Could the pubic wig usher in a flourishing of the female bush? | Women’s hair

I watched this video clip maybe 20 times, a closeup of a merkin being made, light brown human hair being threaded through silk tulle. This was behind the scenes at the Maison Margiela haute couture show, designed by John Galliano, in which corsetted models were made up to look like porcelain dolls and wore luxurious merkins under their sheer black skirts. Historically, I have lost large cuts of time to videos of ingrown hairs being extracted, enjoying something quite animal and orgasmic about the eventual release, and while this video had similarities, the aim was not, of course, hair removal, but instead hair introduction. A pubic wig was being created and in the meditative space between each threading, I thought about the state of body hair.

An advertisement for an at-home hair-removal laser kit had just popped into my emails, one in a list of “top Mother’s Day presents”, the suggestion being that I might this year thank my mum for giving birth to and raising me with the gift of a thousand small shocks to her armpit, thigh or vulva. This device sat comfortably among its fellow gift recommendations – a candle, a bottle of rosé – a shrine to femininity, motherhood, or hairy alcoholics whose houses stink, whichever cost more.

It is tempting to look at the viral success of Galliano’s designs and suggest that (as the Evening Standard did this week, and Vogue has, every couple of years) “the bush is back”. That after decades of shaving, waxing and lasering, here is proof we are finally done, finally free to live in unmodified bodies and let our body hair twist its way out of our clothes and up the grand ruins of our flesh, like black ivy.

But – things are rarely this simple. Fashion acts as a steamed-up mirror, reflecting and distorting our obsessions and desires; few things straddle these states more than hair, something seen as simultaneously erotic, beautiful, rotten and obscene, depending on which inch of the body it appears.

A Sun article last week about a Canadian influencer who has become famous for “flaunting” her body hair made me laugh, albeit grimly and inside my head. It perfectly illustrated our confused obsession, presenting photos of Candace Cynthia alongside a piece that earnestly attempted to portray her as a hero, before allowing a manic note of hysteria to creep in.

I read it in the voice of a Victoria Wood character, or an auntie trying really hard. “The body-confident woman beamed for the camera, clearly unphased by what people think about her body hair,” it went, alongside captions like: “It looks like Candace hasn’t shaved her legs for years,” and, in the headline: “It’s not just her armpits that are hairy…” It is still news when a woman doesn’t shave her legs and, however much empowerment the reporter tries to slosh over the words, it’s the pictures of hair out of place, which shock and excite, that are the real story.

In recent years, feminists have taken steps to normalise body hair, but still, historians say Britons now have less of it than ever before in human history. In 2022, the UK retail industry for hair-removal products was worth £574.1m, projected to reach £754m by 2031. And, while it would be exciting if this viral Galliano moment marked a turning point, a turning away from, maybe, standardised beauty, or obedience, or that low hum of disgust that leads us to the wax strips, I think, in fact, what this moment is for is to remind us that we still see body hair as shocking and to confront that feeling. After all, the models wearing the merkins will likely have had to work hard to stay hairless their entire lives.

And it is hard work, however seamlessly we have taught ourselves to integrate these chores into our everyday ladylike lives. It’s hard work and it’s expensive, shaving legs, lasering armpits, waxing pubic hair, bleaching moustaches, plucking chin hairs, threading eyebrows. This is, still, today, the very minimum that women are expected and conditioned to do, not even to look beautiful, but simply to look clean, or to be given permission to move through life without comment.

The excitement over the merkin, then, is that it feels like progress. Not classic progress, where we move forward, but more like Diet progress, or progress Lite, where the taste is similar, but we get to stay exactly where we started. We want to be cool with the continuing slippage and aliveness of our bodies and their many hairs, but it is far easier to celebrate fashion’s artificial version.

Perhaps this excitement could lead, in babysteps, towards a more sane acknowledgment and acceptance of our real bodies. Or maybe we will rest here for another 100 years, where the light-brown wig expresses the empowerment we crave, while covering thoughts of our own alienation from our bodies, and the reality of our many shames.

Email Eva at or follow her on X @EvaWiseman

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