You might have already heard, but the bush is back. And yes, despite the problematic nature of claiming that a body part is "in" or "out" of fashion, it has been noted by many that a fuller-bodied pubic hairstyle is being celebrated in the public eye in 2018 in a way it hasn't been for quite some time.
In 2013, photographer Petra Collins' picture showing her pubic hair was deleted from Instagram, causing uproar and igniting debate. In 2017, Ashley Graham, model and champion of owning your body and your choices, said in an interview: "I have a full bush. Period. It’s about your preference, and your partner's preference." Thank you too for Amber Rose, who posted a picture of her full foliage on Instagram in 2017 (it was also deleted, but lives on on Twitter). Earlier this year, even US Vogue noted a return to more hair down there – a trend likened by waxer Pat Stark to the "return to thicker brows".
Throughout the '90s and the '00s, hair trends came and went, as trends are wont to do. Being a young woman growing into her body during the 2000s meant that a lot of what I saw, had not a lot of hair on it at all.
It’s now 2018, and I’ve been waiting nearly 17 years for my eyebrows to grow back fully after the ghastly pencil-thin brow debacle of the early '00s, fashioned fabulously by the likes of Christina Aguilera and Paris Hilton. And although many women have resolutely refused to bow to societal pressure when it comes to body hair, one only has to recall the ubiquity of The Brazilian and The Hollywood back then to remember how intense that pressure once was.
In reality, the eulogy for a fully dressed pubis was written way before the dawn of low-rise jeans and the desire for a hot wax. Because of course, women have been waxing, shaving and preening their nether regions since the dawn of time.
If early Renaissance art is anything to go by, one would expect the female body to present in real life as completely hairless. In 1532, a book of secret recipes for all kinds of hair removal advocates a mixture of arsenic and quicklime. The book advises: "Wash the skin when it becomes hot, so as not to remove the flesh."
The ancient Greeks favoured a (slightly) less dangerous method of depilation. Methods of hair removal for Grecian women ranged from the arduous task of plucking out the hairs one by one to singeing them off with hot ashes or a burning lamp.
In the Elizabethan era, women were more inclined to keep their pubic hair intact, although some still opted to go hairless, mainly to decrease the risk of contracting pubic lice. Nice.
In light, then, of evidence suggesting that women have been burning, boiling and lacerating their skin since the dawn of time in the search for ultimate beauty, the recent mainstream appreciation of female body hair is actually pretty radical.
When I first noticed hair growing in my pubic area, my instinct was to shave it all off. Not because the sight of it frightened me – I’d been told to expect it from a certain age – but because something about removing my pubic hair made me feel bizarrely grown-up, despite the fact that what I was doing was making me look less like an adult. Knowing I had control over my own body gave me a sense of autonomy that young women so often crave.
Nowadays, however, I leave my pubes to grow out for so long that if I wear a skirt or a dress in high temperatures, I run the risk of starting a bushfire.
A world away from violating our vulvas with arsenic and burning ourselves at the follicle, we are getting much closer to lacerating societal ideals about what our bodies should look like in order to be accepted or desired. I spoke to five other women who have given up hair removal down there and are ready to dispense a long, tall "follicle off" to anyone who still assumes the right to suggest what they should or should not do with their pubic hair.
Twenty-one-year-old student Millie says: "I shared a room with my older sister and she was always shaven. And whenever I saw my mum naked as a child she was always completely bald too. I was confused when I grew my own. Even now [my family] try to get me to shave because they hate seeing me so hairy."
Millie says that when she was 19, she stopped shaving her pubic hair after going through a break-up. "As I recovered from my relationship, I realised that women are the real-life deities," she says.
"I love my leg hair, my pubic hair and even my armpit hair. I think it’s beautiful, and that the natural female form is the most beautiful thing in this world."
My pubes, and my armpit hair in particular, is one way of saying 'I am more important than how sexy anyone thinks I am'
Kim, 25, feels this radical notion of self-love and acceptance. She recalls how, even growing up in liberal surroundings, having hairy legs and armpits seemed unthinkable.
"My pubes, and my armpit hair in particular, is one way of saying 'I am more important than how sexy anyone thinks I am'," says Kim, who relishes negative reactions to her choices about her personal appearance.
"Seeing myself without pubic hair made me feel like a child, so I found it gross to imagine myself in a sexual context while I felt infantilised in some way."
"No one ever talks about how horrendously itchy it is after you shave and it grows back! It's not worth it at all! If a partner expected me to shave, I would expect them to get the fuck out of my bed," says Kim.
Jessie, a 26-year-old civil servant living in Portsmouth, told me about her mum’s influence on her attitude towards her body hair.
"My mum's openness taught me that my body isn't something to be ashamed of, she taught me how to shave my legs and my armpits but we never touched on pubic hair. In fact, when I started removing mine I was embarrassed and didn't tell her."
She recounts hearing negative comments about female pubic hair when she started secondary school, saying that some boys at the school would joke and jeer about "encounters" they'd had with girls who had pubic hair.
"No one really knew what the purpose of pubic hair was, or that it actually protects from bacteria and adds comfort during sex," she adds.
So at 23, she decided to grow out her pubic hair.
"It started when I decided to be celibate until marriage. I no longer had the 'need' to shave there because no one would be seeing it," she says, adding that her partner is incredibly supportive of her decision to remain hairy. She says: "I asked him about my pubic hair, and he said he doesn't care, it's entirely up to me. He told me that if I'm happy with how I look and how I feel then that's all he cares about."
She continues: "I didn't feel any less of a sexual woman when I had pubes compared to when I didn't have pubes. I started to look at myself differently and started to pin my confidence in my sexuality onto who I am and how I am, and not what I look like."
"Having hair makes me feel more like a woman, as being hairless is quite childlike,” says Anna, 22, from Edinburgh.
"I feel as if I have a choice about what I want to do with my body hair, and it’s nice to feel in control, rather than doing something because it’s a requirement to be considered beautiful."
Alicia, 23, from Nottinghamshire, says that during secondary school, she thought pubic hair should be removed in order for a man to want to be with you. "I thought it was something to be ashamed of, and unfortunately I still see this sort of opinion circulating on social media."
"As I’ve grown and learned about the role that pubic hair plays in protecting your vagina from infection and bacteria, in regulating temperature and in releasing pheromones that can increase attractiveness, my opinion has become much more relaxed," Alicia claims – making the point that, like eyelashes protect our eyes, pubes protect our vaginas.