Ask Ugly: the state of the bush – how should I be styling my pubic hair?

<span>‘For many of us, body hair is still knotted with shame.’</span><span>Illustration: Lola Beltran/The Guardian</span>
‘For many of us, body hair is still knotted with shame.’Illustration: Lola Beltran/The Guardian

Dear Ugly,

I am a thirtysomething, straight, cisgender woman who is recently divorced. I’ve started dating again and I already feel completely lost when it comes to how I should be “styling” my pubic hair. With that said, the last few weeks I have been receiving ads on Instagram to laser my bum hair… I have multiple questions. Is that safe? Should I buy a laser hair remover so I can do this in the privacy of my home? Is my anus supposed to look like a naked mole rat? Are women actually doing this?

– Lost In The Bush

From one thirtysomething divorcee getting targeted ads about at-home asshole hair removal to another, let me start by saying I see you. I hear you. I am you.

You and I came of age in the early 2000s: the era of low-rise jeans, whale-tail thongs and belly shirts. Girls were going wild, Carrie Bradshaw was getting a Brazilian wax, and internet porn was at our Hard Candy-painted fingertips. Yet for all those montes pubis sightings, the only female pubes I saw as a young teen – not counting a cartoon in The Care & Keeping of You, that classic “body book for girls” – were my own.

How could I not internalize the idea that hair down there was unacceptable, unattractive, unsexy? How could I blame boys for feeling the same? Hairlessness had become the norm. I soon traded my burgeoning bush for a razor-burned bikini line dotted with spots of dried blood and ingrown hairs. Ah, yes. Much sexier.

Millennials were hardly the first to be shamed for their short and curlies, though.

“Body hair has long been seen as unclean and uncivilized as far back as the Roman Empire,” says Dr Michael Reed, a California-based OB-GYN known as the Cosmetic Gyn. “Men and women removed body hair and pubic hair [with tweezers] to mitigate infestations of lice, while wealthy people in old times could afford things like soap and hot baths, so they had the luxury of shaving. This made being hairless a sign of being upper class.” The trend cycled. Pubic-hair removal was considered “a non-necessity by most Europeans and Americans” by the 18th century. By the 19th century, it was back in style thanks to a new safety razor from Gillette. The free love movement of the 1960s and 70s freed the bush once more, then the 80s and 90s brought a grooming boom.

“Especially over the last 10 years, more than 80% of women groom their pubic hair” to some degree, Reed notes, and there are ever more methods to choose from: trimming, shaving, waxing, sugaring, depilatories, epilators, lasers and more.

Not all hair removal is sex-driven. Plenty of people prune their pubes for sensory purposes. The practice can also be part of the performance of class, cleanliness, femininity, youth, beach etiquette, yada yada yada. But what I love about your question, Lost In The Bush, is that you’re very clear on your why: you’re not “doing it for you”. You’re doing it because men will be seeing your various holes, and you want those holes to look hot (or at least average).

Now to your questions. First: is the at-home bum-hair removal device you’ve seen on Instagram safe, and should you use it on yourself at home?


I’m pretty sure you’re referring to Nood, a tool that haunts my own internet experience via a video captioned: “Want a hairless ***hole?” Nood isn’t a laser, but rather an IPL (intense pulsed light) device. “Similar to laser hair removal, IPL therapy targets hair follicles with pulses of light to inhibit hair growth,” according to Reed. While Nood is FDA-approved for hair removal, risks include “skin irritation, burns and changes in pigmentation”. It’s also not meant for use on blonde or red hair or dark skin. Even if you’re fine with those risks and meet those requirements, Reed still says you should get “a proper assessment by a trained professional” before trying it at home.

I say don’t bother.

In an effort to answer your other two questions – Is my anus supposed to look like a naked mole rat? Are women actually doing this? – I polled over 14,000 people online through my newsletter, The Review of Beauty, and I have some beautiful news to report: the bush is back, baby. And the back-bush of which you speak? It never really left.

Of the straight women polled, 82% remove some of their pubic hair – but only 15% of respondents say they’re completely bare down there. Forty per cent maintain a bikini-shaped bush (only removing the hair that would stick out of a bikini bottom), 29.5% report rocking either a full bush or a slightly trimmed full bush, and 11% leave a small landing strip. A full 60% of the people polled say they don’t remove the hair on or around their anus at all.

