Photo: Courtesy of Petra Collins
In the new comedy How to Be Single, Rebel Wilson’s proudly unattached character catches sight of her protégé (played by Dakota Johnson) naked beneath a towel in a sauna and laments, to comic effect, the state of her body hair. The offense? “LTRP,” or “long-term-relationship pubes,” a term which suggests that only women in committed partnerships—and, it follows, women not seeking to impress potential lovers—would be so slovenly as to forgo waxing. “You really need to get that taken care of,” Wilson admonishes. “It’s like Gandalf is staring right at me. No penis shall pass!”
Though the exchange makes for amusing rom-com fodder, Wilson’s character—to whom, it turns out, Johnson’s recent-college-grad naïf can ultimately teach a thing or two—is actually out of step with the times. Samantha Jones of Sex and the City may have almost never skipped her monthly Brazilian appointment, but the natural look has been on the verge of a comeback since 2013, when Gwyneth Paltrow told Ellen DeGeneres that “I work a ’70s vibe.”
That same year, Petra Collins, whose photographic work is a touchstone of millennial culture, spoke out after a photograph she posted of her own lower body—hair visibly peeking out from beyond her bikini briefs—caused her Instagram account to be deleted. Collins wrote that the incident felt “like the public coming at me with a razor . . . forcing me to succumb to [society’s] image of beauty.”
Now, however, society’s image of beauty seems to be making a collective leap. American Apparel famously put merkins on its mannequins in 2014; Gaby Hoffmann’s character on Girls later displayed an unaltered bush, as did Ilana Glazer on Broad City (albeit behind a digital blur). Glazer told an interviewer last year that the scene’s particulars were a matter of discussion with their network: “We were like, ‘The character Ilana has pubes.’ And Comedy Central fought for it for us.”
These pop-culture moments have had an impact on women’s preferences, according to Paz Stark, owner of Stark Waxing Studio in Los Angeles and New York. She says that while many women still prefer to remove some hair, a triangular shape, rather than the skinny “landing strip” of the ’00s, is currently in favor—a development she likens to the rise of thicker brows. “Ladies are saying, ‘I do want a cleanup, but I want it to be fuller and more natural-feeling,” she says. “I feel like Brazilians are 100 percent here to stay, it’s just on people’s own terms now.” In other words, the days of the tyrannical, take-it-all-off aesthetician—Carrie Bradshaw’s harrowing Brazilian on Sex and the City (again) comes to mind—are over.
How natural, though, is too natural? “If you are going to walk out and go to the beach, do you feel comfortable?” Stark asks. “I don’t wear skimpy bottoms, but I don’t want hair around my inner thighs.” As for the topic of whether a wax benefits one’s sex life, Stark says, “It’s a matter of personal preference.”
But perhaps the “should-I-or-shouldn’t-I” debate is best summed up by the actress and feminist Tavi Gevinson, who seems to reflect the stance of a new generation of women. “I don’t really have a take, beyond whether or not I make the choice for myself,” says Gevinson, who happens to be Collins’s roommate. “I’m not interested in dictating what other women do with their bodies and appearances.” Gevinson does, however, offer one argument in favor of the natural look: “It saves time.”