The Times of London says you need a Brazilian

Why is a man's "shock" at a woman's hair her problem?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published November 2, 2009 5:03PM (EST)

It sounds so authoritative when you read it from the "Sex Counsel" of the austere Times Online. When a recently separated 38-year-old wrote to the paper about her new 27-year-old lover's shock at "what he saw as my lack of grooming," she naively asked if "a permanent tan and Brazilian wax should be deal-breakers ... or am I just hopelessly outdated?" The reply from columnist Suzi Godson was clear -- it's the latter. Wake up, over 35-year-old lady, because "Things have rather changed in the genital grooming department."

"Grooming down there is now considered to be normal, on a par with manicures, blow drying and eyebrow waxing," Godson counseled, leading every woman on the planet who doesn't manicure, blow dry, or eyebrow wax to immediately throw in the towel and die of shame. "Indeed, any woman who dares to be less rigid in her styling, as you have found, risks being labeled as bucolic, unsanitary or possibly French."

After a quick tutorial on porn, prostitution and modern pube fashions, Godson explained that the letter writer's boyfriend was having an "instinctive" reaction -- you know, the kind of instinctive reaction one has from apparently growing up with the expectation that his partners all resemble adult film actresses. The same instinctive reaction that might lead one to be disappointed his partner isn't tan. In England. In October. "There is something hugely irritating about being forced to conform to an aesthetic ideal instigated and perpetuated by the porn industry," Godson admitted, "but ... it is now expected." So put aside that "feminist ethos" and commence deforestation.

At no point in her wisdom-dispensing did Godson ask the woman if she herself might enjoy experimenting with a walk on the bare side. It's hair! It grows back! Nor did she conversely say that maybe after a little open conversation, her new beau might appreciate a woman who looks and feels different than his previous lovers. She didn't ponder if this wasn't a case of getting-to-know-you misunderstanding. She didn't offer an invitation to the writer to first figure out what makes her happy, and if that shocks her suitor, who needs him?

No, instead she declared that when it comes to turn-offs, "rational arguments simply do not work," and then went through a litany of the drawbacks that await the letter writer whether she inevitably shaves, waxes or goes for laser hair removal. "Imagine burning-hot, extra-strength Sellotape being ripped from delicate skin ... and now treble the pain." You DO want to get laid, don't do?

There are indeed "instinctive" deal-breakers for everybody, stuff that just will not fly in the bedroom under any circumstances. But the querent and her lover already had sufficient chemistry to consummate their attraction. Why then is the Times' counsel shrugging that if a man "has been conditioned to expect a tidy Brazilian," what needs to change aren't his expectations but her pubic landscape? Godson expresses disdain for "being forced to conform" but assumes there's no alternative. But the thing about conditioning, for both men and women, is that it can change and soften. It just works better when you've got a little hair to apply it to.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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