The Brazilian: the fur line between the human and the animal?

30 Jan

In Almost Human, the novel I am writing as part of my doctorate in creative writing, my protagonist manages to keep her mixed species heritage a secret, and uses the power of her animal side to her advantage.Image

Ariana can “pass” for human, and she luxuriates in her animality and physicality. Alas, being part animal, she also has to wax a lot, but let’s face it, that makes her not so different from 21st century women and the aesthetic demands on their time.

I recently heard an interesting program on the Radio National show The Body Sphere, on body hair.  It explored the trend for Brazilian waxing, especially among young teenage girls. It raises again the joke, widely known among those who studied art history, that artist and Victorian age political thinker John Ruskin couldn’t consummate his marriage because once his bride stripped bare, he realized she had – the shock of it – body hair.

Biographers have rushed to Ruskin’s defence (they say his wife was menstruating, that’s what revolted him, not her pubic hair….) and we await a long delayed movie about Ruskin’s life that will hopefully shed new light on this secret. Ruskin would have only been 47 years old when he would have seen Gustave Courbet’s painting L’Origine du Monde in 1866 – I wonder what he thought of this display of a woman’s genitals and pubic hair? 

Yet it must be said, if we can laugh at Ruskin, is the joke on the modern man? For after all, if we read and listen to the comments of women and teenage girls, all that painful waxing is about one thing only, and that’s so they don’t have to endure the humiliation of a Ruskin-style bedroom episode. It’s social pressure, real or perceived, that entices them to part with their time and money to conform to the trend.

Of course, with every fashion trend, there is a counter trend, and when everyone must be waxed, it is seen as (perhaps) stylish and (certainly) subversive to be different. Isn’t it always?

When I was in Paris last year, I saw a the first retrospective in France of the work of Helmut Newton since his death in 2004. What struck me was how dated the images of the gorgeous super models in his “Naked and Dressed” and “Big Nudes” series seemed today. The women were buxom, buffed and naked – and had pubic hair.

Okay – not as much coverage as a particularly erotic photo of “plus-size” model Crystal Renn posing with her fur exposed in a slick red patent leather coat for French Vogue in 2010, but in Sex In The City parlance – it wasn’t a “whole lot of nothing” going on down there either. I wonder what’s actually more shocking – the glam-pix of Renn in Vogue eating, eating meat or having pubic hair? And why do many find these things uncomfortable? Because she should be thin to be socially acceptable and sexy, because she should be vegan to be animal and eco-friendly, or she should be waxed, to be not the least bit “animal”?

In Almost Human, body hair is a sure-fire species giveaway, and therefore waxing is a prohibited act. We now live in an age when the species divide is so effortlessly breached with biotechnology and genetic modification. I find it fascinating that at this exact point in history, women now live in fear of having their very own intimate Ruskin moment if they fail to be as smooth and hairless as a young child. The naked ape, indeed.

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