Pubes have been an ever constant presence in the history of beauty and grooming trends of our world. The wiry coarse hairs, which have forever-protected the vulvas of women, have constantly evolved in grooming, style, and the social attitudes of what's acceptable. Throughout history, there have been eras in which women couldn't wait to see how long their gardens would grow, others stripped the area bare: hairless like sphinx cats. As it happens, self grooming wasn't always for vanity's sake. Hair removal practices have occurred throughout the ages in the name of hygiene, sex appeal, safety and religion.
Pubes, Meet the Flintstones
Imagine if you will, Betty and Wilma, during the Cave Women era. You might assume they had bigger fish to fry than their vulva's, but not so. Neanderthals didn't have Gillete or wax salons back in the day, but they were so desperate enough to rid themselves of the hair down there, that they went to pretty desperate lengths to take it off. The evidence is on the walls. Early cave paintings show early humans plucking pubes with sharpened flint and shells which they used to actually scrape off hair. It might strike someone as an early start to vanity for our ancestors who seemingly had greater issues to worry about, but their grooming practices actually stemmed from life and death experiences. Wet pubes were a liability for early modern humans because of their ability to retain water which in cold climates would cause frostbite. Around this time women also learned to use the first depilatory creams created from quicklime, arsenic and starch.
Pubes Like An Egyptian
Still in B.C., ancient Egyptians also wanted a quick fix to their pube woes. Their uprooting was more about hygiene than safety though. Ancient Greek historian Herodotus (485-425BC) noted the Egyptians habit of bathing several times a day, that "they set cleanliness above seemliness..." which was also done by shaving their bodies and going completely stark. Makes sense if you consider how hot Egypt is and how likely long hair is to collect pests and disease. Going chrome-domed was a more hygienic and safer bet against bacteria and germ plagues. They used a depilatory method known as sugaring (which is still used in wax salons around the globe) and lathered it on like butter on bread before yanking it off with a strip of cloth.
When In Rome, Pube As The Romans Do
The practice of hair removal spread all the way over to Greece and Rome by the fourth century BC. The trend caught on thanks to Alexander the Great who required his soldiers to shave their heads in an attempt to combat hair pulling during battles. Depictions of people during the era reveal that the trend spread down south with women displaying zero underarm hair and zip pubic hair. During this time Romans developed the volsellae, tweezers made of metal, silver or even gold. Romans would rush to spas kind of like we do today to get volsellae professionals to take out their pubes.
Ye Olde Medieval Pubes and The Renaissance Bucket
The Middle Ages were for good gardening and thick carpets. While Queen Catherine de Medici, of France (1547 - 1589) got picky with her ladies in waiting about pube practices (which stemmed from religious beliefs) and demanded that they keep theirs full, Queen Elizabeth's shaved back her hairline and eyebrows sparking a trend across England that was topped off with a full bush. A close look at painting sfrom the the Renaissance, however, proves plenty of woman were modeling the sphinx look back in the day.
The Victorian Carpet Bag
The Merkin, or pubic wig, was a piece originally worn by sex workers back in the 1400s who wanted to look sexy but prevent the all too uncomfortable pubic lice and hide symptoms of STDS. (Shady, amiright?)The wigs didn't make their actual hit until the Victorian era where sporting a bird's nest on the mons was considered to be the most fashionable. Something a bit cooky about this decade: it was not uncommon for members of the upper class to collect and wear pubic hair which was often given to a lover as a token of affection. A collection of short and curlies from King George IV's collection can be viewed on display at the museum of St. Andrews University in Scotland. The tresses are believed to have belonged to a possible mistress of his: Elizabeth Conyngham.
Rockin' the Bikini Line in the 60s
The 60's brought us a bunch of change. The moon landing, civil rights and gay rights movements, birth control, AND behold: the “bikini.” A magical swimwear outfit that allowed women to strut their stuff at the beach. But with that came the term “bikini line" and women paying closer attention to the hair on their undercarriage. With the ever-so risqué bikini outfit, women got back to their roots and began pulling back the pubes. By the 60’s most women were shaving, waxing or Nairing down there. The public hair on their bikini line was OUT.
The Playboy Pube Wars of the 60's and 70s
During the 60s and 70s Playboy and Penthouse magazines engaged in was Hugh Hefner coined “The Pubic Wars” each striving to show more and more of the female physique. It was generally agreed that nude photographs were not pornographic unless they showed actual female pubic hair or genitals. Penthouse magazine was the first to publish a woman with hints of pubic hair. Little wisps showed from the woman in the centerfold of the magazine, and needless to say it was a huge step for pubic hair. Soon after, Playboy followed suit and Liv Lindeland became the first Playmate to appear in the magazine full frontal nude, bush and all. Women all over the U.S. followed this trend, living out that carpet life.
Careful Keeping in the 80s
With widespread fear of the HIV, AIDS other STD's came the widespread movement of cleanliness and transparency “downtown”. Women starting shaving and waxing the bush again, making sure to check up on their blanket. It was more of a cautionary measure than a beauty statement to shave and take care of your undercarriage, though many shows of the 80s depicted tanned bikini wear babes like Pamela Anderson in Baywatch. Women want to take care of down there, and kept up with that waxing and shaving.
Going Brazilian in the 90s
The 90s were all about the vagina, with a whole section of the play Vagina Monologues dedicated to how going hairless is just a painful and humiliating task. Playboy released scantily clad women again with more minge, this time in a more “manicured” style. It wasn't until the late 90s that the fully-nude trend with J. Sister Salon coming to the U.S. in 1987 and Gwenith Paltrow claiming the Brazilian was “life changing” It became the celebrity trend that every woman wanted. With the iconic episode of Sex In The City where Carrie gets her first full wax, the trend became even more coveted by women in the U.S. who wanted the "walking sex" look.
Present Day -- The Brillo Pad is Back
That’s right, bring on the bush. Publications like the New York Times and the Today Show are hinting that the garden is being brought back from the dead by celebs like Jenny McCarthy, Kathie Lee Gifford, and Cameron Diaz and even famous porn stars like Naomi Campbell are keeping the garnish. It's safe to say that the bush is coming back, and there's no stopping it.
There are some stats to back this up, this past June Jama Network polled 1,870 women across the UK ages 18-30, asking one question “Do you style or groom the hair in your bikini region?” The results: 49 said yes, 51 said no. Similar to most beauty and fashion trends that we might consider bizarre, things often prove to come full circle. Whether you're growing back your garnish or keeping things close to the surface, your pubes are keeping step with history.
The historical takeaway:
Pretty always hurts.