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A merkin used at Burning Man

Merkin (first use 1617)[1] is a pubic wig. Merkins were originally worn by prostitutes after shaving their genitalia, and are now used as decorative items, erotic devices, or in films, by both men and women.



The Oxford Companion to the Body dates the origin of the pubic wig to the 1450s. Women would shave their pubic hair and wear a merkin to combat pubic lice, and prostitutes would wear them to cover up signs of disease, such as syphilis.[2]

"A Short and Curly History of the Merkin" in The Guardian provided a partial history of the merkin.[3] It has also been suggested that when male actors played female parts onstage, they would cover their genitals with a merkin so they could expose themselves as women in nude scenes.[4]

Contemporary use

In Hollywood film making, merkins are worn by actors and actresses to prevent inadvertent exposure of the genitalia during nude or semi-nude scenes. If a merkin were not worn, it would be necessary to restrict the shot to exclude the genital area; with the merkin in place, brief flashes of the crotch can be used if necessary. The presence of the merkin protects the actor from inadvertently performing "full-frontal" nudity — some contracts specifically require that nipples and genitals be covered in some way — which can help ensure that the film achieves a less restrictive MPAA rating.[5]

A merkin may also be used if the actor has less pubic hair than required, such as the nude dancing extras in The Bank Job, Amy Landecker in A Serious Man (for a nude sunbathing scene, as the actress' bikini wax was not common for the period (1967) when the film is set),[6][7] and female slaves in Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Lucy Lawless was fitted for a merkin for Spartacus, but did not actually use it.[8] In an interview for Allure, Kate Winslet related how she refused to wear a merkin in The Reader.[9][7]

At the São Paulo Fashion Week in 2010, design firm Neon dressed a nude model in transparent plastic. According to the designer, the model wore a pubic wig to make her appear more natural.[10] In the director's audio commentary of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, director David Fincher discussed how a merkin was utilized for actress Rooney Mara, after she suggested to him that the character she portrayed in the movie was a natural red head in the book and actually dyed her hair black. Consequently, the merkin she wore was made in the color red. For the release of the movie in Japan, Fincher stated, "I believe in Japan we had to like put a mosaic over it because fake pubes are considered to be nasty."

Other usage of the term


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  2. ^ Oxford Companion to the Body Oxford University Press, 2002
  3. ^ Francis, Gareth (2003-06-26). "A short and curly history of the merkin". The Guardian.,3604,985079,00.html. 
  4. ^ Harker, Joseph (1994). Notes & Queries, vol. 5.. London: Fourth Estate. pp. 96–7. ISBN 1-85702-266-1. 
  5. ^ Duchovny, David DVD commentary for Stephen Soderberg's 'Full Frontal'
  6. ^ Yuan, Jada (2009-09-28). "A Serious Man’s Amy Landecker: ‘The Correct Term Is Merkin’". New York (magazine). Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  7. ^ a b Lindsy Van Gelder. Your Bikini Line, Your Business?, Allure, August 26, 2009
  8. ^ Lucy Lawless interview for Entertainment Weekly
  9. ^ Hannah Morrill. Kate Winslet, Unscripted, Allure, June 3, 2009.
    NOTE: Many sources claim that she wore a merkin by only quoting part of this interview (found in full in the printed issue):
    : "Let me tell you, The Reader was not glamorous for me in terms of body-hair maintenence. I had to grow it in, because you can't have a landing strip in 1950, you know? And then because of years of waxing, as all of us girls know, it doesn't come back quite the way it used to. They even made me a merkin because they were so concerned that I might not be able to grow enough. I said, 'Guys, I am going to have to draw the line at a pubic wig, but you can shoot my own snatch up close and personal.'"
    Another Allure source (used here) also says she didn't wear it.
  10. ^ Mehr Transparenz auf dem Laufsteg, Spiegel
  11. ^ Murray, J. A. H., et al. (eds.) A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles: [1st] Supplement (1933) — Merkin
  12. ^ See this Random House Word of the Day entry, this [alt.usage.english FAQ Alternative Usage in English: Merkin] and this Straight Dope article
  13. ^ Brown, D. (2008) Fly Fishing For Bonefish; pp. 246,340
  14. ^ The Merkin Crab by Dr. Ed Southwick

External links