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If you watch HBO’s tit-laden nigh-incoherent castle-intrigue juggernaut "Game of Thrones "(or as I like to call it, “The Peter Dinklage Show”) you’ll remember that a couple weeks ago there was an episode with a scene involving two prostitutes.
HAHA, JUST KIDDING, THAT’S EVERY EPISODE. That doesn’t help distinguish them at all. Anyway, just trust me, there were two prostitutes and they get naked -- because really that is what 80% of the women in this series are there for -- and I couldn’t help but notice that their, uh, ladygardens were shockingly well maintained. Like meticulously trimmed topiaries. So much so that it distracted me right out of the scene.
Now in fairness, "Game of Thrones" is not really historical so much as it is history-influenced, with a setting that is vaguely medieval. Or maybe a bit past medieval, whatever that is. Early modern? Regardless, they don’t have cell phones, they don’t have penicillin, their sewage management is spotty at best and they sometimes kill people by strapping a bucket containing a live rat to the victim’s chest and then heating the bucket so the rat will chew through the victim’s torso. It’s a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.
Thus, it seems strange to me that they would have waxing technology on a par with what we have today, and also that the SAME WAXING STYLES popular amongst waxing-inclined vulva-havers would be contemporary in both our own culture AND Game of Thrones’ nipple-slicing universe.
While anachronistic body hair (or really, the lack thereof) is really common in historical dramas, for some reason it bothers me more in "Game of Thrones" than in most, especially considering this is a show that regularly severs limbs, coats its characters in filth so thick you can almost smell it through the TV, and shies away from NOTHING in terms of weird fucked up torture, or sex, or torturesex.
Also, the history-based series that DO keep with body hair norms of their era seem to do all right: while HBO’s "Deadwood" was not a perfect show in many respects, it was at least unblinking about the body hair issue. When the widow Garrett’s dark hairy underarms first appeared onscreen, I was startled, and then REALLY REALLY PLEASED. Because yeah, in my limited television experience that is not a common thing to see, and yet it would have been utterly normal at the time. More recently, "Boardwalk Empire" has also gone down the bushy path to full-frontal mufftown.
I’ve not read George R.R. Martin’s books myself, but I have been told by a couple people now that the source material does indeed mention lush lady body hair from time to time, so I don’t think this is just keeping to a hairless-vulva norm that is critical to the canon (although if it turns out to be a plot point later, I’m going to laugh very hard). Are we supposed to believe that with all the horrors this series has imposed upon us, a big fluffy pelvic bush is just TOO MUCH FOR AUDIENCES TO TAKE?
Hair removal is not, in fact, a new idea -- men have been shaving since the earliest human records, using sharpened rocks to cut and scrape the hair from their faces, probably as a means of cutting down on lice. Ancient Egyptians removed most of their body hair, regardless of gender, using a variety of methods from pumice to bronze blades, and are believed to have invented sugaring as a hair-removal method.
In Ancient Rome, the absence of pubic hair was associated with the upper classes, whose women removed their body hair with tweezers, homebrewed depilatory creams, and an early version of threading in which the unwanted hair was twisted around thin ropes and then ripped out. (Ouch. Damn.) The preferred hairlessness is obvious if you’ve ever looked at ancient sculpture, as artists routinely sculpted female forms notably lacking in any body hair.
So right now you’re probably saying, “Uh, Lesley, it kinda sounds like hair removal was pretty ubiquitous throughout history,” and you’d more or less be right. However, given that Game of Thrones is not set in a cave or Ancient Egypt or Ancient Rome, but rather in a vague approximation of a late Middle Ages/Early Modern era, and in a place that seems to be modeled on Europe (for Westeros, anyway, and maybe a bit of North Africa as well), that changes things.
See, come the Middle Ages, it seems like the everyday non-prostitute ladies of Caucasian European descent weren’t touching their body hair as much. Catherine de Medici allegedly forbade her ladies in waiting from removing their pubic hair. And by the time Elizabeth I came to power in England, she would set a new fashion for hair management, in which she would leave the hair on her body untouched, but removed her eyebrows entirely. Using bandages soaked in a popularly used solution of cat piss and vinegar. HOT, RIGHT?
