The bald & the beautiful
When it comes to our hair, it seems we're never satisfied: we encourage it on our heads and rip it from our bodies. Natalie Craig wonders if our follicle fixation has become a little unhealthy.
When it comes to our hair, it seems we're never satisfied: we encourage it on our heads and rip it from our bodies. Natalie Craig wonders if our follicle fixation has become a little unhealthy. We crimp it, colour it, boof it up and bleach it. We love it cascading in waves from a woman's head - but not from her bikini bottoms. Technology has made our ability to change it almost limitless. But are we starting to care too much about hair?It used to be as simple as a cut'n'colour or, for men, a $10 clip at the barber. As for the hair ''down there'', ladies might trim the hedge occasionally, while blokes let the garden grow.But now it seems the smooth guy's the stud. Check out the most recent Cosmo centrefolds or pick your favourite nude St Kilda footballer and it's clear fuzz-free is in fashion. Women, too, are buffing their bodies and, in particular, pillaging their pubes. And while the hair downstairs is endangered, upstairs it's flourishing, with extensions and transplants creating the effect of a horsey mane.Indeed, it seems possible today to have as much or as little hair as you want. Among the latest trends are eyebrow transplants, in which hair from the back of the head is surgically inserted in the browline, permanent pubic-hair removal by laser and men's ''XXX'' pubic waxes. (Apparently, removing the lawn makes the tree look bigger. Ahem.)Wigs and hairpieces are also back in vogue. Better-quality linings have eliminated the furtive scratching of wig-wearers and the human-hair variety can be custom-fit then cut and coloured in a specific style.Until recently, those who have lost hair through illness or a medical condition have been the main beneficiaries of these new-age wigs and hair transplants.Laser hair removal, meanwhile, has reduced the anxiety suffered by the abnormally hirsute: for example, women who suffer from polycystic ovaries and who can develop a true excess of facial hair.But it seems men and women are also increasingly choosing wigs, laser hair-removal and transplants to achieve a specific ''look'' or to feel more attractive. The costs can be astronomical but plenty are willing to pay.Natalie Vallelonga of Chiquel Salon and Fine Wigs in Moonee Ponds says while most of her clients have lost their hair because of illness or a medical condition, fashion wigs are increasingly popular.Her clients include Jessica*, 24, a teacher who has spent $2000 having a blonde bob-style wig custom-made from human hair bought from Europe. She says it's ''probably the best investment I ever made''.''I know it sounds silly but I've got quite nice dark hair and I didn't want to damage it by bleaching it,'' she says. ''Getting it cut and coloured was going to cost me a fortune anyway.''She doesn't consider the choice vain, just ''fun''. ''I get to keep my natural healthy hair and, you know, change it up a bit whenever I want.''Some are prepared to take more drastic measures to achieve the perfect 'do. Hair transplant specialists have reported a spike in scalp transplants to counter naturally high hairlines, rather than pattern baldness. ''It's a simple way to improve the facial balance,'' says cosmetic surgeon Dr Johnathan Chan of Sydney's Hair Transplant Institute, who performed about 300 scalp procedures last year, mainly for women and young men.Chan also performed about 100 eyebrow transplants. He says about a fifth of these patients were from Melbourne, where the procedure is less common. Only a small proportion chose the procedure because their brows had stopped growing due to overplucking; the rest wanted a new look.''They're born with a natural eyebrow and they'd like to thicken it up or change the shape,'' Chan says. ''It's not just the thickness but the width of the brow - they find they can't get the 'tail finish', like, say, Megan Fox or Angelina Jolie.''But having Megan Fox's eyebrows isn't as glamorous as it sounds. Because the donor hair is from the back of the scalp, it grows as quickly as it does on the head and requires constant trimming.To some, the prospect of curtain-style eyebrows highlights the absurd lengths to which our body-obsession has driven us. ''Seriously? Eyebrow transplants?'' says Melbourne author Kaz Cooke, whose new book, Women's Stuff, devotes a chapter to hair and haircare myths. ''Could people just stop scrutinising themselves with such a merciless eye?''But transplant patient Ben, a Sydney teacher, says his decision to lower his hairline and have his eyebrows extended has improved his appearance without costing too much - financially or emotionally.''I agree, we are very preoccupied with looks and my concern about my appearance could be very unhealthy if it becomes an obsession,'' he says. ''But I spent $10,000 all up - much less than I spend on my car and my flat - for something that will be with me the next 30 to 40 years. And it's my face; it's an important part of me.''While some, such as Ben, hanker for bushier brows, others are waging war on the bush down under and men's pubic waxing, in particular, has surged in popularity.Rob Gauci opened his men's salon and bar, Manhor, on Chapel Street, after feeling uncomfortable having his own waxing