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What's in a mane? The Brazilian Wax and the female identity

By Angela Jones and Jemima Wright - posted Monday, 29 September 2003

If there was any doubt concerning the popularity of waxing, then the August issue of Cosmo laid to rest such fears. Invariably a magazine's sealed section concerns itself with one topic - sex. September's edition is no exception providing a segment entitled "The extreme things people do for BETTER SEX!" Cosmo gets down - quite literally with accompanying photos - to the nitty gritty about what women do to their nether regions to increase their levels of sexual pleasure. But lurking behind the glorified excitement of stripping down to (quite literally) the bare essentials in order to better serve one's sex life are a range of narratives that have the capacity to make women step back and take a look at what they're really doing to their bodies.

What is a Brazilian wax? A Brazilian leaves the waxee with a "landing strip" of hair down the middle of the pubic area. It was not until a dinner conversation with my girlfriends that I was told the true extent of how it is achieved. The individual not only has to lie back, with no underwear and legs splayed, but in some cases they must kneel on all fours while the technician pulls and de-hairs the crevices of the buttock region. Having undertaken some research, I discovered that this account was true. A Brazilian can only really be achieved with the help of a second person. Therefore the waxee must expose their "privates" to a stranger. The question must then be asked: Why would women undertake such a painful and undignified act?

The thing I cannot seem to fathom is the almost unquestionable subjection to pain that women put themselves through in order to please a partner and, as I am told, themselves. The thought of fortnightly sessions of raising legs to my ears, spreading for the world to see, grimacing when a hot wax goes where no hot wax should ever go… elicits an immediate response of: Why? Who for?


Turning to Cosmo for some answers I find myself sorely disappointed and disturbed. I am advised that when "muff stylin", adorning the leftover strands of pubic hair into your boyfriend's initials is, "a novel way to show you care". It is claimed that "down there styling is the raunchiest form of expression".

The removal of one's pubic hair now denotes a new-found sense of personal expression. I am of the impression that personal expression depends on some form of outward exhibition - something I am sure we can do without when it comes to waxing down there. No, this is not about "personal expression". Sorry Cosmo, but I find it hard to believe that mutual waxing is a way for mothers and daughters to bond, and if my partner proposed to me after my first Brazilian, it would make me seriously reassess our compatibility.

It is difficult to avoid the buzz circulating around the Brazilian wax. It may be a "trend" but it is a profitable one. From magazine sections to more sublime assumptions about those who don't wax, women are continuously bombarded with reasons as to why they should partake in the activity. Take for example an excerpt from an article in Esquire concerning the "warning" signs issued to men making their way "down there":

It is reasonable to expect her to keep her crotch from looking like Benji, and if she isn't doing that much then you've got a problem on your hands, and in the back of your throat. First you need to rule out some things: Is she foreign? NO? Is she Robin Williams? No? Then it is possible that the woman in question is a hippie …Or she could be a rebel by nature, which can only mean one thing: trouble.

This article reinforces wild stereotypical assumptions concerning women who do not wax. It is denigrating to foreign women to suggest that they are "backward" or unattractive if they do not wax. And women are not "rebellious" or "troublesome" if they choose not to wax themselves bare. Perhaps this could be taken with a grain of salt if it were not for the fact that it was written by a woman.

Women subject each other to judgemental hell. The finger of blame cannot be entirely pointed at men in this case. They may voice their opinion about liking it bare down there but it is women who are writing and encouraging this phenomenon. It has become fashionable to have a Brazilian, and a great deal of fashion requires the Brazilian. And it is women who buy into this scheme.


Fashion is where the Brazilian is at - pubic fashion and clothing fashion. The Brazilian kills two stylistic birds with one wax. This season, revealing your lack of pubic hair is part of the fashion - or a side effect of wearing jeans. Most consumers consider buying a pair of jeans an arduous task. The individual's choice of style is dependent on three things - money, taste and body shape. Individual taste does not always compliment body shape and there is one pair of jeans that currently outranks all others: the hipster. The hipster jean, a piece of clothing that exhibited freedom in the 60s and 70s, "They conjured up a freedom, if you wore hipsters you were cool", now exhibits something else - pubic hair at the front, bottom crack at the back. These jeans ride lower than ever and cannot be purchased alone. They also require a g-string hipster bikini and a Brazilian Wax.

There must be an element of pleasure associated with the Brazilian in order for women to buy into this fad. This is of cause for concern when we question whose pleasure is being addressed. While women may certainly enjoy the feel of a bare-skinned groin region it hardly constitutes pleasure, or at least the kind of pleasure as advocated through tireless accounts in magazines and advertising. Sexual pleasure is what is being sold with the Brazilian, and it is all about getting your partners rocks off. As Jonice, a J Sister from New York states, de-fluffing oneself:

Makes you feel sexy. Makes you fashion. When I don't have my bikini wax, I don't feel like to have sex with my husband. I feel dirty. And even himself say, "try bikini wax!" I feel free. I feel clean. I feel sensuous even when I take a shower.

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About the Authors

Angela Jones is a postgrad researcher at the School of Media, Communication and Culture at Murdoch University.

Jemima Wright is a postgrad researcher at the School of Media, Communication and Culture at Murdoch University.

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