Some women probably removed their pubic hair in that era, but the historical record would seem to indicate if you grabbed a random assortment of contemporary women, both vulva and underarm were more likely to be bushy than bare. So WHY are the chicks in Game of Thrones so immaculately waxed into landing strips and the like? Especially considering that hair-removal technology of the time would have been inexact at best?
I mean part of it is likely expediency -- some actresses might balk at a request to let all of their body hair grow out to a sufficient length such that they meet the historical precedent, and hair growth takes time. But still, this is why merkins exist, right? And there IS historical precedent for merkins!
Merkins, or pubic wigs, date back to the mid-1400s, when prostitutes would shave their vulvas (ostensibly to give crotch bugs like lice and crabs nowhere nice to live) and replace the missing hair with a merkin instead -- given that the shaving was only done to mitigate some of prostitution’s occupational hazards, and thus served as a reminder of such, an unshorn-appearing bush was more palatable to the men who employed them.
Merkins were also used on the stage, to bury the junk of dudes portraying women characters. Today merkins are mostly used to give the waxed pubes of actresses in historical films a bit of a bushy boost.
And yet there is nary a single lonely merkin to be found on "Game of Thrones" -- which is weird.
Indeed, when actress Natalia Tena, who plays Osha on the series, found out she would be fully starkers in a second season scene, she was perplexed by this as well.
“I don’t give a f–k about nakedness,” she said. “As an actor, [...] obviously if it calls for it. You’re not just going to get naked otherwise that’s just basically doing porn. But if it calls for it, I really think you should get over yourself.”[Tena] asked the creators about wearing a pubic wig (merkin) for the scene or growing out her natural hair. [...] “I was a bit upset about the fact that they showed my minge without hair because I think my character would have a massive bush,” she said. “I would have muff, like a muff coming down the thighs.”
Game of Thrones’ profound and unwavering commitment to lady-nudity has been the subject of debate more recently as well, when one actress purportedly told producers that she’s all done with showing her tits to the camera, thanks. And as Kate has pointed out, to some extent, this nudity assumes the worst of the viewer, that they are incapable of following a story without some breasts thrown in to hold their attention.
The question that winds up being hotly debated is whether all these naked boobs and full-frontal vulvas are indeed serving the story, and are keeping to the spirit of the source material, or whether they are merely gratuitous -- even, as Tena says above, “basically doing porn.” In the case of "Game of Thrones," I’ve read lots of arguments on both sides, but I’ve never really committed to one or the other.
However, I feel like the persistence with which these uniformly waxed pubes are being presented is really making my decision for me. There’s really only one obvious reason why "Game of Thrones" -- or any historical drama with loads of nudity in it -- would ignore historical reality.
It’s because as a culture we’ve decided that hairlessness, especially in the vulva region, is sexy, and that a wild-grown vag tuft is not. And these ladies are supposed to be sexy, not real. This nudity is not serving the plot, or even building a world in which women are like constantly naked, but is being employed by the show’s producers pretty exclusively for the titillation of the audience. Obviously.
I’m not saying titillation is a problem, or a even a bad thing -- there’s nothing wrong with enjoying actual porn either! -- but for me it puts the debate to bed. It also dulls some of the shine that "Game of Thrones" consistently gets as one of the “smartest” shows on TV. Yeah, sure, it’s smart, but it obviously thinks so little of its audience that it believes they won’t watch without regular intervals in which naked, conventionally attractive women they’d like to fuck are presented.
The decision to show smooth pubes in spite of their historical inaccuracy is not an accident, nor is it an oversight -- it is a conscious choice on the part of the series creators. Maybe they make that choice out of an investment in keeping the show as porny as possible, maybe they do it because they’d rather be known as the show with all the tits rather than the show with all the bushes and hairy pits. Maybe it’s both. But it is a choice.
And in the larger cultural scheme, it’s a choice that also contributes to the idea that a smooth or landing-bestripped vulva is normal, and that it’s a mighty snatch hedge that is gross and even unnatural. That also bugs me, because while I’m down with everyone’s autonomy to groom their unspeakables in whatever manner pleases them, it’s also nice to see some diversity once in awhile. For a change. Because I'm pretty sure for a huge number of viewers, this anachronism doesn't even register as being out of place.
I’m just saying, I’d like to see a proper bush now and then. A big, shrubby, robust ladygarden in some tasteful lighting, because that’s how these women would have actually looked, in history. Is that so wrong?