When we look at the history of body hair removal, we understand immediately that this practice has immensely changed over time. There were times when hair was removed from the whole body, other times when it was left everywhere. Then, for example, it was left on the whole body but completely removed from the face.
This being said, we understand that body hair removal is purely a product of one time, not a practice that needs to be taken as a norm.
Is body hair removal a burden?
Due to the measures that restricted leaving our house and closed beauty salons, some women simply decided to leave what is a part of all of our bodies – body hair. During the quarantine, as we left our bras resting in the drawers, we also left our body hair alone, realizing in which ways the body hair removal is a burden for all of us, women. Removing our body hair costs us a lot: our time, energy and money. Not to mention that it is almost always very painful. Body hair removal can cause itches, inflammations, irritations, depending on the technique that we choose. And yet, we still do it. Are we masochists?
How come we are so obsessed today by body hair removal? Where does today’s practice and understanding body hair come from?
Ancient hair removal methods
It is believed that people got rid of their body hair even in the prehistoric times. Long hair on their bodies gave a possibility to enemies to grab them by it and conquer them. It is not known today how they practiced body hair removal, but it is considered that it was very painful.
Razors made out of copper were used in Egypt and India 300 BCE. In Egypt women removed all of their hair, even from their heads, and they considered their pubic hair to be uncivilized. During the rule of Cleopatra, a mixture of sugar, water and lemon was used for the body hair removal, a predecessor of waxing. Men removed their facial hair since only servants and slaves had beards. It was a visible trait that distinguished one class from another.
In ancient Rome women removed most of their body hair. It is interesting to understand that the body hair removal was not a gender based habit, since Cezar also removed his body hair.
Queen’s choice for women’s body hair removal
During the Middle Ages, Queen Elizabeth was known for the fashion of facial hair removal that gave an impression of a very long face. This queen’s practice influenced other women to pluck their eyebrows and parts of their hair on their forehead. While they removed hair from their head they left their body hair.
The first razors for men appeared in the XVIII century. While some women might have used it sometimes, there were no restrictions or obligations for women.
In the XIX century, because of the fashion and clothes of the time, the body hair could not be seen. Therefore, women removed only what was visible – facial hair. At the time, pubic hair was considered to be something very attractive and was not expected from women to remove it. Emile Bayard, French illustrator, said in 1904 that he found it scandalous for women to remove the hair from their armpits since it was considered sensual.
The first ones to use powders and creams for hair removal were actresses, prostitutes and models at the end of the XIX century. And although it was not expected from women to remove their body hair, painters did not show it on their artwork.
Body hair removal practiced today
Today’s practice of body hair removal has its origins at the beginning of the XX century. Charles Darwin’s book released in 1871 was one of the triggers for removing body hair. According to him, because of evolution and natural selection people with less hair were more attractive.
Also, at the beginning of the XX century there were certain inventions that will influence the change with certain behaviors.
Three new industries influenced women to start shaving:
1. Men’s shaving industry
2. Magazine industry and
3. Fashion industry
Harper’s Bazar was the very first magazine to address this ‘’issue’’ in 1914 and say that bare armpits are now a must! Gillette released the very first razor for women in 1915.
Fashion changed immensely and women started showing the parts of their body that they had not shown before. There were also new cultural practices such as bathing in the sea or river. We also understood the importance of hygiene for our health. That is how we started removing all the scents, as well as all the animal traits from our bodies, says the hair historian Christian Bromberger. Body hair was viewed as something dirty and as a part of new hygiene practices, it needed to be removed.
During the Second World War, because of a shortage, there were no tights and women had to go bare legs, the reason why many more women started shaving in the USA. This prepared women for other changes that will follow in the fashion industry such as miniskirts. In the 60s, 98% of women in the USA declared that they removed their body hair.
History of pubic hair
How did we start shaving our pubic hair? In 1946, a new invention looked the light of the day – swimming suits that were showing our inner thighs. It was all of a sudden indecent to show the pubic hair, so we started trimming it.
In the 1950s, Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine introduced clean-shaven, sexy, women who became benchmarks for the ideal look. It is interesting to see that certain standards were accepted as such based on what a man thought it would be good for a woman. Male gaze took its toll and forced us to see ourselves through their eyes.
How do we do it today?
We will have to wait until the XXI century to see women that will not view the body hair removal as a norm or a must. Now, that some women ‘’dare’’ to leave it, it seems like it offends many people, both men and women. Some would even say that others can leave it, but should not display it publicly, in other words, that they should hide it.
Hair on certain women’s bodies will even cause scandals like it was a case with Julia Roberts, when she waved on the premiere of the move Nothing Hill. Emili Rajtakowski published a photo with hair on her armpits and it was received as a provocation, which it, obviously, was. But it was there to prove its point, that hair on women’s bodies does not belong to them. Women’s bodies are not accepted the way they are and they can be shown only under certain circumstances. In order to exist in a public space, women’s bodies and skin need to be certain size and shape. The public eye examines every single part of it and has always something to say about it.
Another example of it is an Adidas model, Swedish photographer and musician Arvida Bystrom that received death and rape threats after a commercial that she did for this famous brand. The hair on her legs pissed off a lot of people.
Recently, also Ashley Graham released a commercial in collaboration with Flamingo where she proudly shows her body hair. She also said that she had not shaved during her pregnancy. Of course, all of this got a lot of backlash, but the queen as she is, Graham responded to all of negative comments through her recent Tik Tok video. Oh, and my favorite part of it… When she goes to the Target store in the video here bellow, she shows the stand with the razors and she points out that they did not Photoshop her. All of her cellulite is real! You go queen!
On the other hand… Can you imagine that we are celebrating and being happy about the fact that someone left a woman’s body just the way it is?
My body my choice
I cannot but notice how many comments an illustration on my Instagram account got. People went wild. Most of them that don’t even follow my account. How did they stumble upon my profile and that picture, I can only imagine! Great number of hash tags brought them to the image. But I am wondering… If that is the way they got to it, why are they looking up # that have to do with something that sickens them?
View this post on Instagram
On the other hand, I could not but notice that we are starting to be ok with cellulite, different body shapes, but for some reason, we just cannot deal with body hair. What is it that repels us so wildly?
And then, I also realized that all of the backlash was on a simple illustration. Hey! Just an illustration! So, I decided to show my real armpit hair. If only few lines on a piece of paper annoy so much, what can we expect from a real human body with real human hair?
This article is not there to convince anyone to leave or remove their body hair. It is there to simply show us the history of body hair removal. Even if we are victims of certain gender role based practices, we need to be educated on the stereotypes that will help us leave many burdens behind.