A few months ago, American Apparel made the news (and inspired an angry blog from yours truly) with their ill-conceived bleeding vagina T-shirt. The $44purchase depicted a bleeding, masturbating vagina, and was artist Petra Collin's apparent attempt at celebrating female sexuality.
I didn't buy it.
The T-shirt or the message, that is.
I promptly called out company CEO Dov Charney for utilizing shock value to market his product and ultimately his brand, under the guise of exploring social issues and taboos.
But this time around, he may have just made a convert out of me.
On Thursday, photos of American Apparel's new storefront mannequins started appearing on my social media feed. For the most part, they were the routine, rail-thin, way-too-white mannequins we've come to expect, with a couple of distinct differences.
These mannequins were sporting full-on nipples and -- most importantly -- a full bush gloriously peeking through their underwear. No Brazilian waxing for these ladies.
If I'm being honest, my initial reaction was to just shake my head and mutter something along the lines of: "Controversy must have run out on the bleeding vagina T-shirt, so it was probably time for a new gimmick."
After all, one would have to be unbelievably naïve not to see the latest American Apparel move as anything more than the brazen PR stunt that it is. This company is brilliant at taking the focus off its mediocre products and putting it on its name. People talk, sales soar. It's been proven to work time and time again, so why tinker with a winning formula?
But then I started reading the comments and seeing people's reactions to the new mannequins. And what I saw seriously disturbed me.
Almost no negative comments were made about the sudden appearance of nipples on mannequins. I'm guessing most people didn't even notice, being that female nudity is so omnipresent in our world, and used to peddle everything under the sun.
But the reactions to the full bush came fast and furious!
"Who wants to see that?"
It was utterly perplexing to me that people (both men and women) could barely contain their disdain at the sight of what is absolutely natural; a woman's pubic hair.
I understand that our standards of beauty have historically been manipulated and drastically changed over the decades. The Renaissance's love of rotund women is in sharp contrast to the almost-anorexic, pre-teen models selling designer clothes today. Every era has its ever-changing notions of beauty manipulated, and what's considered desirable during one decade is often laughable in another.
But how is it that the natural state of a woman's body (dark nipples, pubic hair and all), should cause such disgust and discomfort? Why is natural and unaltered so offensive?
It unavoidably makes one ask the question: "Have we, as a society, become so unaccepting of our natural appearance that the image of what most women look like when they haven't groomed down there is disgusting to so many of us?"
I'm fully aware that it's the era of the full Brazilian and tons of women are walking around looking like pre-pubescent 12-year-olds, but there are many females also walking around with the pubic version of a chia pet between their legs, and that should be ok too.
I'm sure there are women who have been conditioned to believe that a pubic area that hasn't been shaved or waxed is sexually undesirable, and there are many who purposely don't bother with full-on Brazilian waxes and will sport the 'au naturel' look for the rest of their lives.
I'm betting that most of us run the gamut of pubic-hair care, depending on circumstances, time constraints, societal and partner expectations, time of the year (any bikini wax artist will tell you summer is their busy season), and current love life situation.
Like a good friend of mine used to say: "Why trim the garden if no one is visiting right now?"
All this to say, it's all good. Shave it, don't shave it. Wax it, don't wax it. Trim it, decorate it, bedazzle it if you must, but what is it with somehow assuming that a natural untrimmed bush is 'ew'-inducing?
The truth is, we women spend our entire lives fighting the onslaught of hair on our bodies. On our legs, under our armpits, between our legs... It's like housework; it's everywhere and it always comes back. Unless we laser it off, of course.
So preoccupying is this battle, that feminist author Caitlin Moran has an entire chapter devoted to the topic in her book "How to Be a Woman."
In "I Become Furry" she pens a laugh-out-loud, yet heartwarming paean to the "the proper muff, the big, hairy minge."
She goes on to describe how, over the years, pubic hair has gone from the very least of a woman's worries -- "when I was 17, around the time of grunge, the idea of waxing your bikini line was bizarre, marginal, for porn models only" -- to a "pretty routine part of 'self-care' that no one seems to question."
And Moran holds no punches. What people call a Brazilian, she prefers to call what she believes it is "a ruinously high-maintenance, itchy, cold-looking, child's vagina."
She chastises our society and points the finger at the ever-growing influence of the porn industry in our lives that has spawned a gigantic, million-dollar industry and made every man expect a fully-plucked porn star in his bed, and every woman feel obligated to succumb to the pain and discomfort of constant bikini waxes. Because, make no mistake about it, waxing isn't fun.
And, as recently reminded by physician Emily Gibson in a Salon article, it can also be potentially harmful, increasing the risks of skin irritations, infections and vulnerability to STIs.
Still find a perfectly bald pubic area sexy?
And yet women continue to happily succumb to the pain and the discomfort because it's what's expected of them, and many never thought to question it. But maybe they should. And maybe, like all things, the pendulum will soon start swinging in the other direction, and a full bush will be the next 'big' thing. Maybe...
At the end of the day, I don't feel strongly one way or another about pubic hair. Women should go ahead and do what they want with their own, but I think people's repulsed reactions to the mere sight of what is, by all accounts, absolutely natural should make us question the invisible forces that influence us and shape our thoughts and decisions on a daily basis.
Because the thought that people think that a full bush is disgusting is equally disgusting to me. Because the thought that a 12-year-old girl feels overwhelming pressure to remove all hints of bodily hair in order to be considered sexually attractive is disturbing to me.
Because the fact that bodily hair grooming is still considered mandatory for women, yet somehow only optional for men should alert us to the double standards that continue to exist everywhere.
I'm not naïve enough to think that American Apparel had any honourable intentions. The company wasn't sincerely concerned about having a real discussion about how pubic hair has become a politically charged arena, and how women's bodies apparently belong to everyone because everyone apparently gets a 'say' in how we comport ourselves and how we look.
But I'm thankful that they plastered those dolls on their storefront window in New York because it started a much-needed discussion. Our perceptions and our norms of what's sexually attractive are worth examining and scrutinizing. And, sometimes, it's only through the knee-jerk, repulsed reactions of consumers that one gets to see revealed how pervasive the beauty and fashion industry's influence is on our attitudes and beliefs about desirability.
And, let's not beat around the bush here, boys and girls, we (women more so than men) are often just mere puppets in a carefully orchestrated, yet highly lucrative, play.