Battle of the Bush

A revealing glimpse into human’s obsession with pubic hair


Some women trim it down. Some shave it all off. Some women wax it raw while others bedazzle it to make it look pretty. For years, women have been battling their hair below the waistline. Women spend countless hours and endless dollars on keeping their pubic mound looking tame and bare. But some say it’s time to let the freak flag fly and bring back the bush!

The History of Hair Removal

Hair removal goes as far back as ancient Egypt and Greece. According to Victoria Sherrow’s The Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History, men and women removed their body hair to look more appealing and found pubic hair uncivilized. Egyptians saw a smooth and hairless body as the standard of beauty. Upper class Egyptian women made sure there was not a single hair on their body with the exception of their head. Women used hair removal creams and types of wax that consisted of oil and honey, to remove body hair. The Greeks and Romans adopted the ideal of a smooth and hairless body that can be seen in Ancient Greek sculptures of women with hairless bodies. The Greeks believed that a hairless body idealized youth and beauty. For women, having body hair was considered low class so all upper class women removed their pubic hair. Hans Licht, the author of Sexual Life in Ancient Greece,” writes that the Greeks disapproved of women with pubic hair and considered it ugly. In Rome, girls began removing their pubic hair from the moment it began to grow. Hairs were plucked with tweezers, and hair removal creams and waxes were used.

The Three Graces, Rubens. 1639

In Medieval Times during the Crusades, the Christian crusaders brought hair removal to Europe. Pubic hair removal would blossom and artists from this period would portray women with little or no pubic hair.

When Catherine de Medici took over the throne in France in 1547, she used religious conviction and banned the removal of pubic hair. It was still widely practiced until the Victorian Era, but became a private practice.

The Industrial Revolution sparked companies such as Wilkinson, Schick and Gillette. In the same period, Gillette introduced a new line of shaving instruments, inexpensive safety razors geared towards women.

Women’s Body Hair Follows Fashion

From 1915 through the 1920s, women would see a shift in the conservative fashions of the past with clothes revealing bare arms and legs. Women would adapt to these new styles by shaving their legs and underarms. When Harper’s Bazaar magazine sported a model in a sleeveless gown that showed her bare shoulders and hairless armpits, Wilkinson launched an advertising campaign with a strong message: underarm hair is unhygienic and unfeminine.” Body hair removal was characterized as being “feminine” and “sanitary.” Sales of razors doubled in two years.

While dresses and gowns got shorter and sleeveless, swimsuits would transform from very conservative to hardly there. With the introduction of the first bikini swimsuit in 1946, women were now faced with removing pubic hair that might be exposed by this new fashion trend. Hollywood Golden Girls of the 1940s, such as Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner started to wear the new “it” swimsuits and would immortalize the two piece.

Rita Hayworth, 1945, LIFE Magazine

By the 1950s, pin up models such as Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Marie McDonald introduced a pointier bust with halter tops for the heavier busted girls. Cole of California started to mass produce bikinis and the ever so popular, “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” song by Brian Hyland in June 1960 became a sensation, heightening the popularity of the bikini. In 1964, the Vatican banned women from wearing bikinis in Catholic countries, and at the same time, Sports Illustrated published its first swimsuit edition featuring Babette March in a white bikini.

Babette March, Sports Illustrated, 1964

According to Meridith Dault, author of The Last Triangle: Sex, Money and the Politics of Pubic Hair, with the rise of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s, many women chose to accept their natural body hair and to reject culturally imposed ideals of hairless, childlike, feminine beauty.

The bikini line became the favorable choice of pubic hair grooming in the 1970s. Some women removed hair from their bikini line to avoid stray hairs that could be seen when wearing a bikini.

With bathing suits getting smaller and cut much higher, women would feel the need to go even further with their hair removal. The French wax, also known as the “landing strip” or “Playboy strip” was introduced, a practice of hair removal where the hair is removed entirely from the entire area, including the labia, leaving only a two-finger width long vertical strip just above the vulva.

The thong bikini and a higher cut one piece came into play in the 1970s. The modern day thong bikini was first introduced and popularized by Austrian designer Rudi Gernreich in 1974 and continues to this day to be popular. With the thong, the pressure to remove hair everywhere became more common.

The Baywatch Babes, 1989, sporting the famous high cut one piece suit.

