I love summer. Love it, love it, LOVE IT. There’s nothing like having the hot Australian sun baking down on you, day after day, chasing the winter chill out of your bones. There’s also nothing like the excitement of the first bout of sunburn of the season – best EVER – and quickly followed by aloe vera (am I right ladies??). As a Melbournian I spend most of my free time down at the bay (but NOT St Kilda beach as I don’t want Hep C) or at a local pool. Oscillating between cool water, sunbaking and inhaling ice-poles before the sun evaporates them is the most noble pass-time an Australian can engage in from November to March, year upon year. Obviously not everyone has the luxury of time to do this, and I recognise my privilege in being able to do so on a regular basis.
An ancillary activity I enjoy is finding a quirky swimsuit to complement my water-bake-ice-pole cycle. In recent years I’ve really been taken by the onsie because, not only does that mean LESS sunburn, it also means MORE control over which bits of my wonderful body the public gets to see. It also means I feel more able to mess around in the water than when I wear bikinis, as for someone with very little natural cleavage, bikini tops are not a secure method for guarding ones modesty during physical activity in a public place. In short, bikini top + body surfing = indecent exposure. However, bikinis do have the advantage of being more bathroom-friendly – i.e. pulling a wet onesie up and down isn’t the greatest of fun.
The thing I don’t like about summer is the social pressure to engage in widespread hair removal (this afflicts women the most, however I’m sure there are some men who feel the pressure too).
Luckily at work I can choose to wear sleeves and pants if I don’t want to undertake any deforestation. In my social life I am comfortable enough with my friends that I don’t think twice about not waxing my legs or shaving under my arms before an outing or social occasion. However, at the pool or the beach, it’s not as easy. Sure, I still won’t shave under my arms or do anything at all about my leg hair when I go to the pool, and at the Fitzroy pool, for example, this actually helps me fit in.
However, the one area where I still struggle with negotiating social expectations is the bikini area. Buying a boyleg onesie reduced the amount of surface area near my genitals that requires attention, which I’ve always appreciated, but didn’t remove the need for a bikini wax altogether. This year, I think I’m getting to a stage in my life (due to a variety of factors) where I seriously don’t want to pay for, or give myself, an excruciating amount of pain in order to meet social standards. And for what? So I can go for a swim? It seems such a high cost (physical, monetary – maintaining a schmick bikini line isn’t cheap – and psychological – oh the PAIN) to pay in order to be able to cool off in a body of water.
I don’t have a problem with women removing any kind of hair from their bodies – it’s up to them. But what I always marvel at is how easily women, as a group, have internalised and accepted the need to put hot wax around their vaginas. As a late teenager I unquestioningly maintained my bikini line, and throughout my time at uni I made sure I maintained it regularly so that the hair removal would hurt less. I not only did this in order to don a bathing suit with social ease, but also because I’d also internalised the expectation that all good female sexual partners go to great lengths to maintain their lady bushes. But that’s a discussion for another time.
It’s 2012. Women in Australia have been able to vote since 1902, we even have an impressive list of women leading in key government roles and a lot of legislation to formalise women’s place as equals to men in Australian society. So – to take gender equality the step further into the realm of societal expectations – I am not going to maintain my bikini line this summer. I will not spend my money, time or physical harmony on something that has no bearing on my employability, the quality of my friendships or my amorous encounters. And I will shift out of the mindset that in order to have full and equal access to public infrastructure, like a pool, or marvel at nature’s beauty, like a beach, I need to rip out my pubic hair (even though my boyfriend doesn’t).
To that end, I am on the search for the perfect pair of bathes. Bathes that are stylish, not flimsy, can actually enhance my aquatic activities, and give me more choice over the different parts of my wonderful body that are sun-kiseed and publicly exposed. But, most importantly, these will be bathes that adequately cover my crotch so that I don’t need to do any hair removal of any kind this summer. Obviously I can choose to not care if I have koala ears a la plage, however, I have not developed thick enough skin to be able to do it this summer. Instead, I’m envisaging retro style high-waisted shorts with ruffles, and perhaps a pocket, so I can carry my ice-pole money with ease.
Hear ye Modern Women, in 2012 I will paddle as I please, free from pube-shaming.