It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that it should be every woman’s right to choose what she wants to do with her vulva.
Yet, when I heard last week about the latest craze for ‘vajacials’ (that’s a ‘facial for your vagina’, fact fans) my initial reaction was one of horror. Whilst the name of the procedure might conjure visions of a beauty therapist enthusiastically attacking your nether regions with a cleansing wipe, it actually involves hard-core exfoliation achieved by means of a plastic tube and Salicylic acid. (May I take this opportunity simply to reiterate? Acid! On your nethers! *shudder*).
Last Friday I was invited onto This Morning’s sofa to ask whether this latest development in female grooming was a step too far. Myself and opponent Nicola Bonn, a beauty writer who subjected herself to the treatment in the name of research (the things we do for our art) bantered playfully, whilst host Eamonn Holmes’ hilarious facial response was gleefully reported in the following day’s Sun Newspaper (under the pun-tastic headline ‘Eamonn’s Red Facial’). We tittered our way euphemistically through the discussion, mindful that the time of day and the fact that school children were on their Easter holidays prevented us from being too graphic.
The debate, however, does have a broader and more sinister context, taking place in the same week the Metro reported that 92% of 8-16 year-olds in the UK have been exposed to hard core pornography. With porn omnipresent on the smartphones and in the classrooms of our child and teen generation, it isn’t just their understanding of what constitutes a ‘normal’ sexual act that’s being influenced, it’s their perception of a ‘normal’ body, too.
It was during the 1990s that programmes like Sex & the City introduced the Hollywood wax to the public mind-set and thousands of women flocked to their beauticians in a quest to become entirely fuzz-free. Whilst popular, the procedure was still considered something of a novelty and rather extreme in nature, back then. Fast forward a decade and its pubic hair that’s considered unusual, with an active expectation placed on particularly younger women to go bare ‘down there’. The absence of pubes in the public eye has similarly influenced the tastes of a whole generation of young men, many of whom tell me that the mere idea of any body hair on a woman makes them feel ‘physically sick’.
It isn’t just our genital grooming choices which are spiralling into the extreme. Treatments which were once the remit of the rich, famous and a tiny bit reckless are now more affordable and accessible than ever. Facelifts, chemical peels and the oh-so-socially accepted botox (which, I am forced to remind you, reader, is POISON injected into your FACE by a non-medically trained professional) are now commonplace. Our foremothers would baulk in horror at the things we casually consent to and the ever-growing list of body parts which we consider it necessary to tamper with.
There’s even a television advertisement entreating us to be ‘embarrassed’ by the ‘dry, cracked skin’ on the back of our heels. What parts of our body will be the next source of shame? Elbows perhaps? Or will we go internal with a treatment to make our livers look FABULOUS?
When it comes to beauty, I’m pro-choice. (I can almost hear your derisory laughter but really, I am.) After all, I wasn’t born with two-tone hair (on my head) and I believe it is for every woman to navigate the worlds of fashion and beauty and draw her own line in the pressed-powder masquerading as sand. What concerns me, however, is that the ever-increasing array of beauty procedures and products being introduced onto the market are merely giving us the illusion of choice, whilst in reality snatching our grooming liberty from under our botoxed-noses.
Our future, if we continue on our current projectile, is one in which an increasing amount of time, energy and money is spent in the pursuit of moulding our physical forms into a socially accepted blu-print and a diminishing amount of time is devoted to doing anything else. Our understanding of ‘necessity’ in beauty is constantly evolving. Women now speaking of ‘needing’ a manicure and pedicure the way their mothers spoke of ‘needing’ a haircut. Similarly, our daughters (and I mean this in the broadest possible sense since I remain childless as you know) are likely to talk about ‘needing’ a vajacial.
The vajacial is, in most camps, considered rather ludicrous in 2013. By 2050 women who don’t submit to one will be considered ‘lazy’ or ‘dirty’ just like women who don’t wax are now.
Nicola argued on Friday that this wasn’t the case, that women should be confident enough to pick and choose the minutae of their own beauty routines and tell any man who dismisses her privates as not coming up to his standards to sod the hell off.
In theory, of course, she is absolutely correct.
As a reasonably confident woman in her thirties, I can say with some assurance that I’m happy in my genital grooming choices (of which the general public will remain ignorant) and would have the gumption to give aforementioned fictitious male critic his marching orders. But I am no longer a teenage girl.
I do, however, remember being one. I remember the opinions of both my male and female peers being paramount in my self-perception. I remember the terrible sense of shame I felt when, aged 13, I realised I was the only girl in her class not shaving her legs. I remember my first trips to the pub aged 17 and the desperation I felt for sexual validation, avidly soaking up the male patrons’ opinions on the pin-ups of the day (Kelly Brook featured strongly, I seem to remember). I defy anyone, during a time when they are just discovering themselves, not to be influenced by popular opinion on sex, sexuality, beauty and desirability.
As older women, every beauty decision we make, every beauty treatment we undertake simply because it’s there, or try because we think we probably should, filters down and becomes commonplace amongst our younger sisters. It’s what I’ve dubbed ‘mindless grooming’ because we aren’t really sure why we’re doing it and it’s done to conform, rather than to stand out. And so the biggest kindness we can do for future women is to take a stand as a gender and to use the introduction of some ludicrous, unnecessary titivation or adornment of our most intimate parts, be it a vajazzle or a vajacial, to collectively say “No! Enough now!”.
If we do not, we condemn future generations of girls (and, indeed boys) to spending more and more of their lives in the beauty parlour (I know it’s a ‘salon’ now but I just love the word ‘parlour’ - it’s so evocative) just to feel acceptable and less and less time actually living.