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To Shave or Not to Shave

There are so many grooming options open to women today – from a landing strip to a bald Brazilian to covering your vagina in sparkles. Making the vagina look and smell ‘aesthetically pleasing’ – like ensuring it smells of guavas – is a billion-dollar industry. But women – and only women – should be in charge of what their lady parts look like.



You wake up after a night of anonymous sex to find you are missing something: your pubic hair. This happened to a Kenyan woman in June last year. She called a radio station and told the host and listeners that she had hooked up with a man she met on Facebook. She woke up the next morning to find herself with an impromptu Brazilian. She was hoping to track down the man and get her pubes back because (to paraphrase her words), as Africans, you never know what muti someone could be using them for.

Anyone who has ever shaved their vagina will know it is a tricky process, even when the woman involved is fully conscious. It is therefore alarming that he achieved this while she was asleep. The man in question was tracked down. He was unrepentant, saying that he had shaved her pubic hair to teach her a lesson. He could not abide these ‘modern women’ who were ‘not clean’.

Now this is wrong on a number of levels.

The first is that there was no consent, so this was physical assault. The second is that this is so creepy that I am wholly unable even to conceptualise how this man arrived at this point. Her vagina, in all its hirsute glory, was good enough the night before but not good enough to leave well enough alone the morning after? It irked him so much that he had to take the calculated step to shave her in her sleep?

Read: Why can a woman be naked in porn but not in protest?

The association with pubic hair and a lack of cleanliness came under the spotlight when Amber Rose posted a selfie in which the mane of her muffin was on show. On one side of the argument are those who believe that a woman should have her vagina as coiffed as she, and only she, pleases. On the other are those who consider anything that does not smell of strawberries and resemble a bald piece of fruit to be ‘unsanitary’.

It is all about your preference

Women are often shamed for having any body hair at all, be it on their armpits, legs or vaginas. This ‘hair shaming’ starts pretty early in a woman’s life and is aided and abetted by the media and the constant push to get women to remove their hair in all manner of ways, from razors to lasers to creams (which can scorch and damage the skin if not handled properly).

Women are often shamed for having body hair, be it on their armpits, legs or vaginas.

For me, the act of removing all my pubic hair was partly for practical reasons – I am partial to someone spending time with their head between my thighs – but there was another aspect to it: I wanted to be ‘clean’ or, more precisely, to be seen as being clean by my prospective sexual partners. The choice to have no pubic hair lay far more in needing to be perceived as having a ‘clean, pure and fresh pussy’ that looked like it had never experienced puberty than to make it easier to get the head I wanted.

Shaving Essentialls. Photo: Barney A Bishop/Flickr

There is a stigma around women having hairy groins, based on a set of ideas that women’s bodies should exude a certain form of perfection all the time. It is the same type of thinking that sees periods in adverts being presented as something wholly undesirable and has the world talking about new mothers getting their body back – having just produced an entire human being – while the ‘dad bod’ is celebrated.

In the African context, we are sometimes shamed for not having pubic hair because apparently it means we ‘like certain things’. But the choice to remove or keep the hair on your vagina should be based on whether it feels incredible to you.

Embracing diversity

There are many women who feel like they can achieve anything after a good wax, while some feel a trim is good enough. Then there are those who prefer to sport a magnificent head of hair. These are all viable options for a woman to have on her vagina because it is her body. Embracing different lengths of pubic hair is a big part of women accepting themselves as they are. There is nothing that makes it a ‘better vagina’.

Anyone who has ever shaved their vagina will know it is a tricky process.

Puberty, when a girl’s hips, breasts and body hair come in, is a time that should be celebrated as something beautiful. More and more women should embrace whatever length of pubic hair they want, according to their comfort levels and their notion of sexy. What should not be central to this debate is the question, ‘Am I a clean/wholesome woman or not?’ The trend of shaming grown women for having a bush needs to stop. If you want to grow that bush, then just do it.