male partners. It's as if they were saying, "Look what I did for you, now what can you do for me?"

Men couldn't help but oblige. After all, not only was the physical barrier (pubic jungles) between their faces and women's labias removed, but they couldn't really argue with the logic that if women were going to stick their neck out for them, they should stick their face in them in return.

"Because women could now forthrightly demand their pleasures — if he got his, she should get hers — they expected their sexual partners to grant them reciprocal oral favors," writes Friedland.

But there was, and is, a problem.

"American men tend to see the vagina as a smelly orifice," says Friedland. "Recent surveys reveal that guys are unlikely to orally pleasure young women outside of a relationship. Some young men I talk to explain that they want their sexual partners to be shorn so they don’t get smells and urine traces on their faces, so that oral contact is more direct. In a capitalistic society that has banished all human odors through washing, deodorants and cleansers, tooth pastes and mouth washes, it is no wonder that the smell of a woman has also been erased as a baseline experience. Hairlessness, like the vaginal mint, advertises that a vagina has been purified for male taste."

Anything other than "purified for male taste" is, thanks to advertising, considered unfeminine and therefore unattractive. Here's a great example of how that can play out in an actual ad:

photo - gillette venus embrace ad

The implication here? If you don't shave what makes you female, you're not fully female. Controlling that shame and desire to both please and be pleased is a cake walk for companies in a world that prioritizes profit over people.

This capitalist drive to convince us that female body hair is unnatural and unclean has been alarmingly successful. The removal industry is worth millions, and innumerable women are ashamed of and distressed by their own hair. However, what's really at bottom at the trend of pubic hairlessness is a socially constructed idea of sexiness that is ultimately driven by consumerism and marketing.

Today, with regards to shaving products and things like the Brazilian wax, powerful words are fed to us so that we associate the ripping of hot wax off our genitals as “sexy,” “empowering,” “fashionable,” “clean,” and “more comfortable.”

photo - Gillette for women ad - jennifer lopez

In fact, brands and advertisers have been so successful at tricking us into believing that pubic hair is a problem that one U.S. study found that amongst women under 30, only 4.1 percent of reported not trimming or removing any pubic hair, leaving 95 percent of the women with groomed, trimmed, or removed pubic hair.

In another study asking over 600 women what their motivations were for removing pubic hair, the most common reasons were “It looks better in a bathing suit,” “It makes me feel attractive,” “I feel more feminine and more comfortable,” and “I think it’s cleaner.”

Gee, wonder where they got those ideas.

The capitalistic suggestion that women be uncomfortable with their pubic hair is so strong, that many of us will push a potential sex partner who we want to fuck away.

"I haven't shaved," we say, ashamed.

Good thing that problem has a solution in the form of thousands upon thousands of depilation products and companies that sell them. From razors to waxing kits to "female" clippers and now, lasers, the hair removal industry has been offering their goods and services to people who really didn’t need them in the first place.

And, as anyone who uses them know, they barely work and are overpriced for the materials they're made from.

A four-pack of Venus Embrace replacement razor heads can cost up to $26.39, depending on where it's sold. If you follow Venus' own advice to change the head every 10 days, that four-pack will only last you 40 days. That means you have to buy them around nine times per year, which will run you about $240.

Considering Venus is the most popular razor brand for women, imagine how much they get per year. And we're only talking about one of their products here; they've currently got six or seven different mutations of the same thing on the shelf. Product diversification = cash in capitalism-land.

You can get less expensive razors, but they're terrible quality. They have fewer blades, inflexible heads, and less of that gooey shave-gel surrounding it that lubricates your skin so it's easier to shave. When you're navigating the fragile landscape of your vagina, you don't really want to go at it with a prison shiv, you want something you know won't cause a bloodbath. Like Venus. So you shell out the cash.

Then there’s the waxing industry.

Don't even get us started on home waxing kits (which will gladly pull out 14 of your 450,000 pubic hairs for about $5 a pop).

The waxing industry is trying to convince us that dropping $40-$80 every four weeks is necessary. Surveys show that women will spend approximately $10,000 and the equivalent of over four months of their lives removing their hair with wax.

photo - veet - don't risk dudeness

Don't like waxing or shaving? There are about 50 types of pubic clippers you can buy, hair removal creams like Nair, and if you're really rich. laser hair removal. There are so many options to obliterate your pubic hair that there's almost no excuse not to.

Not only are these products expensive, but they’re built to fail. Anyone who’s ever shaved that after the first two or three uses knows most razors are useless. They start to scratch and pull and burn. They know waxing doesn't work at home; you have to pay $80 for the real thing at the strip mall by your house.

That’s not a coincidence; their failure is intended. This is the result of something called planned obsolescence, a capitalistic economic model that encourages the manufacturing of shitty products that break quickly so you have to keep buying more.

Looking back on all this, it's easy to see capitalism as a malignant force of evil, something that controls our bodies and choices from an invisible distance. Yet, capitalism isn't inherently bad. It just is. It's inexorable relationship to pubes is nothing more than a hyper-salient example of how broad trends in consumerism can manifest physically our bodies and mentally in our perception of ourselves.

Would we all be better off had capitalism never intervened in our pubic affairs? Hard to say. It certainly wouldn't hurt our wallets or self-image if Gillette hadn't figured out how to capitalize on women's body shame 100 years ago. However, hair removal did seem to have the positive benefit of improving women's sex lives and sexual freedom via increased interest in cunnilingus, and we can't really fault it for that.

What's more important than whether capitalism's inexorable tie to pubes is wrong or right though, is how you interpret it. Recognizing where the drive to de-hair yourself came from can help you realize that you don't have to buy into marketing around how your body "should" look. After all, capitalism creates problems that never before existed for the profit of a few ruthless business people ... and if those problems didn't exist in the first place, they might not be actual problems when it comes to you.