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AnuOluwapo Adelakun: The Politics Behind Unshaved Pubes

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It all starts from your childhood when you’re taught to bend down and wash down under there. Keep it really clean, but don’t let anyone see it. Perfectly fine. However, that’s the beginning of how other people control your view about your vagina. You wouldn’t even know that it has a name until that science class you took as a teenage in high school when you were taught about puberty. “Today,  we will be talking about menstruation” your science teacher would say with a timid or perverse tone, depending on who they really are.

You attend a 100% girls’ school and about 30% of your class has gone through the ‘horror’ of seeing their first period but everyone giggles because menstruation equals boy talk and boy talk has been top of the list of woman problems from time immemorial. It’s your induction day!

But you’re disappointed. All you hear is some mechanical explanation of how you have a limited collection of eggs and how each one dies and leaves your body every month. Your biological clock is now ticking. Your teacher painstakingly draws the diagram of the ‘female reproductive organ’ miles away from the ‘male reproductive organ’ because both must never meet. ‘If a boy touches you, you will get pregnant and then your life will be over’

You can’t say vagina. Think it, write it down in your science notebook or exam sheet and that’s enough. But you and your friends call her “Miss Titi”. It’s an inside joke. Everyone takes care of Miss Titi because good grooming or maybe because you were all ashamed to have anyone see water drip endlessly from the Afro Miss Titi wore because there’s always a long queue of eyes watching as everyone takes a shower in the huge door less space called bathroom.

It is a socially acceptable thing to buy expensive shaving creams to ensure that Miss Titi and her cousins are always bald. Bald represents cleanliness and cleanliness, godliness and godliness a major trait of a marriageable maiden in waiting. You and your friends would laugh at people who decide to tend Miss Titi like a garden flourishing with weeds. “Obasanjo farms” you would tease and snarl at the person as having horticultural tendencies. But you never see those girls when you queue up for anti-fungal creams at the school clinic to treat yet another yeast infection. 
You rather smell those kind of girls from afar and they always leave you confused as to whether your grandmother’s he-goat or a teenage girl is passing by.

A shaven vagina is also an economically prudent habit, you think to yourself.  Considering the fact that you have to queue up for 2 hours just to have  a little bucket of water to bathe with, you certainly don’t want to lavish so much water shampooing pubic hair like you are going to exhibit it a hair show.

Then you become a woman, a Cosmopolitan-reading one. Now you know for sure and without a doubt that a hairless vagina is sexy, acceptable and considerate. Sexy because, the images of an ideal woman in advertisements, on TV,  by celebrity standards and everywhere promote hair only on head. Acceptable because everyone you know shaves Miss Titi and more. Considerate because when your partner arrives for coitus, he doesn’t want to walk through the jungle and valley of the shadow of death.

So you stress. You stress about work,  about plunging stocks, about the pressure to have kids 9months after your wedding, about the shape of your eyebrows… And how soon you need to shave your vagina again because 2 weeks is all you can afford to allow for a fallow period. It’s a modern woman kind of thing and you simply cannot follow in your mothers footsteps. She’s from an era where afros reigned and ruled the day. No pressure. Just soft curly goodness. You wonder how she coped because Miss Titi is very demanding;  always wanting to grab some fresh air like an asthma patient.

Then you become an advocate. Shave your vagina you tell your friends and research methods of dealing with chest and chin hairs for your friend whose testosterone level keeps betraying her femininity.

You shop for your vagina. Soaps and creams and sprays. Whoever invented those is a genius to you. And you smell like fresh flowers there but no one knows how you take toilet breaks at work to attend to itchy Miss Titi or how many times you’ve been to the gynaecologist this year because you’re addicted to douching. “You really need to stop being obsessed about your vagina Mrs Doe. You keep getting these infections and they might affect your ability to conceive”

So you’re torn. You know it won’t be long before your mother-in-law begins to fidget about grandchildren after giving you expert advise on keeping your legs up after intercourse so you can get pregnant “quick quick!”. But you also know that to grow an Afro would mean betrayal. Betrayal of your fellow shaven vagina brand of feminists. ‘Power to the Vagina!’ It’s empowering and refreshing for you.

But what you don’t know is that your vagina is yours, but everyone thinks they have a say over it. And you let them…

Photo Credit: Warrengoldswain |</em>

AnuOluwapo Adelakun is a Women & Girls rights advocate, Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker working on issues affecting marginalized girls and women in Nigeria. She's a UNICEF Voices of Youth alumni, Carrington Youth Fellow of the US Consulate in Nigeria, US Consul General Award Recipient, UN WOMEN/Empower Women Global Champion for Change and UK Chevening Alumna. She's also an ardent reader of African literature and an unrepentant fan of the BBC series 'Call the Midwife'.

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