done in female salons. The one-stop grooming shop performs about 200 treatments a week, including about 20 XXX waxes, or ''cracks, backs and sacks''.''People assume it's the metrosexual or the gay market but most of the guys doing the XXX are straight, knockabout guys with high disposable income,'' Gauci says. ''They do it just as part of their grooming - they want to feel neat and trim and look good.''FHM editor Guy Mosel says removing body hair is now a normal part of a young man's grooming. ''Five years ago, we would have written about waxing with a slight wry sense of humour. Now we just say: here are some great places to go.''But he's sceptical about reports of a ''Brozilian'' trend. ''I don't know of many blokes going for the full hairless scrotum approach. I mean, why would you put yourself through that pain?''John, 39, a Melbourne landscaper, is a regular ''manscaper'' at the Man, What a Fuss salon in the city and says the pain of waxing is sharp but brief. ''I get the legs waxed for fitness pursuits and I get my pubes waxed, too ? It's totally bearable. I'm not into myself or that sort of thing but it just makes me feel well groomed.''Dr Meredith Jones is an academic at the University of Technology, Sydney, who specialises in the cultural significance of hair. She says hairlessness is increasingly part of mainstream beauty for men and women.''Many people say they do it for hygiene,'' she says. ''We've come to see a full bush of pubic hair as being in some way dirty ? We also increasingly value bodies that are, in some ways, childlike. We value the very thin, the very smooth and hairless and the wrinkle-free.''Women are under even more pressure to be hairless and Brazilians - the waxing of all pubic hair, with the option of a frontal ''landing strip'' - have become so popular, many women are choosing laser to make the effect permanent.Some who have taken a ''permanent trip to Brazil'' say it's not a bad place. ''[I] love it,'' says Lauren, 30, a Melbourne singer. ''Waxing was so painful and I had many horrible and painful ingrown hairs. Now I don't have to worry.''But why worry about the wax-off in the first place? Some proclaim bedroom benefits. Others just like how it looks.Heather, 32, blames fashion and the ''slippery slope'' of modern grooming practices. ''I remember only a few years ago going to the waxer was an OK experience,'' she says. ''You got to keep your knickers on and only needed to go before summer and third dates.''Then it all changed. All of a sudden I was made to take my knickers off and I needed gin and Nurofen to make it through the pain and small talk ? Now I cringe in shame every time I see Germaine Greer.''Jones says the ''cringe'' could be due to the Brazilian's origins in hardcore pornography, which often denigrates women. ''[Brazilians] are connected to being able to see more; upping the ante on what's exposed.''She says hairlessness can also represent a kind of infantilisation and believes it has contributed to an increase in genital cosmetic surgery.''Without the hair, you can see everyone's shape and we've decided that some shapes aren't good enough.''Yet, despite these concerns, she believes there is nothing inherently wrong with the practice. ''Your average woman who goes into the salon in the suburbs and has a Brazilian is not doing so because of porn. Porn has influenced culture and the culture has influenced the individual ? It is ultimately a cultural artefact.''Indeed, other hair-related ''artefacts'' can seem just as weird. In pre-revolutionary France, for example, women would tease their pubic hair and weave strings of pearls through it, sometimes showing off the style by wearing transparent dresses. (It was, unsurprisingly, a brief trend.)What worries Jones now is the way certain trends have become standard. She bemoans the fact middle-age women are ''not really allowed to be grey any more'' and that hairy men are considered unattractive. ''If every spunky bloke you've ever seen has been hairless, then you'll look at a hairy bloke on the beach and think: 'That's disgusting.' Whereas, for me, if I see a hairy naked man, I think: 'Oh, that's nice.'''FHM's Mosel is also worried about the normalisation of hairlessness. ''Whether hairless vaginas are the end of civilisation, I don't know. But Brazilians are so common, men could have an unrealistic expectation of female body hair.''Cooke believes hair trends - especially Brazilians - are being driven by money-makers. ''If every woman had no body hair, they would be selling us pubic hair wigs. Honestly, they will get us coming or going. And, quite frankly, I'm looking forward to the days of merkins.''Yet while Cooke urges men and women to simply be ''comfortable with their grooming'', she says hair can still be fun.''Let's stop feeling guilty and frightened about everything that we do. Let's be informed enough so that we can have fun with our hair and do crazy things with it ? We need to start singing and tossing our natural hair about like they do in the ads - like we just stepped out of a salon.'' *Name has been changed. HAIR FARES? Strand-by-strand hair transplants to counteract balding around the scalp line: about $15,000.? Eyebrow transplants: from $2000 to about $5000.? Custom-made wigs and hairpieces: from $800 to $2000.? Permanent pubic hair removal: from about $1000.? Men's XXX waxing: from about $90.