These days, sleek skin for women is the norm. It's increasingly shocking to see women with unshaven armpits or legs –letting body hair grow is almost a sign of rebellion since it pretty much goes without saying that ladies will have smooth-shaven legs, underarms and even bikini areas. But it must not have always been that way... when did things change, and why? Was it, as some women assert, male oppression, or simply a shift in fashion trends? Read on to discover more about this fascinating beauty trend and how it became the ideal for women.
As it turns out, hair removal for women was a common practice in ancient civilizations. Egyptian women were known to shave or wax all their body hair, including their heads. Ancient Rome, Greece and Middle Eastern civilizations had similar beauty standards (though they typically kept the hair on their heads). Women who had clean-shaven bodies were seen as of a higher class, so many methods of removal existed, from scraping hair with stones (ouch!), to using beeswax, tweezers or primitive razors.
Hair Removal Through the Ages
The Middle Ages didn't see much in the way of hair removal for women because, let's face it, they had way bigger fish to fry. However, the Elizabethan era saw a trend that required women to remove their eyebrows to give the appearance of a longer brow. Though this died out toward the end of the 1600s, in the following centuries ladies still felt the need to remove any unsavory hair from their faces (i.e., on the chin or neck), which led to extreme measures like depilatory creams or vinegar substances to kill the hair. The high-coverage fashions of the day didn't require women to do much about body hair, however.
The first photographic representation of a woman with a hairless armpit was in a Harper's Bazaar issue from 1915. Styles were becoming much more revealing, and thus necessitated the need for clean-shaven underarms. The sleeveless dresses were just the tip of the hair-removal iceberg, however – a couple decades later, the hemlines shortened to unprecedented heights and the need for sheared legs became a reality. This led to the development of razors specifically for women – and thank goodness, because rocks and beeswax just don't seem at all appealing.
The Pubic-Trimming Trend
So it seems fashion trends have much to do with body hair removal practices... but what about pubic hair? The practice may have actually developed in the Middle East, where new brides would remove all their body hair, nether-regions included, to prepare for their wedding night. The trend in the modern era may have been spurred on by the popularity of the bikini, which became the beachwear of choice starting in the 1970's. As bathing suits and panties have gotten smaller, so has the body hair lessened in response. It's now unusual for women not to have trimmed or fully removed pubic hair!
The fashion and beauty standards of each historical era have all included hair removal of some form or another. Thankfully, as people and practices developed, so did hair removal technology. Today, no matter where you want to shave, you can do it quickly and safely. And aren't you glad you no longer have to resort to scraping off hair with rocks?