An online guide for beauty-pageant contestants offers the following tips: “Be on your best, most ladylike behavior.” “Stand up straight at all times.” “Present yourself with class and manners.” “Wear clothes that are in fashion.” Sadly, it fails to include one pointer today’s Hollywood beauties most seem to need: Don’t expose your vagina to the entire free world.
But if legions of publicists and years in the limelight haven’t enlightened girls like Lindsay, Paris, and Britney—stars of our crotch-paparazzi triptych—then something besides mere carelessness may be at work here. “A lady is one who never shows her underwear unintentionally,” quipped 1930s writer Lillian Day.quipped ’30s writer Lillian Day. It’s a tricky maxim to update, since modern young ladies lack not just underwear but other features once associated with nether parts. But one apt, if blunt, modernization might be: You don’t wax the car unless you plan to take it out for a spin.
There’s Britney in one shot: exiting a sedan in white blouse, black miniskirt, and plainly exposed pubis. There she is again: turquoise shades and Little Miss Sunshine tee, visibly sans culottes. And there she is yet again: green dress, high heels, and the flower of her womanhood flashed like a taxi-hailing palm. But in all the photos, Britney’s surprise co-star has been waxed into oblivion, making images that should be at least slightly provocative shockingly mundane. Because there really is, in some palpable sense, no there there.
Years ago, pubic hair was nudity’s sine qua non. In Full Metal Jacket, the morale-boosting newspaper editor told his photographer to shoot visiting Ann-Margret (the Lindsay Lohan of her time) from low angles: “Don’t make it too obvious, but I want to see fur.” In Revenge of the Nerds, hirsute Booger scorned the mere T&A cavorting across a hidden-camera TV monitor and demanded, “This is bullshit. I want bush!” Their counterparts today would go unserved, as female pubic hair goes the way of the bell-bottom and the dodo—lost in some interaction between culture, climate, and late-American decadence.
“Once it was considered shocking to show a knee,” says Marilyn Yalom, the author of A History of the Breast and a senior scholar at Stanford University’s Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research. “But women are always calling attention to their body in some way that is new. Now we’re moving very quickly from breasts to below the waist, and just when you can’t go any further…” Hello, labia!
“I think that having absolutely no hair is the new standard,” says Cindy Barshop, the owner of Completely Bare, a hair-removal salon in New York. “Hair has become a faux pas.” Her sentiments echo across the globe. “My younger clients say that men of their age just expect it,” salon owner Kellie Woolcock told the Australian newspaper The Age. “It’s expected from young girls that they should have tiny little bodies and be hairless.”
Tiny little hairless bodies. That sure sounds healthy. Of course, mass depilation isn’t tantamount to an epidemic of pedophilia. In fact, Muslim countries (which tend to be rather strict, if you haven’t heard) actually instruct their women to rock the Telly Savalas as part of Islamic hygiene practice. But here in the land of MySpace and laser vaginal rejuvenation, such grooming isn’t for Allah; it’s for the Web page, the nightclub, the reality show. “If you’re groomed, you don’t really care if people see anything,” Barshop says. “It’s almost like going topless used to be.”
Maybe. But it sure seems a bit more…profound somehow. Especially when there are already polysyllabic terms for this kind of thing—glabrousness, trichotillomania—and a new bill governing the act. Missouri Senate Bill 280 mandates written parental consent “prior to providing body waxing on or near the genitalia,” and Barshop finds herself turning away “very young kids” seeking salon services.
If these prime representatives of the anorexia demographic are signing up, there are probably issues besides bikini lines involved. “In a way, it’s a control thing,” says a twentysomething woman in Manhattan. “It’s this desire to control your womanhood when so many other things seem decided for you.” And a sea change in lower-torso management is always noteworthy. “There’s something to be said about a social trend that creates an ick factor for normal bodily functions,” says Judy Norsigian, a co-author of the feminist guide Our Bodies, Ourselves. “Whether there’s hair there or not, it’s still a very intimate part of your body.”
Even so, America’s embrace of Brazil’s deforestation policy is right on time. Striving for ease with exhibitionism, the iPorn generation may have a handy shortcut: freeing themselves of idiosyncratic foliage and, thus, unsightly individuality. “The easiest thing to do is to replace genital shots,” Gary Rohr, who once did image retouching for Larry Flynt’s Bitch magazine. “You take one you prefer and paste it over [the] one you don’t.”
These latest trims are not necessarily about pleasing men. (One “do,” called the Tiffany Box, turns the whole deal into a small powder-blue square meant to resemble the jewelry store’s gift box—a gesture that would sail so far over the average straight dude’s head as to land in the “WTF?” bin next to quilts and Sarah McLachlan CDs.) In fact, the wax job isn’t even clearly about sex—at least in the traditional get-to-know-ya, relationship-test-drive sense. Just ask its most visible spokesmodel.
“I went to a psychoanalyst,” Britney Spears told a reporter for the British tabloid The Sun not long ago. “He said I had a problem with closeness and intimacy . . . that I was afraid of letting myself fall for someone and of being hurt.” Mmm, shocking. The late-nineties symbol of teasing sexuality is afraid to let someone get close. The vanilla center of “risqué” pop sports the featureless crotch of a Barbie doll. What else is new? After all, Britney’s just a modern girl, only stressed-out and with the volume turned up. Maybe for the first time in her life she’s simply cutting edge, taking the sex-doll, one-size-fits-all tonsorial compulsion to its logical conclusion.
Remind me: Why were we surprised when this woman shaved her head?