While 65% of women report worrying about whether new male partners will judge their pubic-hair style, only 16% say a partner has ever asked them to change the way they groom their pubic hair.

In fact, of the men polled, 50% say they have no preference whatsoever when it comes to pubic or bum hair – their partner could have all of it, none of it, some of it, whatever. As for those who do have a preference? Seventeen per cent prefer a full bush, 18% prefer the area bare and most prefer a polite “clean-up” of the general genital vicinity. More than 71% of male respondents say they’ve never been turned off by a partner’s pubic or butt hair. Many even wrote in with enthusiastic praise for pubes. Comments included: “Natural body hair is hot!” and “Grow the bush!” as well as “Who has the energy and flexibility to shave their own anus?”

While the full Brazilian style remains popular, there’s been a shift in embracing a more natural look

Stacie Harding

Stacie Harding, the associate manager of field training at European Wax Center, confirms some of these findings. “In the past decade, pubic-hair-style trends in the body-waxing industry have evolved,” she says. “While the full Brazilian style remains popular, there’s been a shift in embracing a more natural look.”

The mons pubis is having a moment in fashion, too. Earlier this year, the Maison Margiela Artisanal collection sent models down the runway in see-through skirts and prosthetic pubic hair – a look recently worn by Bjork on the cover of Vogue Scandinavia, merkin and all. Last month, Julia Fox “wore a pair of trompe l’oeil hairy vagina bikini bottoms”, notes Emily Kirkpatrick, the fashion journalist behind the newsletter I <3 Mess. “Doja Cat rocked visible bush as well as areola at the Grammys.”

To what do we owe this pubeaissance? The predictable trend cycle, for one. We shave, then we don’t, then we wax, and so on. Maybe the Covid pandemic, which paused most maintenance appointments for a full calendar year, “made women realize how silly the hamster wheel of hair removal was to begin with”, Kirkpatrick says. “Inflation has also made a lot of people re-evaluate their budget and what’s actually essential in their lives.” (Last month, journalist Virginia Sole-Smith wrote in her newsletter: “American women will spend as much as $23,000 and two months of our lives managing our body hair over the course of our lifetimes.”)

It might also have something to do with pleasure; a journalist friend on the sexual wellness beat just told me that pubic hair exists partly to please. “Think about how good it feels when someone plays with the hair on your head,” she said. Point taken.

Reed believes the feminist movement plays a part in the pubic-hair revival – it’s “a rejection of overly groomed or artificial standards of beauty, many times shaped by men’s perceptions,” he says – although I’m not convinced on that point. (See the ever-strengthening stranglehold of many other modern beauty standards.)

All things considered, my advice is to leave your bush and bum as is. That doesn’t mean the choice is easy.

There’s a big gap between knowing pubic-hair norms have relaxed and confidently putting your own on display. For many of us, body hair is still knotted with shame. It’s tough to untangle the lessons of our formative years, especially when it comes to intimacy, and especially in highly sensitive settings – like dating for the first time post-divorce.

Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I get the sense that what you’re asking about, Lost, is not hairlessness but acceptance: How To Guarantee Some Guy Won’t Judge Your Vagina – In 8 Easy Steps! And I can’t give you that. You could wax everything off and end up in bed with one of the 17% who’d prefer you hairy. You might let it grow and meet one of the 18% of men who’d rather you didn’t. It might be uncomfortable. That’s part of dating (and life). You can’t avoid the friction of human interaction and you shouldn’t. It’s how you learn and grow and test compatibility.

When I met my ex-husband in my mid-20s, I was sporting a neat bikini bush. When he expressed a preference for a mannequin-smooth pubic mound, I booked six permanent laser-hair removal sessions on the spot. Now, I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d leaned into that friction, let myself feel uncomfortable and unattractive, and questioned what this request might mean for our future. Would he have other ideas about how I should look? (He did.) Would I be willing to compromise my body for those preferences, too? (I wasn’t.)

Sometime post-divorce, my pubic hair grew back. (Hair follicles can sometimes regenerate after hormonal events like birth-control changes or pregnancy.) I realized I’d missed it, so I kept it. It’s a reminder of the difference between manipulating my body to meet someone else’s ideal, and making embodied aesthetic choices for myself. I haven’t had any complaints!

And if a new partner were to complain, or request a change? Honestly, I think I’d move on. There are, to tweak a dating cliche, plenty of pubes in the bush.