Ladies, I’m confused. It seems like since the beginning of time, we’ve been arguing over what’s feminist and what isn’t. The same issues that our mothers dealt with, like choosing to be a stay-at-home mom or wearing sexy clothing, somehow manage to crop up over and over again, without being resolved.
In the latest example of the “Who’s a real feminist?” wars, a writer at Salon asks whether or not getting your hoo-ha waxed is a feminist act. Caroline Rothstein, who originally published her essay at Narratively, writes:
“Here I am, month in and month out, dropping my pants for a stranger, letting her slide hot, green, organic wax along my vulva, around my labia, and across my lower abdomen with a thick, pale wooden popsicle stick just so I can feel “clean.” How can I subject a part of my body with such a complicated narrative to this hedonistic ritual and still call myself a feminist?”
Rothstein conducted a poll with 42 of her friends, where she asked them to share their feelings about bikini waxing. Lady-identified people were asked whether they waxed their bikini area or otherwise removed pubic hair, and dude-identified people were asked what they thought about the ritual.
The responses from the lady-identified types surprisingly didn’t include “Hey weirdo, why are you asking me this question about my pubes?” Rothstein doesn’t break down the numbers of what her 42 friends told her about their grooming routines, but you get the general idea that most of the women she asked performed some kind of maintenance on their pubic hair, many of them waxing. Others chose to shave, and a few let their ladybushes grow au naturel.
Rothstein spoke with Manhattan-based gynecologist Dr. Audrey Buxbaum to discuss some of the very real health concerns that come along with waxing, like the potential for infections. According to Buxbaum, “pubic hair is protective of skin and removal can spread HPV and also molluscum contagiosum [a viral infection of mucus membranes planted atop the skin]. And also we’ve seen some pretty serious vulva and skin infections from shaving and waxing because it damages the hair follicles.”
Damaging your body via waxing is certainly a possible, but literally thousands of other beauty procedures are potentially dangerous too. You could rip skin and develop a staph infection from waxing your eyebrows, or ingest dangerous chemicals if you use a toxic lipstick brand. Then there’s the serious side effects associated with dieting and plastic surgery. These health concerns, though, are all kind of beside the point. We aren't talking about whether or not smoking or recreational drug use is a feminist decision — these choices, while not good for the body, are certainly not part of a feminist ideology, and neither are people’s personal grooming choices.
Our grooming decisions are not inherently anti-feminist or feminist. Our motivations may be guided by social norms and ideologies, but individual actions like wearing lipstick or choosing to shave your pubic hair aren’t political acts, unless you specifically decide that you want them to be.
You may leave your pubic hair intact because it makes you feel more connected with your feminist ideology, but another woman could choose to shave for the exact same reason. The choices that empower us, whether or not other people agree, are feminist choices. For me, the most feminist thing I could do for my body was begin to love it for exactly what it is, even though it wasn’t “healthy” according to a lot of people.
What is feminist, though, is empowering women in all of their personal choices, whatever they decide to do.