The sleek, neoprene, a type of synthetic rubber material, was introduced in the 1980s. The 1990s brought a one piece bathing suit cut thigh high, as worn by Pamela Anderson and the “Baywatch Babes,” and women began waxing the new “landing strip” style of hair removal to accommodate the very high cuts. Each decade that brought a new swimsuit design revealing more skin would also bring a new style of hair removal to accommodate the changing fashion trend.

By 1987, women began to take it all off thanks to the Padilha’s — seven sisters from Vitória — a beach city north of Rio in Brazil. Jocely, Jonice, Joyce, Janea, Juracy, Jussara, and Judseia Padilha, who worked together as teens in the family salon in Brazil, would later bring their hair removal talents to the United States, along with a new kind of hair removal that leave women bare down there. Janea Padilha came up with the idea of “The Brazilian” when she saw a woman in Brazil wearing a thong bikini with obvious stray hairs and the idea for the Brazilian was born. The Brazilian is a bikini-area wax that removes all hair from the area. The sisters opened a salon in Midtown Manhattan, named J. Sisters, and by the 1990s, women across the U.S. were having Brazilian’s. But it would be another decade before this new practice would become the norm. And in 1995, the micro bikini was introduced. The microkini is an extremely skimpy bikini that uses only enough fabric to cover the genitals and nipples. Any additional straps are merely to keep the garment attached to the wearer’s body. There are variations of the microkini that use adhesive or wire to hold the fabric in place over the genitals.

Dault credits the evolution of swimsuits and lingerie that necessitated the removal of most or all pubic hair, and an increasing abundance of body hair removal products and services, to society’s gradual, cultural acceptance of the practice of pubic hair removal. Dault also writes “the reasons for the upswing in the popularity of pubic hair removal are hard to pinpoint, but seem to be motivated by a number of forces. From the ready accessibility of pornography, where pubic hair is currently so rare it has spawned its own fetish, to the widespread attention Brazilian waxing has received in the media, pubic hair removal is merely one among a myriad of body grooming practices many women increasingly indicate they feel obliged follow.”

Pubic Hair and Health: The Facts

There are reasons why humans grow pubic hair. The most common reason cited for pubic hair is that it helps spread pheromones. According to Health Sciences at Columbia University, the apocrine glands secrete an odorless substance that mixes with the bacteria from the oil that the sebaceous glands give off, to make a unique substance that may or may not have an odor. These pheromones get trapped in pubic hair and underarm hair, where they can enhance sexual awareness in others, and make people seem sexually desirable. This can be either through an actual smell, or subliminally. In a 2012 article by Emily Gibson in The Guardian, she looks at the war on pubic hair, and the downside of removing it. She writes, “Pubic hair removal naturally irritates and inflames the hair follicles left behind, leaving microscopic open wounds. Rather than suffering a comparison to a bristle brush, frequent hair removal is necessary to stay smooth, causing regular irritation of the shaved or waxed area. When that irritation is combined with the warm moist environment of the genitals, it becomes a happy culture medium for some of the nastiest of bacterial pathogens, namely Group A Streptococcus, Staphylococcus aureus and its recently mutated cousin methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). There is an increase in staph boils and abscesses, necessitating incisions to drain the infection, resulting in scarring that can be significant. It is not at all unusual to find pustules and other hair-follicle inflammation papules on shaved genitals.” She adds that pubic hair has a purpose, “providing a cushion against friction that can cause skin abrasion and injury, protection from bacteria and other unwanted pathogens, and is the visible result of long-awaited adolescent hormones, certainly nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.”

The Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Women’s Health and Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Texas reported in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in March 2014 that more than 50 percent of women in the United States aged 18 through 24 have admitted to removing pubic hair for sexual or aesthetic reasons. Almost half of women ages 25 to 29 sometimes or often removed all of their pubic hair. Dr. Paul Summers, a gynecology professor at the University of Utah, said in an interview with Women’s Health Magazine.“If this denuding is done with wax, the vulvar area can become red, swollen, and tender afterward (as many of you no doubt know — and dread). Waxing actually causes tiny tears in the skin.” These mini wounds create openings for bacteria to enter the body and increase the risk for infections and STDs such as herpes and genital warts.

