PETRIe Contributor Raphaela Ring talks to Los Angeles-based documentary maker and Editor-in-Chief of Decades Magazine, Chloe Schildhause, about her new documentary – which is currently in the process of being filmed – and her exploration of pubes, women, and the associated industries that come with the territory. They discuss haircuts, periods and whether the bush is coming back.
Raphaela Ring: I love your project. I think it's fascinating. Pubes are such a weird thing; everyone has them but no one talks about them. I feel it should be talked about more.
Chloe Schildhause: Yeah definitely. It makes it more normal - or just makes you realise that there is no normal.
RR: The documentary project has been going for quite a while hasn't it?
CS: I started it when I lived in San Francisco and I started interviewing people I knew and people I had been put in touch with – just women around my age –about their personal experience. I thought it would be a nice project and then I moved to Los Angeles for other work and it sort of got put on the back burner for a bit. Then I decided once that job ended to pick up the project again with the first-hand interviews with women, but also get experts and people that do waxing and the whole gambit of pubic hair industrial complex. There are a lot of facets to it and a lot to unpack. This is where I am at now, just figuring who else I want to talk to, what else is missing and piecing together the pubic hair world.
RR: Was there a conscious moment when you realised that you had pubes and that you had to decide what to do with it?
CS: For me, it was a memorable thing. I remember being that age before you get your period and there are signs of it coming and you're like "no… I don't want to bleed. I don't want blood to come out of me.” And then I got pubic hair. So that is what it symbolised for me. It had nothing to do with the hair - it just had to do with the mechanics of getting a period and I didn't like that idea. That is what I remember from growing it from the first time.
RR: Did you do anything about it at that age?
CS: I did nothing. I didn't think to do anything about it. I would shave the bit of the bathing suit where it would peak out, but that was it. I think later though I thought I would trim it down just in terms of length with scissors and that resulted in it just being very itchy and uncomfortable so I was just like - what's the point? And then I decided I liked being comfortable so I just decided to keep it and be comfortable and wear bathing suits that are more 'vintage'. I'd rather do that; I'd really rather do that.
RR: Where there any other surprises about the answers women gave?
CS: I guess I am shocked by how soon people get rid of things completely. I interviewed a woman in New York – a Brazilian women who helped pioneer Brazilians and she says she gets women who are quite young because they get made fun of by their peers in locker rooms. And that's the root of it. People point fingers to porn, but I don't know. For an average young girl who maybe isn't one to watch porn, I think it had more to do with going to camp and being around other people, changing and feeling a bit strange. Especially at that age when you are maturing at different rates than others and when everyone is at different levels and feeling a bit strange in comparison to each other already. That is where I think the insecurities come from. I think people talk about expectations from their mum too or the mum was the one who took them to get the wax. Because they want to help you to get through a time and everyone's got a different idea of what is best for you.
RR: You must have seen a lot of different styles of pubic hair – has there been any you've seen and thought you must try it?
CS: I like the idea of a shape. I love the idea of an initial that is either your initial or that of your partner. Just like a letter. The idea of dying it pretty cool – quite interesting. Like a light blue would be fun like the sky. I don't know if I would do that but I admire people who do.
RR: Are there any reoccurring things that women keep saying to you that makes you realise they have all experienced certain things the same way?
CS: I guess I was surprised by how ages don't matter. Your expectations don't have much to say. I have met with older women who waxed completely and younger who just went natural. I also talked to men about relationships they had with women and some women who had relationships with women. And what surprised me was that there were some men in their 40s who had never been with a women who had pubic hair or who hadn’t seen much of it. It's strange. It's interesting. But I think the most common thing is that people seem to want – at least – to keep it contained. If it is there, it is trimmed; it's not peeking out of a swimsuit because that seems to be everyone's sort of consensus: it doesn't look good hanging out of a swimsuit. That's the point that most agree on.
RR: Did you notice that any of the women you talked to were uncomfortable talking about their pubes?
CS: It seems as if once you get people talking, they talk. Especially if you create a comfortable environment where you know you're opening up so they're going to open up with you. And I think if they had a hesitation at first, once the conversation starts they realise that it is actually not that weird to talk about. That's what's great about it: that you realise that it is just like talking about the hair on top of your head. Throughout the conversation there is a lot of laughter – even from my side. When I started to interview people, I laughed a lot more from awkwardness, but it is not awkward anymore. It feels less awkward from my side and I feel like during the interview, they feel less awkward too.
RR: What was the age range of women you interviewed?
CS: I interviewed some people in their 60s and 70s, but I would love to speak with various other age brackets. I want a whole scope of age ranges.
RR: You said you wanted a scope of different people. Have you noticed any cultural differences? Do people with the same cultural background tend to have similar approaches to their pubic hair?
CS: I feel I haven't talked to enough diverse cultures yet to make that statement but I will answer just in terms of where I have been interviewing. In New York, it felt as if a lot more people I talked were waxing compared to San Francisco, but I feel background-wise there is still more for me to unpack.
RR: Were there any particular reasons women gave for waxing or shaving?
CS: A lot of people said that they got rid of it because it feels more comfortable and clean. 'Clean' is a word that came up a lot. Although that's funny because I felt weird about it; I felt that the sweat was sticking more. It was strange, maybe it's just because I am not used to it. I keep comparing it to the hair on my head and I don't like a lot of hair on my head so I understand that feeling.
RR: When can we expect your documentary?
CS: Around the beginning of 2017 - I like that as an expectation – so far away but that's realistic. Although I would like 2015 to be the year because this year is the year we have been waiting for since 1985 - not that I was alive yet but I love Back to the Future 2 so I really love this year. And I would love something monumental to happen. So hopefully I’ll have a rough-cut by the end of the year.
Words: Raphaela Ring
Images source: Still-shots from Chloe Schildhause's upcoming film