It’s easy to dismiss Amber Rose’s recent hairy full frontal Instagram post as a mere publicity stunt.
I sure as hell did.
When I saw it, I was sitting at the club, half tipsy, half sleepy, doing the 2 a.m. IG scroll thing and BAM, unshaven genitalia invaded my eye-sight.
“Here we go again,” I initially thought, having seen photos in this vein from her before.
Rose’s particular form of ‘shock’ feminism has turned out to be not so shocking at all. In fact, it’s expected and on-brand for the sex-positive influencer. As Rose ascended from Philly-bred stripper to Kanye West’s girlfriend to a media personality, Muva and style icon in her own right, she carved out a lane of feminism for herself that is unabashed when it comes to sex and sexual expression.
So while it’s easy to write off Rose’s post as another ‘attention’ seeking, Kardashian-esque ploy, the politics of the bush make the conversation a little more nuanced.
Vaginal hair has been policed under the mantles of capitalism and patriarchy for almost a century–and Rose breaking those constraints is another example of a woman defining herself, for herself.
Although body hair removal can be traced back to ancient cultures, its popularity in American culture spiked during a shortage of nylon stockings after World War II. The absence of stockings created a comfortable niche for razor and grooming companies to slide right in and make a profit off of an orchestrated ‘need.’
The move to bare skin lasted a couple of decades, before a new wave of feminism turned a hairy corner in the 70s. Upkeep of your nether regions was considered another form of male control, and being a hairy woman was for some, a pillar of feminism. In the spirit of ‘f*ck being pretty, I have something to say,’ women abandoned their razors and grooming practices to use their literal appearance as an affront to the male gaze. It was a visual reminder of ‘You don’t like how I look, and I don’t care.’ Making people uncomfortable was a method to move the needle of the status quo to make women the authority on how they look, dress, and live. Cue classic black and white 70s vintage porn bush. Au naturel was in.
But with the rise of Playboy magazines and the pin-up girl in the 80s, the media again grabbed the reigns on what femininity looked like and re-introduced the bare vag. The trend hit a peak in the 80s and early 90s with the rise of Brazilian waxes, whose popularity is often credited to an iconic episode of ‘Sex And The City’ where the girls discuss the growing trend.
To date, 84 percent of women claim they wax, pluck, shave or laser off their pubic hair. 59 percent of women say they insist on removing their pubic hair for ‘hygienic’ reasons, which is completely false considering pubic hair actually protects women from infection and bacteria. Not to mention the pain, inconvenience, cost and scarring that can come from regularly participating in genital hair removal.
And while for some women, their vaginal aesthetics are a personal choice they make for themselves, for the 21 percent of women who were surveyed, they opted to remove their vaginal hair because of their partner’s personal preference. Personal preference can be guided by a myriad of reasons, but the idea that the vagina is somehow ‘less clean’ or ‘pretty’ when it is in its natural state has guided consumer practices and grooming businesses for decades.
Insert Rose’s viral IG post as a hairy middle finger up to this ‘dirty’ sentiment. Is a bush the “fuck you” the internet needed? Maybe not. I find it hard to find authenticity in an oiled up, posed and photoshopped image. But I can admire the dedication Rose has to reclaiming a sense of agency not only for herself, but also for her followers.
Equality looks different depending on who you are talking to. For Amber Rose, it means saying ‘where and when’ she’s nude. It also means grabbing back the words that were once used to demean women. Owning a word like “slut” for a woman, as Rose has, is as defiant as a Black person owning the word ‘nigga’ as a term of endearment. And with owning words comes owning our images. Rose’s proud bush moment tells the story of a woman who was once defined by her body’s profitability in a strip club, but now she controls the narrative.