A merkin 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 female version is usually made of fur, beaver pelts, linen or some soft version of cloth, while the male version is usually made of loops, chains or metal, much more closely related to the codpiece.
The Oxford Companion to the Body dates the origin of the pubic wig to the 1450s. According to the publication, women would shave their pubic hair for personal hygiene and to combat pubic lice. They would then don a merkin. Also, prostitutes would wear a merkin to cover up signs of disease, such as syphilis.
It has also been suggested that when male actors played female parts onstage, they would cover their genitals with a merkin so they could pose as women in nude scenes.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary first use of the term itself was in 1617.
In Hollywood film making, merkins can be worn by actors and actresses to avoid inadvertent exposure of the genitalia during nude or semi-nude scenes. If a merkin is 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.
A merkin may either be used when the actor has less pubic hair than is required, as in the nude dancing extras in The Bank Job. Amy Landecker wore a merkin in A Serious Man (2009) for a nude sunbathing scene when Bikini waxing was not common for 1967 when the film is set.
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. 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 put a mosaic over it because fake pubes are considered to be... nasty."
Other usage of the term
- In UK, the term has also been in common usage as a jocular term for an American since the 1960s. The Oxford English Dictionary reports that the term has become common Internet slang for Americans or American English.
- The popular saltwater fly fishing lure, used primarily in targeting bonefish and permit, Del Brown's Merkin, is also named after the artificial hairpiece. The Merkin fly pattern represents a crab, referencing the merkin's historical use for pubic lice (also colloquially known as crabs). Further, Del's Merkin is tied with a disc of fuzzy yarn, imitating the crab's shell, but also reminiscent of the fly's namesake.
- In Vladimir Nabokov's 1955 novel Lolita, Humbert Humbert confesses to the reader "Although I told myself I was looking merely for a soothing presence, a glorified pot-au-feu, an animated merkin, what really attracted me to Valeria was the imitation she gave of a little girl".
- In Stanley Kubrick's 1964 anti-war black comedy Dr. Strangelove, the President of the United States, played by Peter Sellers, is named Merkin Muffley.
- Maynard James Keenan, lead singer of American progressive metal band Tool, owns an Arizona grape vineyard by the name of Merkin Vineyards.
- Oxford Companion to the Body Oxford University Press, 2002
- Francis, Gareth (2003-06-26). "A short and curly history of the merkin". The Guardian.
- Harker, Joseph (1994). Notes & Queries, vol. 5. London: Fourth Estate. pp. 96–7. ISBN 1-85702-266-1.
- Duchovny, David DVD commentary for Stephen Soderberg's Full Frontal'
- Yuan, Jada (2009-09-28). "A Serious Man’s Amy Landecker: ‘The Correct Term Is Merkin’". New York (magazine). Retrieved 2010-04-28.
- Lindsy Van Gelder. Your Bikini Line, Your Business?, Allure, August 26, 2009
- Lucy Lawless interview for Entertainment Weekly
- 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 maintenance. 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.
- Mehr Transparenz auf dem Laufsteg, Spiegel
- Brevet, Brad. What I Learned Listening to David Fincher's 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' Commentary, Rope of Silicon, March 12, 2012
- Rooney Mara Naked, Merkin Details For 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo', The Huffington Post, 12/13/2011
- Murray, J. A. H., et al. (eds.) A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles: [1st] Supplement (1933) — Merkin
- Random House Word of the Day
- Brown, D. (2008) Fly Fishing For Bonefish; pp. 246,340
- The Merkin Crab by Dr. Ed Southwick
- Nabokov, Vladimir (1955). Lolita. New York: Vintage International. p. 25. ISBN 0679-723-161.
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