Beauty IRL: The Hair Down There

The last time I was home, my mother gave me a “personal groomer.” She was organizing the hall closet by my old bedroom, a magical place full of beauty products she bought and doesn’t use, and a frequent stop on my home visits. I pillage it every time, coming up for air clutching brightening lotions she buys in Taiwan and face wash that she forgot about. In her defense, I’m pretty sure she had no idea what the groomer was for. All she knew was that she didn’t use it, and so it was added to the pile of things that I would shove in a suitcase and take back to New York, along with some rou song from her vast supply in the garage and probably a few chopsticks.

“Mom, why do you even have this,” I asked, horrified at the thought that my mother gave any thought to her pubic hair.

“I don’t know, I don’t know what it is. You can have it,” she said. She put it in my suitcase and shuffled out of the room, her house shoes slapping quietly on the soles of her feet as she left the room.

Three thousand miles later, safe and sound in the privacy of my bedroom in New York, I examined it closely. It looked like a beard trimmer, rendered in soft maroon and cream, you know, for the ladies. It had a variety of attachments, for various lengths of hair, and buzzed with authority when I turned it on. It seemed worth a shot, an upgrade from my shoddy method of basement maintenance consisting of scissors and quiet prayer, so I gave it a shot.

I have never had the pleasure of shearing a sheep, but I have witnessed it at my hometown’s Wool and Sheep festival. A no-nonsense farmer runs an electric clipper through the wooly coat of an indifferent animal, who will sometimes open his eyes very wide and extend a horrifyingly curly tongue and scream, like a human whose face just got clipped by a pigeon.

Grooming my own undercarriage was a similar experience. The buzzing made the whole thing feel clinical, like I was preparing myself for surgery, and the result was like an Impressionist painting — cohesive from a distance, but a haphazard mess up close. I was pleased, at first. I saved myself the money of paying a woman to put hot wax on my cooch and rip out the hairs. I was now groomed, the ’70s bush that I am so fond of eradicated for something that at least looked okay. The trimmer’s work was good for the first day or so. And then my hair started to grow back, and I suffered from itchiness so severe that I began fantasizing about locking myself in a bathroom stall and taking breaks to just scratch, like a monkey in the moments before they fling their feces at the wall. This “personal groomer” imperfect solution for something that I didn’t even consider an actual problem.

My maintenance routine is pretty simple. If there is a chance that someone will be seeing the cookies, then I will arm myself with the sharpest scissors in the house, and go at it. If i am expected to be in a bathing suit, and things look a little unkempt, I resort to a slapdash shave in the shower, attacking problem areas and cursing my decision later when the regrowth hits, patchy and scratchy and terrible.

I went through a very brief Brazilian phase, spurred by the fact that the place I went to was around the corner from my office and I could go on my lunch break. The overall experience was painful and the results were not exemplary in any way. My boyfriend at the time thought it was weird, telling me that the sight of the whole thing just out there was alarming. “It feels like I shouldn’t be touching it,” he whispered to me, gingerly patting the surface. “This feels wrong.”

There is, of course, the entire conversation to be had about double standards. Women routinely submit themselves to a retinue of painful and expensive grooming rituals while men are applauded for their dadbods. Pulling down some dude’s pants and discovering that he has at least done you the courtesy of trimming back the thickets is reason enough to excuse yourself and make a note next to his name in your phone as a keeper. Common courtesy in pubic hair maintenance is fine. Keep things tidy — to whatever your personal preference is — and expect the same of anyone else who is privileged enough to see you naked. But don’t feel it’s a requirement to be a landing-stripped Barbie doll down there, either.

I’m done being embarrassed about this. I don’t see anything wrong with it, honestly. Pubic hair exists for a reason. I don’t mind the look of it, either. It feels like a pleasant throwback to vintage nudie mags and that 1970s Laurel Canyon aesthetic of gauzy maxi dresses and tapestries on every available surfaces, piles of rugs and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young on the record player. A natural bush is “Tapestry”-era Carole King, the antidote to the slick, synthy EDM of the waxed, anodyne Hustler-club vag. Pubic hair has a place, and that place is on your vagina.