For years, it was common for surgeons to have their patient’s body parts shaved prior to surgery to fight infection. What they found is that shaving a body part prior to surgery actually increased, rather than decreased, surgical site infections. This is no longer common practice. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, surgical site infections are a leading cause of complications among hospital patients, accounting for nearly one out of five health care-associated infections and thousands of deaths annually. The reason, experts say, is that shaving with a razor blade causes microscopic nicks in the skin that can become bacterial breeding grounds. In its guidelines for preventing surgical site infections, the CDC recommends that hair not be removed unless it will interfere with the operation. When shaving is necessary, electrical clippers should be used.

Writer Carolyn Rothstein interviewed Dr. Audrey Buxbaum, a gynecologist in Manhattan, about the safety of hair removal for her essay, The Hair Down There. “When I see patients, I often talk to them about hair removal,” said Buxbaum. “I tell patients that pubic hair is protective of skin and removal can spread HPV and also molluscum contagiosum [a viral infection of mucus membranes replanted 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. She added that even laser hair removal, which permanently kills hair follicles, is a better option. “One female patient was waxed too far between her labia, and literally tore the skin between her labia minora and majora. “Were it not such a forgiving tissue, she might have needed stitches.”

The Financial Cost of Beauty

When hair is removed, there’s always one to replace it. For Jocelyn Alfonso, a 22-year-old business major who began shaving her pubic area at 16, it has become a habit she can’t stop. “I started to trim it but went bald eagle. I thought if I got rid of it I would be cleaner. I really don’t like hair.” But shaving is not the most expensive way to go. At J Sisters in New York, a Brazilian wax runs $75. The wax lasts from 4–6 weeks and then it’s time for another one. That’s approximately $900 a year. According to, the value cost really depends on how long you want the results to last. The site reports that on an average, women spend $14.40 a month on shaving, $65 a month on waxing, and $235 per session on laser hair removal. If an average woman, like Alfonso, started shaving her pubic hair at the age of 16, she would have spent roughly $172.80 in a year. That’s an estimate of $1,000 in past six years on shaving items. Keeping the bush bare can be an expense that not everyone can afford.

Women’s Hair Down There v. Male-Oriented Media

Marilyn Cole Lownes, 1972

Prior to the 1960s, in America, photographs were not considered pornographic unless they showed genitals or pubic hair. Women showing real pubic hair first appeared in Playboy August 1969 in a pictorial featuring dancer/actress Paula Kelly in a time known as the “Pubic Wars” (1960s-1970s) where magazines like Hustler and Penthouse were featuring more explicit photographs. In 1970, Playboy started showing wisps of women’s pubic hair about nine months after Penthouse. Playboy magazine published its first frontal nudity in 1972 with centerfold Marilyn Cole Lownes. Well into the 1980s, women sporting a “full bush” where no hair is shaved, was standard.

But pornography would change the way men view women. Dault writes that pornography has cultivated an image of the sexually attractive woman who is characterized by the absence of pubic hair. “The growth of online pornography has meant that for many young men and women, this image is now considered to be the norm. Porn changed everything. Joseph Slade, professor of media and culture at Ohio University, told Atlantic magazine that porn had “legitimized voyeurism.” He said the obsession with bare labia “could be attributed to visual pornographers’ desire to infantilize women, or simply to make genitalia more visible to the camera.” Magazines began to feature women with a baby smooth, hairless pubic area. Despite the stigma of non-bare pubic regions in porn, certain feminist porn stars continue to keep the bush trend going.

Feminist writer Caitlin Moran addressed the trend of pubic hair removal in her book, How To Be A Woman, where the author considers total pubic hair removal absurd. Moran writes that in porn: “Hairlessness is not there for the excitingness. It’s not, disappointingly, there to satisfy a kink…the real reason porn stars wax is because, if you remove all the fur, you can see more when you’re doing penetrative shots. And that’s it. It’s all down to the technical considerations of cinematography.”

In an interview with, Los Angeles-based porn star Stoya, 27, was dared by one of her colleague’s ex girlfriend’s to not shave her vulva and to grow her pubic hair out. As an adult actress, being hairless was mandatory and for Stoya, who is half Serbian, thick hair is something she was genetically blessed with. Stoya started shaving her vulva at a young age, and had difficulty with problematic razor burns that looked unhealthy. “I don’t like looking like I have possibly diseased skin around my vulva,” Stoya said in the interview. She stopped shaving in 2008, and had laser hair removal that left her patches of hair sparse in some areas. “It is just as unfair to men to assume they all want prepubescent vaginas. If you can’t look at a grown woman and a 12-year-old girl and not notice the difference without pubic hair…you’re an idiot. There are always people, assholes telling us how we should be,” Stoya said.

