Trimming the hedges: Are we less and less okay with body hair below the belt?

The price of beautifying below may be higher than we’d like

The price of beautifying below may be higher than we’d like

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

History has a way of making fashion feel foolish. Medieval men in England weren't on trend unless they were displaying their genitals below a barely-there tunic. Style sidebar: Italian women in the 16th century coloured their teeth red (or green) to stay en vogue. Russian women were more demure at the time - they dyed theirs black. The particulars of public (and pubic) presentation have always held some weight for us, no matter how odd the mode. Powdered wigs were once de rigeur. On the head that is, although pubic wigs (called Merkins) also hold their place in history. The ways our bodies have been dutifully adorned and shorn through time prove that we are servants to style. Google "80's hair" if you doubt me. We are governed by body hair do's and don'ts.

Trends from this decade point to down-there body hair being back in favour. Above the belt fuzzies (which typically mirror their southern cousins) also appear to be back if the armpits of celebs like Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts, Miley Cyrus, Madonna, and Penelope Cruz are any indication of modern movements in hair management. And yet, a more scientific scrutiny of shearing offers very different data. Grooming trends are growing faster than our woolies are.

Recent research from the University of California asked over 3,000 adult women about their pubic hair (anonymously, I'm guessing - to my knowledge it wasn't a street survey). The resulting data showed that 84 per cent of women engage in grooming that ranged from "trimming" to "some removal", to going completely "hairless". The remaining women admitted to being more laissez-faire with their hidden hair and cultivating a gloriously groom-free garden. The stats themselves may not take your breath away but when compared to data from a similar study seven years ago, a trimming trend emerges. Back in 2010, when about 2,500 women were asked about their shaving styles, as high as 25 percent were embracing the freedom of furriness while the other 75 percent were reaching for the clippers. Genital grooming has gone up almost 10% since the start of the decade. The only pop culture triggers I can point to in 2010 are Lady Gaga's meat dress and the end of Lost. Gentle reminder: I am not a scientist.

The segment of the population most adherent to the grooming boom? Predominantly young, white women with higher educations. Income or marital status did nothing to tilt the clippers but as academic advancement went up so did the likelihood of taking a little off the bottom. Note that seniors are not big groomers, which is weird because they typically love gardening.

Dr Benjamin Breyer, associate professor at UCSF's Department of Urology, Epidemiology and Biostatistics who lead the recent study confirms the "data source reflects just how prevalent is the practice of personal grooming." Baldness below the belt is deemed increasingly beautiful. But he also adds an odd caveat when it comes to trimming one's pumpkin patch: trim gingerly. "We believe grooming practices are also associated with personal injury and potentially sexually transmitted infection." He admits the correlation to STIs may have secondary cause that aren't clear yet but his team is "analyzing these associations in the hope of finding risk factors that can be modified such as instrument use." Pro-tip: whatever you're shaving, start with a good steamy shower to clean and soften the canvas and use clean, new (and sharp) tools. Dull blades are way more dangerous than sharp ones.  

If you're primed to rant about female beauty standards you aren't wrong (and I'll rant right along with you) but women aren't the only ones to kowtow to clipping. When researchers at the University of California asked over 4,000 adult men is their razors ever travelled below the equator, more than half (51 per cent) said yes. Some stats put management of the male under-mane even higher, at around 69 per cent.

The next time you sigh, naked as the day is long, while reaching for the razor, be thankful fashion staples like powdered wigs have been relegated to the back of history's closet. But should you go shorter than you'd have liked while trimming your treasures in the pursuit of trendiness, keep the Merkin in mind. At least for the colder months


Marc Beaulieu is a writer, producer and host of the live Q&A show guyQ LIVE @AskMen