Why body hair?

Why body hair is a question I am likely to be asked throughout this project if Plucked author Rebecca M. Herzig’s experience is anything to go by. At the book’s open and close she mentions both the opposition she faced to the appropriateness of body hair for sustained and serious scholarly study, with reviewers finding the issue of hair removal ‘too repellent’ (4)  – indeed one esteemed colleague remarked how ‘everyone has to work on something‘ (194) – and the questions she was asked concerning her ‘personal connection’ to body hair and its removal (193). These raised eyebrows beg questions in and of themselves which I will articulate and address as the project grows. But my own scholarly and ‘personal connection’ to body hair and its removal very much took place onscreen whilst watching Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013). Since its release much has been said about Kechiche’s Palme d’Or winning film. The sex scenes and the representation of its lead protagonist’s body have elicited especial attention in the press and doubtless amongst the film’s audiences. The fallout that occurred once the film had wrapped likely fuelled these conversations further, with its actresses describing the shoot as ‘horrible’, ‘humiliating’ and bordering on prostitution. Many questions have thus circulated regarding whom these moments address and serve (the male gaze, Kechiche’s own fantasies) and whether they are pleasurable, painful or pornographic. A heady or offensive mix of all three might act as a temporary compromise but a notably titillating question also emerged following Blue’s initial outing: Is this sex “real”? The ‘pussy’ prostheses used by Seydoux and Exarchopoulos soon put paid to this debate/desire. More significant, however, than the presence of plastic between the bodies of the actresses is what was removed from them.

Hair.

Hair is not just located on the tops of our heads, as the film’s title obliquely suggests, but it covers our entire bodies. A spectator of Blue is the Warmest Colour, however, encounters only the smooth, hairless surfaces of Seydoux and Exarchopoulos’s entangled bodies. How women are styled on-screen is thus edited right down to the epidermis and this is perhaps the only reality that Blue shows. Departing from Kechiche’s film, this project will therefore make some (preliminary) gestures towards exploring, historicising and theorising the representation and indeed the non-representation of women’s body hair in cinema. The project will thus seek to answer the following questions:

  • How might we read the proximity between depilation and punishment?
  • How might we understand the contemporary turn towards thinking the surface as the fundamental site for community and contact with regards to the stripping of women’s outer superficies onscreen?
  • How might we reclaim and mobilise a hirsute feminine corporeality when the pubic and the pit are made public?

All I can guarantee for the time being, however, is that this study will be both sustained and at times serious. Everyone has to study something after all.

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