Pubic hair: a short history, and where we're at today
If you’ve ever found yourself mid-wax, shave, epilator, or tweeze and wondered, “Why the fuck am I doing this?” — well, you’re not alone.
Our relationship with our body hair, especially as women, is a complicated one. And, whether it makes you feel better or worse, the history of pubic hair shows that this has always been the case. A look back through time shows that not only has managing your bush always been complicated — and sometimes painful — it also has been full of social implications and, sometimes, political ones.
Before we delve back in time, it’s important to remember that trimming, waxing, or whatever-ing your pubes does not make you a bad feminist. Feminism is about equal social and political rights — it’s not about whether you want to rock a full bush or a landing strip. Your body, your choice. If anyone tells you otherwise, it might be good to remind them that policing female bodies sounds a lot less feminist than reaching for a razor occasionally.
In fact, for thousands and thousands of years women (and some men), have been removing their pubic hair for one reason or another. Here’s what you need to know.
3,000 BC And Beyond: Tools Of All Shapes And Sizes
I told you that hair removal has been around for a long time. Way back to the Egyptians (as well as the Greeks and Romans), they were taking it off — and often taking it all off.
In fact, some put early hair removal as far back as 30,000 BC. The only problem? The tools were pretty brutal. Rocks, sharp shells, even animal teeth — anything that would get it off. The Egyptians were also the first to use sugaring, a type of waxing to remove hair — which sounds less painful than using teeth but, as many of us have experienced, is still no walk in the park. The Ancient Greeks, meanwhile, preferred to pull it out one hair at a time. Yikes.
2 BC: Poetry Body Shame
Just in case you thought that all of the women were loving taking out their pubic hair by any means necessary (including arsenic), don’t get confused — there was a body-shaming happening way back when. The poet Ovid urged women to control their body hair by saying “that no rude goat find his way beneath your arms and your legs be not rough with bristling hair”. Thanks for the body shame and man-splaining, dude.
15th Century: Lice And Wigs
While pubic hair removal drifted in and out of fashion over the following centuries, we saw something new in around 1450 — the merkin, or pubic wig, began to make an appearance. Why use a pubic wig, rather than just rock a full bush? Well, people were getting rid of pubic hair for hygienic reasons as well as aesthetic ones. There was a bit of a pubic lice situation and so — the logic went — if you get rid of the pubes, you get rid of the lice. But some women still wanted a little something downstairs, so wigging out seemed like the right answer.
19th Century: Unrealistic Expectations And Failed Marriages
This historical tidbit is too good to leave out. Literary legend has it that after John Ruskin and Effie Gray were married in 1848, Ruskin was so horrified by her pubic hair that he was unable to consummate the wedding — he had only seen naked women in paintings and they were smooth as silk, so he imagined all women to be the same. While some critics say it was more complicated than that, Gray herself wrote that “he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person”. Unrealistic expectations of women have always been a bummer.
Early 20th Century: Mass-Marketed Razors
In 1915, Gillette’s Milady Décolleté became the first razor that was marketed directly to women — and they flew off the shelves, selling over a million razors in the first few years. Now, this was partly because having smooth underarms was very much in style, but we all know that if you start to take some of it off, the rest often follows. When bikinis came around a couple of decades later, razors had a reason to roam down below.
Also, can we just take a moment to acknowledge that Milady Décolleté is pretty much the fanciest razor name in the history of all time?
Mid 20th Century: Politics And Pubes
As you probably are aware, body hair took on a political edge in the 1960s and 70s. As a backlash to the pinned-up and picture-perfect 1950s, women’s liberation came in with a bang — and body hair (along with bra burning) became emblematic of the time. You’ll still often hear the phrase a “70s bush”, referring to full-on pubic hair in all of its glory.
21st Century: Anything And Everything Goes
From political statements to...vajazzling? Basically, we’ve had a bit of a roller coaster since the return of the bush. First, the 1990s and early 2000s saw full Brazilians taking off — and some decorations and pube-dying appearing. But a lot of women have still borrowed from the 60s and 70s and are owning their pubic hair.
Here’s the thing about body hair as it stands now — anything goes. You hear about the bush coming back into trend in 2019, but there are still a huge number of women taking it all off — while some go for a landing strip or some other form of medium-level grooming. Laser and IPL have meant that some of these choices are more permanent, but they are in their infancy — it will be interesting to see how they’ve had an impact 20 or 40 years from now.
But at the moment, there’s a huge range of pubic hair options and women are making use of all of them to find what works for them — which is great to see. Your pubes, your choice.