Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Hairy Post

The European blog Sign and Sight is nothing if not wide-ranging and far-reaching. In its roundup today it chooses to highlight a hairy or rather hairless, topic:

At the opening of his boutique for luxury menswear in Zurich, designer Tom Ford ponders the subject of body hair. "I talked to my father about it, he's 76. And he can't understand the world any more. Everyone is shaved everywhere. When a woman is naked, you should see lots of hair, he thinks. And he's right. That's natural, pure, animalistic. But that's my personal taste. It is something that really preoccupies me though... We were doing a photo shoot with a big group of naked men, all heterosexuals between the ages of 19 and 60. The older ones had full, natural pubic hair, the under-40s were strarkly trimmed, and a few had none at all. I asked the younger ones why they were shaved all over and they replied: because my girlfriend likes it. ... It's a hairless generation, their sexual socialisation happened with porn films that showed no pubic hair. I grew up in the seventies where porn films were still porn films, it was sweaty and hairy."

For ten years now, scientists have been trying to develop a viagra for women, but their search has been fruitless, reports Kai Michel. "Things are definitely changing. 'Women used to come to us with orgasm problems,' explains Claus Buddeberg. This rarely happens today. 'Many women have become sexually emancipated,' he says. 'They understand their own reactions abilities. And they less likely to feel pressured into having to have an orgasm.' Instead over fifty percent of his patients complain about a low libido. According to Buddeberg there are three main factors behind this loss of lust : the ubiquitousness of sexual stimulation in public life. If perfect naked bodies jump out at you on every corner, disinterest is a reaction to the manipulative marketing of erotic fantasies. Secondly, individual experiences with sexuality leave their mark. And thirdly, partnership plays a decisive role: 'And there we often see a desert,' Buddeberg says.

The hairy/hairless woman's body put me in mind of this story I once heard about John Ruskin, who is rumoured to have been aesthetically diametrically opposed to Tom Ford's father's explicit affection for the natural woman's body:

Ruskin's marriage, to Effie Gray, was annulled after six years because of non-consummation. His wife, in a letter to her parents, claimed that he found her "person" (meaning her body) repugnant. "He alleged various reasons, hatred to children, religious motives, a desire to preserve my beauty, and finally this last year he told me his true reason... that he had imagined women were quite different to what he saw I was, and that the reason he did not make me his Wife was because he was disgusted with my person the first evening 10th April."

Ruskin confirmed this in his statement to his lawyer during the annulment proceedings. "It may be thought strange that I could abstain from a woman who to most people was so attractive. But though her face was beautiful, her person was not formed to excite passion. On the contrary, there were certain circumstances in her person which completely checked it."[14]

The cause of this mysterious "disgust" has led to much speculation. Ruskin's biographer, Mary Lutyens, suggested that he rejected Effie because he was horrified by the sight of her pubic hair. Lutyens argued that Ruskin must have known the female form only through Greek statues and paintings of the nude lacking pubic hair and found the reality shocking.[15] This speculation has been repeated by later biographers and essayists and it is now something that "everyone knows" about Ruskin.[16] However, there is no proof for this, and some disagree. Peter Fuller in his book Theoria: Art and the Absence of Grace writes, "It has been said that he was frightened on the wedding night by the sight of his wife's pubic hair; more probably, he was perturbed by her menstrual blood." Ruskin's biographers Tim Hilton and John Batchelor also take the view that menstruation is the more likely explanation, though Batchelor also suggests that body-odour may have been the problem.

Hairlessness is a relative late arrival in Western aesthetics. Or perhaps more accurately, revival. Arab and Muslim women and men have been religiously and culturally instructed to minimize the quantity of bodily hair by way of observing the prophet's exemplary cleanliness dictums.

When I was an undergraduate at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, I learned this shocking truth from a roommate who was the daughter of Iraqi immigrants. Apparently, the custom of plucking every hair on the female body migrated through social osmosis from the Muslim population and was adopted by the women in the Jewish community.

Now and here it's called "The Brazilian" and is considered a topic meriting its own episode in "Sex and the city".


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