Getting to the root of hair

Women learn from a very early age that the power of their gender is tied to what they look like – and how ‘sexy’ they are – rather than to character and achievement – Brumberg, 1998:195

In society ideals of the female body has evolved, however the practice of body hair removal had remained constant for centuries. Body hair removal is a major aspect of gender and societal norms. The practice of removing hair helps define gender categories, such as masculine and feminine. Social constructions of gender suggest that to be hairless is to be feminine and to be hairy is to be masculine. South African females adhere to the practice of body hair removal which enables them to fit into society without having their femininity questioned. Understanding how hairlesness has become a norm is important in gaining perspective of why females take part in the practice.

Going Bare


1915 advertisement promoting hairless armpits

Women’s armpits (a hollow under the arm at the shoulder) were never exposed until the 1915’s when Harpers Magazine published an advertisement of a women with a strapless dress. This advertisement start a revolution because it became acceptable to wear more reviling clothing and fashionable to not have armpit hair. Before this advertisement women could walk freely without feel embarrassed or ashamed of the armpit hair that grew naturally.


Leg hair removal never caught on as quickly as armpit hair removal, however the revolution was both sprouted by advertisements. During world war 2 ( September 1, 1939 – September 2, 1945) a iconic pin up post of Betty Grable was published. The pin became a sensation in pop culture. Betty became the desire of men and women and thus females began aspiring to the looks and style of Betty.

The popular pin up poster of Betty graples.
Pubic hair 
Many people remove their pubic hair for hygienic reasons, sexual, religious, or culture. In ancient Egypt, people pf both genders removed their body hair and most women, in ancient Greece removed their pubic hair, believing that it looked uncivilized. Ancient Greek artists did not show signs of pubic hair om statues that portrayed women.
During the 1960’s women in western culture started following the practice.  (Read more)
Contradictory to the belief of removing pubic hair as being hygienic and necessary is is proven to be  the cause of at least one health problem for 60% of women, according to a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Some of these health problems include  razor burn, cuts, infection in the hair root, abscesses, and bacterial skin infections. Female pubic hair naturally defends women from sexually transmitted infections. Removing one’s pubic hair  makes it easier to transmit molluscum contagiosum, genital warts, and herpes.
Indiana University researchers asked 2,451 women aged 18- 68 how they presented their pubes and these are some of the results.

Hair removal of females was largely driven by the need to conform to societies fashion fads rather than health reasons.

Depilation methods

Exposure of body hair (other than head, eyelashes, eyebrows hair) in public of body hair is often considered to be unaesthetic, unattractive and embarrassing. This is why so many females use different methods of hair removal. Understanding where these methods originated is important when unpacking how long there was a desire for hair removal.(More detail)


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It is quite fascinating to see how far back we can trace our obsession with hair and hair removal methods. From flint stone razors via arsenic depilatories and honey and oil wax to disposable razors and laser hair removal, we have come a long, long way in our methods and techniques.

Source:  Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History


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