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pubic wigs

pubic wigs The pubic wig, or merkin, as it was earlier known, made its debut in 1450. It was used as a device to cover syphilitic pustules and gonorrhoeal warts in the genital area. In its contemporary form, the merkin is used as a part of erotic play, and it has also crossed over the boundaries of intimate wear into some mainstream genres of dress. The chosen material the wig is made of — usually nylon, yak belly, or human hair — is woven onto a transparent mesh. This is then applied to the pre-shaved pubic area with spirit gum; alternatively the wig can be attached to a transparent G-string.

The wearing of a pubic wig is a sensory experience. The wig can allow the wearer a certain ‘jouissance’ ( Roland Barthes, 1973) as it is made of a fibre/hair that has been selected by the wearer, and it is worn on an erogenous zone. A fetish for the feel of silk, leather, fur, or hair against one's own skin, or that of others, is common, and can be incorporated into the design of a pubic wig to give heightened pleasure.

Bondage crossed over from erotic use into couture when it first glided down a Gianni Versace catwalk in 1992; and Vivian Westwood flirted with the pubic area, using tailored fig leaves to cover modesty under transparent fabrics. There has always been a risqué element to fashion throughout the ages, whether it was baring ankles, knees, thighs, or breasts. The ‘club scene’ has taken fashion one step further. It has formulated its own look as pubic wigs are being worn under short ‘baby doll’ dresses in mainstream nightclubs, as well as being worn in private and fetish parties.

The pubic wig is a strong device for both the exhibitionist and the voyeur. Ideally the relationship between the two is best suited as a ‘performer’ and ‘audience’ scenario. The exhibitionist is allowed freedom of movement and a confidence in the unusual, and in doing so creates entertainment for the voyeur. In a professional and aesthetic capacity the wigs are frequently used by show girls.

The pubic wig has also become an essential piece of the serious drag queen's wardrobe, as it covers the genitalia that are otherwise the epitome of maleness. It is the finishing feminine touch and it is intrinsic to the pleasure of drag, as ‘a little female finery’ creates the sexual identity in the ‘role play’ of the subject.

Rick Stonell, a tonsorial expert in London, custom-makes pubic wigs or ‘body furniture’ designing them to suit the wearer and their moods. Two examples of his work are ‘Heart’ and ‘Target’. The first is a pale pink, heart-shaped piece that is made from yak belly hair; the image it projects is one of virginal youth and subtleness. The colour and hair are soft and the shape is traditionally linked with love and romance. The overall look is of innocence, though ironically it is reminiscent of Eve's fig leaf! Alternatively he has created a piece that uses the shape of a target; this is made from red, white, and blue nylon. The strong design, colours, and fibre used in this wig carry a bold and sexual statement of availability. The wig has a phantasy element and gives the impression that it was designed with a superhero or heroine in mind. The range of pubic wigs in Rick Stonell's collection covers every aspect of sexuality and personality from ‘whore’ to ‘madonna’.

The merkins of the past were made to cover the ‘filthy running sores’ of syphilis, a disease which:
…eroded the palate … In some cases the lips, nose or eyes were eaten away, or on others the whole of the sexual organs. Arrizabalaya , p. 205.


Merkins were frequently connected with prostitutes. The women often worked while infected, because many of them were single mothers with no other form of income. Despite the horror of infection and the merkin's connections with it, amusing anecdotes have appeared in literature, such as A. Smith's:
This put a strange whim in his head — which was to get the hairy circle of her merkin … this he dried well and combed out, and then returned to the Cardinall, telling him he had brought St Peter's beard.The Oxford English Dictionary.


Fortunately, the merkin is no longer needed for its original function. The idea of the merkin has been displaced in time to be re-born into a different era as the pubic wig. It is now used as an accessory to alter the appearance of the pubic hair, which is usually, when left to its own devices, unruly, coarse, and shapeless. Body decoration is a primal and innate part of the human psyche, whichever way it chooses to express itself.

Amanda Barrow

Bibliography

Arrizabalaya, J. and and French, R. (1997). The French Disease in Renaissance Europe. St Edmundsbury Press.
Brame, G. and and Brame, W. D. (1997). Different loving. Century, London.
Freud, S. (1991). Volume 9, Case Histories II. Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth.
Henning, J. L. (1995). Rear view. Souvenir Press, London.

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