Type “When did women start shave …” into Google and one of the top autocomplete suggestions to pop up is, “When did women start shaving?”
The answer goes back centuries. Hair removal — or otherwise — has long shaped gender dynamics, served as a signifier of class and defined notions of femininity and the “ideal body.”
However, in its most recent evolution, body hair is being embraced by a growing number of young women who are turning a source of societal shame and turning it into a sign of personal strength.
The rise of gender fluidity, the body-positivity movement and the beauty sector’s growing inclusiveness have all contributed to the new wave of hirsuteness.
“It’s been deeply stigmatized
— it still is — and cast with shame,” said Heather Widdows, professor of global ethics at the UK’s University of Birmingham and author of “Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal,” in a phone interview. “Its removal is one of the few aesthetic traditions that have gone from being a beauty routine to a hygienic one.
“Today, most women feel like they have to shave. Like they have no other option. There’s something deeply fraught about that — though perceptions are slowly changing.”
Hairlessness wasn’t established as a mandate for women until the early 20th century.
Before that, removing body hair was something both men and women did — as far back as the Stone Age, then through ancient Egypt, Greece and the Roman Empire — using seashells, beeswax and various other depilatories. In these earlier eras, as Victoria Sherrow writes in “Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History,” hairlessness seen mostly as a way to keep the body clean. Ancient Romans also associated it with class: The smoother your skin was, the purer and more superior you were.
In the Middle East, as well as East and South Asia, threading used on the entire face. But unibrows actually considered alluring for both sexes, and often accentuated with kohl.
In Persia, hair removal and brow-shaping a marker of adulthood and marriage for women,
and mainly reserved for that occasion. While in China, body hair long considered normal, and even today woman face far less social pressure to shave.
The same goes for other countries in Asia. While hair removal has become routine for many of the continent’s young women. Waxing or trimming pubic hair, for instance, isn’t as common as it is in the West.
In fact, in Korea, pubic hair long considered a sign of fertility and sexual health — so much so that, in the mid-2010s, it reported that some Korean women were undergoing pubic hair transplants, to add extra hair to their own.
Europeans n’t always obsessed with hair-free skin.
In the Middle Ages, good Catholic women were expected to let their hair grow as a display of femininity, while keeping it concealed in public. The face the only place where hair considered unsightly. 14th-century ladies would pluck the hair from their foreheads in order to push back. Their hairlines and give their faces a more oval appearance. When Elizabeth I came to power in 1558, she made eyebrow removal fashionable.
By the late 18th century, hair removal still n’t considered essential. European and American women, although when the first safety razor for men invented. French barber Jacques Perret in 1760, some women reportedly used them too.
It wasn’t until the late 1800s that women on both sides of the Atlantic. Started making hair removal an integral part of their beauty routines. The modern-day notion of body. Hair being unwomanly can traced back to Charles Darwin’s 1871 book “Descent of a Man.” According to Rebecca Herzig’s “Plucked: A History of Hair Removal.”