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Genital Fads

Because it’s looking like spring (at least here in the Pacific Northwest) and little shoots are poking through the ground, and the big VD just happened (that’s Valentine’s Day not venereal disease though they do have a relation), I remembered a conversation with a friend last fall.

We were at the World Fantasy Convention, in the art show. There were some dark, moody-broody pictures involving nudes. After my friend looked at one, she said to me, “I noticed that the woman in that photo had her genital area shaved. Am I way behind the boat here? Is this something that people are doing now?”

And I enlightened her that it is in fact a fad these days for men and women to be hairless. Women already have shaved underarms and legs for years. Now they may have their pubic patch trimmed or taken away completely, commonly called a Brazilian. Men have also been getting waxed of recent years, from back and butts, to chests and genitals. Some of them shave the genital area or go in to see an aesthetician to have as one friend referred to it, a crack and sack hair removal.

It’s been common in the Middle East for hundreds of years, yet in Italy of the last century a woman with hairless legs were considered to be tarty or ladies of the night. But this modern age is not the first time that people have applied fashion trends to their genitals.

If we go back in time there were ribbons applied to pubic curls in the 17th century. Known as a merkin, men or women would adorn these pubic wigs to either disguise the syphilitic ravages to their flesh, to discourage vermin (having shaved the region) or because people found a dense bush more sexually appealing. Some extravagances involved crimping the pubic hairs, adding ribbons, jewels or flowers. Quite a treasure trove for the exploring Don Juan.

Adornment hasn’t just happened to the pubic hair but to the flesh as well. There have been an abundance of piercings for men and women, some being ornamental, others religious, others for sexual enhancement. These have been done for centuries in some Asian and African countries and are popular in some aspects of North American and European culture.

Clothing has also been worn at different times to enhance the genital area (besides the merkin). These have included extravagant codpieces from the German Landsknecht “slash and puff” clothing, through the Elizabethan and Tudor periods. As well, various tribes may have worn penis sheaths made from wood or gourds, such as the New Guinea koteka. Tattooing is also not new.

The fashion of making ourselves as hairless a possible will probably change in decades to come. Nothing is new and nothing is permanent. Whether we see these pubic fashions as awe inspiring, fashionable, sexy or ridiculous they too will change in time. Someone will come up with something new, maybe wearing airplane parts or hanging Christmas ornaments from their pubic regions. Who knows, you might be the first to have the newest undercover fad.

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Body Adornment

The other half to yesterday’s blog on camouflaging the true shape of our bodies is one of adornment. People are like crows. We have always been attracted to shiny and colorful objects. Ever since Grog the caveman noticed the bright blue stone, we’ve been collecting these things. The best way to store such objects, if you were an itinerant caveman, was to wear it. And look, that blue stone brought the sky back again or slowed the mammoth down so we could kill it.

Body adornment covers jewellery made of glass, metal, clay, wood, stone, feathers, bone, etc. strung or worn in many ways across different parts of the body. As well it has been stuck through and pierced into whatever piece of flesh could be pierced. From lip and nose discs to rings on fingers, toes, nipples, to pieces of wood or stone or metal punctured through chests, backs, arms and other fleshy bits–if it could be done, someone has done it.

Jewellery has as many uses as clothing does. In many cases such adornment started out as a ritualistic aspect with Grog, perhaps a dedication to a belief or god or path. As well, certain body markings indicated tribal/familial affiliations or ranks of authority. A pope would wear an amethyst ring that the faithful would kiss. A particular group in the jungle may have their noses pierced while their neighbors had their eyebrows be-ringed. Whether a fashion trend in that area or a mark of community, these regional differences served the purpose of identifying one group from another.

Facial and body makeup also came along, where applications may have been used for special occasions, rituals, power or to enhance characteristics, such as outlining the eyes to make them look bigger; but also the kohl liners worked to reduce sun-glare into the eyes. There have been practical applications for some body makeup and painting, such as coatings to keep sun off, or insects from biting.

Tattoos and scarification are other ways in which the body has been marked for centuries. Piercings can be temporary, as in the sundance done by some plains nations in North America, where the man’s chest is pierced for the (up to) four-day sundance. But permanent marks are part of identification, authority or belonging to a particular group. Scarring the skin with ridges and whorls, along with embedding items under the skin have been done in some areas for quite a while. Sailors were long known to pick up tattoos on their travels. I’m not sure of the reason why and that would take a bit more research. Some I believe had to do with visiting foreign countries where some of these practices were more common.

Tattoos are big now in parts of modern tribal culture as well as the resurgence of the burlesque dance style. Dancers often have designs that are reminiscent of the 50’s and the earliest North American white tattoos (I say white because I’m not sure if any First Nation groups did tattooing like the Maori have done). Maori tattoos served several purposes including looking fierce in battle, along with the facial gurning.

But last and probably the most popular reason for adorning one’s body, whether with rings, earrings, necklaces, piercings, makeup, tattoos or scarification is for the sheer enjoyment of decoration. We have not traveled that far since Grog started smearing red clay handprints onto his chest, tying a blue stone about his neck and piercing his ears. Though he may have decorated some for superstitious reasons or protection from spiritual or real elements, there came a time that it was just cool and fun to decorate himself. And let’s not forget the status symbol of having the brightest colored rocks or the largest gems in the whole tribe. That hasn’t changed much. If it had, we wouldn’t pay through the nose (does that term come from jewellery?) for precious gems and gold. As long as there are humans we will be given to adorning ourselves and structures around us. If you don’t like a particular fashion of body decoration, be assured that within a hundred years it will change again.

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