A GCSE textbook showing a pregnant woman with a Brazilian wax has prompted outrage, with people claiming it’s using “hyper sexualised images” to teach children about the human body.
The illustration, which appeared in the 2017 version of the Pearson Edexcel Human Biology textbook, featured a cross-section of a woman with a ‘landing strip’ of pubic hair – for no reason whatsoever.
The image, which would have been distributed to 14- and 15-year-old children across the UK, received criticism on Twitter, with people saying it was “indefensible” and should be removed.
In a statement, Pearson said the 2018 version of the textbook was reprinted not to include this image. They told HuffPost UK: “The focus of the image was of the fetus developing in the uterus and it was not essential to show the rest of the body for the purposes of the diagram in question.
“Clearly, we did not mean to cause offence with the original version and we would be happy to provide the updated version free of charge to any student or teacher who would like a replacement.”
However, the image will still be in books already in circulation - Pearson estimates around 500 copies are still being used - and it has kickstarted a conversation about children are taught how women should look from an early age – and how this affects women’s relationship with their bodies.
“It may appear trivial, but it is definitely unhealthy,” one Mumsnet poster said. “This is part of the learning that gets drummed into girls about how disgusting they are, how they should be ashamed of themselves, how their discomfort is irrelevant to others.”
Another said it looked like it came “straight out of a porn film”, adding: “It’s well-known that there is already huge pressure placed on teenage girls in terms of the appearance of their genitalia. There has been an upsurge in consultations about labiaplasty for instance.”
One other mum made the link between children being shown these images and adult women worrying about how they look: ”This leads directly to the sad situation of posters on here [Mumsnet] worrying about making themselves presentable for the midwives.”
It may appear trivial, but it is definitely unhealthy."
Figures released this week showed one in four adult women in the UK miss smear tests, and the biggest barrier is embarrassment about how their body looks. A third (31%) of those non-attendees were avoiding appointments because they hadn’t had time to shave or wax their bikini area.
Of course, women are free to style their pubic hair however they wish (a survey found only 6% of women in the UK leave their pubic hair completely natural) – but missing what could be a potentially life-saving appointment due to embarrassment implies many feel self-conscious about it.
Many may argue that books like the Pearson textbook contribute to this normalisation of waxing, not only for girls in the classroom but also for the men sitting alongside them. A 2017 survey revealed 30% of men in the UK now feel the presence of pubic hair in the bedroom can be a relationship deal-breaker.
Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, reminded women to not avoid smear tests because of your appearance. “Please don’t let unhappiness or uncertainty about your body stop you from attending what could be a life-saving test,” he said. “Nurses are professionals who carry out millions of tests every year – they can play a big part in ensuring women are comfortable.”