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Untangling the Debate: Navigating the Unseen Realm of New Beauty Standards Below the Belt

"Untangling the Web: Navigating Unseen Beauty Standards Below the Belt"

"You're not supposed to have hair there, Ms. Page." This unexpected proclamation from one of my high school students back in 2014 marked my initiation into a beauty debate I hadn't seen coming. As a health educator, I had comfortably navigated discussions on sensitive topics like sexual consent, teen pregnancy, and STIs. Little did I anticipate that the conversation would veer into the realm of pubic hair removal, unveiling a new beauty standard that had quietly infiltrated the landscape.

Divorced after a 20-year marriage and contemplating the daunting world of online dating, I found myself caught off guard by this revelation. When had this new requirement surfaced, and what else had I overlooked along the way? The 10th graders before me were impassioned, each offering a distinct perspective on the intricacies of maintaining a hairless pubic zone. Time-consuming, expensive, and often resulting in discomfort—these were the insights they shared, drawn from personal experiences and observations of college-aged siblings and unusually young stepmothers investing in waxing and lasers.

Attempting to regain control of the discussion, I posed a question that reflected my own concerns: "Why should the most adult area of a woman's body look like a child's? I think of pubic hair as a sign of maturity." The response was swift, with students countering my argument by pointing out the prevalent grooming of armpits and legs. Even the girls in the back row, initially reserved, rallied around a shared mission—to bring their teacher up to date on modern beauty standards for female genitalia.

In the midst of cultural trends intersecting with romantic expectations, I found myself grappling with a disconcerting question: Was my vulva romance-ready? The revelation that hair removal had become pervasive everywhere, not just confined to specific areas, left me as distressed as my sophomores. The unforeseen beauty standard had woven its way into the fabric of modern expectations, prompting a reevaluation of societal norms and personal choices in the ever-evolving landscape of beauty standards.

"Unveiling the Dating Dilemma: Navigating Beauty Standards in My 40s"

At the age of 46, the topic of unreasonable beauty standards was nothing new, but navigating the world of dating in my 40s felt like a constant barrage of these standards being thrust in my face. As I delved into dating sites, it became glaringly apparent that men my age often sought younger women, explicitly stating their preference in their profiles. The unspoken requirement? A tacit adherence to the hairless ideal that seemed to be synonymous with youth.

The revelation came with an explanation from my approachable doctor, a fellow mom: "It's because of the porn industry. Males are being exposed to porn at a young age through the internet, changing the way they think about intimacy and how women should look naked." This cultural shift, where private became public, popularized trends like Vajazzle kits, crotch tattoos, and specific pubic hair styles, all influenced by an idealized portrayal in internet pornography.

Reflecting on this, I couldn't help but think of my grandmother, who birthed six children without ever considering her mons pubis as an objet d'art. The intrusion of internet porn dictating a hairless pudendum, along with other unrealistic physical ideals, fueled my protective rage for my students, whom I steadfastly encouraged to embrace their natural selves. Yet, hypocritically, I found myself contemplating a down-below makeover.

With no immediate prospects on the horizon, I decided to prepare, opting for a Brazilian wax that would turn out to be my first and last. The genteel spa atmosphere quickly gave way to a painful and disconcerting cosmetic procedure that prompted a reflection on the lengths women throughout history have gone to in the pursuit of acceptance and desire.

As I grappled with the experience, I realized I had reached my limit in what I was willing to do to conform to the dating economy. The painful realization came that choosing the latest cultural ideal, even in the realm of personal grooming, felt like a departure from the feminism I passionately preached to the next generation. Stripped of its hair, bejeweled, inked, or professionally styled, the decision on how to present one's privates is undeniably personal. While some may find liberation in removing the proverbial carpet, for me, going bare felt like sacrificing authenticity for a fleeting cultural ideal.

"Embracing Authenticity: A Journey Back to My Roots"

As I contemplated my aging vulva, now bare after a brief encounter with the waxing table, I found myself yearning for the swift return of my pubic hair. In that reflective moment, I made a silent vow to stay true to my roots—literally and metaphorically. From that point forward, I embraced the decision to be au naturel, rejecting the external pressures that had momentarily swayed my choices.

My rationale echoed a sentiment I often shared with my students: the intimate space reserved for special guests should be adorned in its natural state, and anyone granted permission to visit should embrace and love me exactly as I am. This newfound conviction would become my guiding principle as I navigated the complexities of self-expression and authenticity.

When I eventually met my now-husband, our first date unfolded in the charming aisles of a bookstore, leading to hours of easy conversation at a quaint restaurant. Drawn to his kindness, generosity, and engaging conversation, what resonated most was the profound comfort of being authentically myself in his presence. This experience marked a significant departure from the superficial ideals that had previously dictated my choices.

While my days of teaching Health are behind me, thoughts of my students linger. Now in their 20s, forging careers and navigating the complexities of adulthood, I wonder if they've outgrown the concerns that once preoccupied their teenage minds. Perhaps, like me, they needed to traverse the unpredictable terrain of life experiences, both painful and enlightening, to arrive at their own truths.

In the grander scheme of things, the once-fashionable worries about the appearance of my privates may have lost their relevance. As I hear whispers of a cultural shift, the reemergence of the bush, I can't help but smile. The cyclical nature of trends, both societal and personal, reaffirms the beauty of authenticity and the power of embracing our true selves.

Sherrie Page Guyer, a registered nurse and former high school health teacher, channels her experiences into writing that explores healthcare, wellness, and gender equality. Her work has found a home in prominent publications such as CNN, Newsweek, STAT, and Inside Higher Ed. Currently residing in Richmond, Virginia, Sherrie's journey to authenticity continues to inspire others to embrace their unique narratives.

In the tapestry of my journey, the contemplation of my aging vulva led me to a profound decision—to embrace authenticity and stay true to my roots. As I waited for my pubic hair to reclaim its place, I realized that the au naturel choice resonated with a simple truth I often shared with my students: the sacred space reserved for special guests should be adorned in its natural state, and genuine love should require no alterations.

Fast forward to the unexpected joy of meeting my now-husband, and our first date unfolded organically in the aisles of a bookstore. Kindness, generosity, and genuine conversation set the stage for a connection where I felt comfortably myself. This revelation became a pivotal moment, a departure from the superficial standards that once dictated my choices.

Though my days of teaching Health are behind me, the echoes of my students, now navigating their 20s, persist. Perhaps, like me, they needed to undergo the unpredictable tapestry of life experiences to arrive at their own truths. As they forge careers and grapple with the complexities of adulthood, I hope they find the same liberation I discovered in embracing authenticity.

In the broader context, societal trends about the appearance of my privates have lost their relevance. The cyclical nature of fashion and cultural shifts brings a smile to my face as I hear murmurs of the bush making a comeback. It serves as a gentle reminder that authenticity, unencumbered by societal pressures, stands the test of time.

As I continue to channel my experiences into writing about healthcare, wellness, and gender equality, I hope my journey inspires others to embrace their unique narratives. In a world that often imposes unrealistic ideals, choosing authenticity over conformity becomes a revolutionary act, a celebration of the inherent beauty in being true to oneself.

Sherrie Page Guyer, now residing in Richmond, Virginia, finds solace in the unwavering embrace of her authentic self, a testament to the transformative power of choosing genuine over dictated norms.