My Vagina, My Choice

Trimming it down or going bare is a personal choice. For men and women, the reasons vary. Some do it for aesthetic reasons, some do it for hygienic reasons, while others attribute society, their circle of friends, their significant others, and the porn industry.

“I was 15-years-old old when I started to shave,” said Annabelle Mena, a 21 -year-old communication major at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif. “I think it’s clean. I think people who don’t do it are dirty.” For Mena, becoming a mother at the age of 15 sparked her decision to shave before going to her OB/GYN appointments. “I started shaving because I didn’t want the doctor to look down there and think that I was dirty. It just looks more presentable when there’s no hair,” Mena said.

The popular site, FiveThirtyEight, run by Nate Silver, reported on the Pubic Hair Preferences of American Women. In 2014, two doctors at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Texas published research based on the survey responses of 1,677 women 16 to 40 years old. They found that just 8.6 percent of women had never groomed their pubic hair, and that “women tended to continue grooming once starting the behavior.” Only 20 percent of women said they had groomed in the past but did not currently do so. The report also concluded that 77 percent of women who had ever groomed their pubic hair said they used a razor and shaving cream; followed by 23 percent who trimmed with scissors and 19 percent who used hair-removal cream. Only 16 percent of women said they waxed. About 95 percent of women said they took care of their pubic hair themselves. So, FiveThirtyEight concludes that as of 2011 (the year the data was collected), there wasn’t a trend toward the natural look.

FiveThirtyEight also looked at another paper published in 2010, that studied 2,451 women. The study suggests that hair removal choices differ according to sexual orientation. Lesbians were more likely than heterosexual women to have not removed any pubic hair in the past month and 14 percent of bisexual woman had not removed any. The results were almost identical between single women and married women.

Even men are starting to weigh on the pubic hair grooming habits of women. A male blogger wrote on Tango in an article titled, Male Perspective: Women, Grow Out Your Pubic Hair, that women need to stop giving in to the male “creeps” out there who want women to look like infants. He writes: “Not all dudes demand a shorn ‘gina. I know that many do, and I apologize on behalf of those creeps. And it is creepy — I can’t help but think a lot of dudes drool over the bare look because it’s infantilizing. This might not be a conscious kink, but it’s true. I’m not so into the pre-pubescent look. In fact, I’m all about ‘70s porno bush.” He added that a hairless vagina is not normal. “It’s not just the weird underage girl thing; aesthetically, a hairless hoo-ha is kind of antiseptic. It doesn’t look … human. The vagina almost becomes like an object, and that’s just not any fun.”

Chris Wihelm, a 27-year-old computer science major at Youngstown State University in Ohio, agrees and said he is fine with whatever women want to do with their pubic hair. Neither Pornography, his friends nor society has convinced him otherwise. “She can have full on 70s bush; it doesn’t bother me at all. I’m fully in support of no shave every day. It’s all good as long as its hygienic. Hair down there is natural, just like a beard.”

Some men might oppose the idea of women having pubic hair for their own personal (and maybe creepy) reasons, but they also might forget that they too have pubic hair. A popular Sex and the City episode addressed the double standard of men’s public hair grooming versus women’s. In the episode, a male sexual partner of Samantha Jones made a comment that it was time for her to get a wax. When discussing this double standard with her friends, she said: “You should see the bush on him. I need a weed whacker just to find his dick.”

Communication major Joshua Hartwell, 20, agrees that a double standard exists. “I like organization [down there]. If she’s a big mess, I can’t deal with it but I’m sort of a hypocrite because if I’m a big mess [down there] then she’ll just have to deal.”

Michael Dowdle, who teaches Psychology of Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences, at Mt. San Antonio College, agreed. “There’s a lot of double standards in our society, our cultures, with males and females. I don’t think males are expected to groom as much as females are expected.”

Is the pressure so high that women are expected to be completely hairless while men can go unmaintained and judge women who do choose to keep their nether region cozy?

