I’ll never forget my first adult visit to a jjimjjilbang — a communal bath house in Korea. A cornerstone of the culture, it’s where women go to mingle and relax. And, apparently, judge each other for not having pubic hair: When I strode in, fully groomed, everyone stared. (Just in case they needed some hints for where to focus, I had some pretty obvious tan lines in key places.)
I’ll especially never forget the way a girl gathered her abundant pubes into her underwear, and then strode past me with stone-cold confidence and a side-eye that said, “Jealous?”
Admittedly, it wasn’t as bad as Margaret Cho’s jjimjjilbang experience, in which women vocally judged her for having tattoos, but there was clearly a cultural difference between my Korean-American (lack of) lady 'stache and everyone else’s.
In the U.S., the interest in a more natural down-there look may not have had a resurgence in popularity until recently. But, in Korea, pubic hair is seen as a sign of sexual health and fertility. Some have even taken it one step further — with bush grafting. Yup, women are getting hair transplanted from their heads onto their lady parts.
And, as my bath-house experience made obvious, a big reason for why some Korean women feel pressure to get this procedure isn't men — it's other women. According to a study from the Arumdaun Nara Dermatologic and Plastic Surgery Clinic in Seoul, 74% said they had gotten it done because of a “sense of inferiority to the same sex.”
What does pubic atrichosis look like? If that region were a heart shape, just the tip would be populated in hair. After a hair transplant, you can start sporting a new shape: inverted triangle, diamond, shield — the possibilities are endless. The two most popular styles (with 87% of women choosing them), are the shield and the fan, according to a Korean blog run by a hair restoration clinic.
Interestingly enough, one of the first hair transplants ever was with pubic hair, in Japan. These days, the procedure starts at about $2,000, and the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery reports that demand has increased sharply, to the tune of 160% from 2010 to 2012. While it only takes a few hours, it may take a few sessions for the hair to take root.
When I compare all this with the predominant Western views, it makes me wish I lived in a world in which body hair was more appreciated. After all, the amount of time, energy, money, and emotion many women spend on removing hair from their genitals is kind of crazy. No amount of soothing, zen music will diminish the torture of a Brazilian, and nothing is quite as humiliating as being told to flip over and spread your cheeks so the aesthetician can get that last bit.
On the other hand, it could just be the other end of a spectrum. The basic idea is still "women undergoing an expensive and painful procedure to fit a cultural norm." Maybe, instead of grafting or waxing, we could just accept our bushes (or lack thereof) for what they are, naturally, and stop making others feel self-conscious for whatever situation they have going on.
Where do you stand in the great pubic-hair debate?
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