For some couples, it might be surprising to find how their partner really feels about pubic hair. Take Mt. San Antonio College students Sandra Cabrera, a 21-year-old deaf studies major, and her partner, Edgar Cortes, a 21-year old psychology major. Cabrera said that hair is not for her. “ I don’t like it on me.I just feel nasty. Especially if you start on your menstrual cycle. It’s more of a hygiene type of thing, and it’s not presentable, “

Cortes said he loves pubic hair, as long as it’s tamed and trimmed. “Oh, I love my pubic hair. I don’t think it looks nasty. On women, I don’t mind it either. I think it’s got a bad reputation. Moderate is fine, but damn, a 70s bush? Naw.”

Feminist writer Caroline Rothstein addresses feminism and pubic hair removal in her essay “The Hair Down There.” She asks the question: “How can I subject a part of my body with such a complicated narrative to this hedonistic ritual and still call myself a feminist?” in an article titled, “The Hair Down There.” Rothstein sent an email to 42 friends from a spectrum of gender and social identities for general suggestions on where to start: “I asked women and those who identify as female whether they groom and what their vulva waxing routine is. If not female-identified, I asked what they think of this ritual,” she explains. The responses ranged from women wondering why there must always be discussion and debate relating to what women do with their bodies, to women who responded that they do it for their own preferences, to women blaming the porn industry.

Self-proclaimed feminist Nichole Aguilar, a 21-year-old public relations major at California State University of Fullerton, said it is a personal choice for women to shave their pubic hair. She maintains her pubic area well kept, but says she doesn’t do it for anyone but herself and believes women should do the same. “Social pressure plays a huge part in general because people believe they need to look like what the media or porn portrays. People don’t question the media or society or why they do what they do. Everyone thinks porn is reality so the non-bush became preferred.”

But women, and men must realize that porn is pretend—that the women in porn are actresses catering to what the industry dictates. “ Pornography is probably one of the first exposures anyone, especially men, has relating to sex. That’s what they base it off of, so they think that women must be this. sex has to feel this way because porn is showing it and it has to have a fairy tale ending because it ends this way,” said Roice Reyes, 21 electrical engineering major. “I think at one point it did (pressure me), but as I matured, I took on a different perspective. I can’t let things dictate things how I think. I can use those as resources to for my own thinking but at the end of the day just because something tell me to think this way doesn’t mean I have to.”

Bringing Back the Bush

Early this year, The Guardian designated 2014 “The Year of the Bush,” just days after days after The Wire announced “The Pubic Hair Renaissance Is Here.” Cameron Diaz created a worldwide buzz when she dedicated a section on personal grooming in her 2013 book, The Body Book: The Law of Hunger, the Science of Strength, and Other Ways to Love Your Amazing Body. Diaz is an advocate for maintaining the pubic hair region neat, and not naked. She writes, “ Pubic hair serves as a pretty draping that makes it a little mysterious to the one who might be courting your sexiness. Pubes keep the goods private, which can entice a lover to come and take a closer look at what you have to offer. Also, let’s be honest: just like every other part of your body, your labia majora is not immune to gravity.”

Do you really want a hairless vagina for the rest of your life? It’s a personal decision but I’m just putting it out there: consider leaving your vagina fully dressed, ladies. Twenty years from now, you will still want to be presenting it to someone special, and it would be nice to let him or her unwrap it like the gift that it is.” -Cameron Diaz

American Apparel mannequins in a store window in the Lower East Side in New York City.

American Apparel also embraced the bush when in their campaign. An American Apparel store branch in the Lower East Side in New York released a window display showcasing female mannequins in sheer lingerie and a full bush and shocked many passersby. According to Ryan Holiday, an American Apparel rep, who was interviewed by, “American Apparel is a company that celebrates natural beauty, and the Lower East Side Valentine’s Day window continues that celebration. We created it to invite passersby’s to explore the idea of what is “sexy” and consider their comfort with the natural female form. This is the same idea behind our advertisements which avoid many of the photoshopped and airbrushed standards of the fashion industry.”

In the end, every woman’s preference is different and it is a personal choice to wax or go native. “At the end of the day, it’s my body. Rather than shit all over an entire gender and an entire industry, figure out what you like and find people who like what you like and are okay with that,” Stoya said.

Substance is a publication of the Mt. San Antonio College Journalism Program. The program recently moved its newsroom over to Medium as part of a one-year experiment. Read about it here.