The History of Why Women Shave Their Body Hair

By Kassidy Brown - September 06, 2018
Credits: The days when it was decided hair and the beach don't mix.

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The ‘aesthetic’ label is important here since there are theories that our ancient caveman and woman ancestors did what they could to get rid of their body hair, but that was for a legitimate reason: it was one less thing for an enemy to grab them by. How is it then that, over time, a possible necessity for survival turned into a must-do social pressure that’s been passed down from generation to generation?


Double the Sales Overnight:

Credits: Wondering when the no-hair craze started? Look to the Ancient Egyptians.

We know that money talks. In this particular case, women with hairy legs or armpits could take a walk. In more modern times, it was razor manufacturer Gillette that realized selling their products to women could double their sales overnight.

That’s when the marketing departments stepped in, and by the early 1900s women were being told that hair in certain places on their body made them undesirable and unappealing. The rest, as we now know, is hair-free history.

Women have been victimized by nonsensical social standards for centuries. Through strategic marketing strategies, young girls are fed unrealistic images of what defines beauty.

Way, Way, Back in the Day:

Credits: Unnaturally thin becomes unfortunately in.

In the early 1990s, women sought out to be severely thin, often starving themselves in the process. Now, modern women spend thousands of dollars on plastic surgery annually to create a curvy, more robust appearance.

What’s the connecting factor between these two extremes? Advertising. Dating back to 3,000 B.C. ancient Egyptians depicted the ideal standard of beauty through primitive paintings grazing the now, ruined walls.

European artists showcased women with pale skin, dainty features and round stomachs as model figures. Although there weren’t carefully crafted advertising agencies like there is today, women were still expected to uphold a certain standard of beauty.

Shame on You, Shame on Us All:

Credits: Society makes a shift to equating stubble with trouble, at least as far as women are concerned. Image: Koremlu

One of the most underrated, yet infinitely debatable beauty trend amongst women is shaving. Some women can’t go a day without it while others haven’t shaved in a year. Society places great emphasis on making women feel ashamed when those first signs of stubble appear.

Shaving of the legs is generally reserved for first dates and important events. In fact, some brides ask that their bridesmaids get full body waxes prior to the wedding date. Although these societal standards may seem normal, the deeper message behind hair removal in women is quite oppressive.

In fact, it can be attributed a controlling ploy created by the media in an attempt to create an image of perfection.

A Few Days Without Shaving:

Credits: A little hair never hurt anyone. Photo: Pitangels/Instagram

Generally speaking, when a woman goes a few days without shaving, the results are visibly apparent. Some women even avoid wearing certain articles of clothing simply because they have a little hair on their legs. In addition, the public traditionally associates women with body hair as primitive; perhaps even less appealing than a woman who shaves.

Because of this, one popular shaving company earns over 16 billion US dollars annually in revenue.

Young girls are introduced to shaving products early in life. They are taught, through the media or familial behavior, that their body hair is something to be self-conscious about.

Socially Acceptable, Socially Unacceptable:

Credits: Hairy men: good. Hairy women: bad. Why?

Since body hair is a natural occurrence, it is safe to assume that at some point it was socially acceptable. In addition, the debate between shaving versus going natural sparks socially hot questions such as:

When did shaving become a symbol of beauty? Why are men praised for not shaving, while women are judged? Who is responsible for implementing body removal as a standard?

The 43 Billion-Dollar Shaving Industry:

Credits: These people had no idea they'd be helping to fuel a billion-dollar industry in the future. Image: tableaucertification

According to Rebecca Herzig, the author of Plucked: A History of Hair Removal, “more than 99% of American women voluntarily remove hair, and more than 85% do so regularly, even daily. The usual targets, for the moment, are legs, underarms, eyebrows, upper lips, and bikini lines. Those habits, furthermore, appear to transcend ethnic, racial and regional boundaries.”

This transcendence equates to roughly a 43 billion-dollar shaving industry that markets primarily to women.

History is known to answer compelling questions that reveal intricacies behind the behavior of our current society. Although hair removal seems to be a relatively new concept, the story behind this routine is quite impressive.


Primitive Methods for Hair Removal:

Credits: Early modern shaving implements weren't always comfortable, but Stone Agers would have gladly used them. Photo: Joe Haupt/Wikimedia

The women of the Stone Age had to be strong, courageous and tenacious. The possible threats of attack from both animals and rival humans were abundant.

Frostbite Protection:

Credits: Queen Elizabeth I made foreheads cool. Image: Isaac Oliver/Welcomecollection

In order to guard themselves against a potential injury during battle, women would often shave their heads, faces, and other exposed areas. This gave their opponent no opportunity to snatch free-flowing hair during a brawl. In addition, the removal of body hair meant losing frostbite protection during the cold winter months.

Certain archeologists suggest that since our ancient ancestors couldn’t properly clean their hair, it attracted parasites and other mites. The ancient cavewomen shaved their hair in order to prevent this infestation.

The tools used for hair removal during those days were brutal. In fact, according to cave paintings, women took seashells and engineered them to lift hair like tweezers.

A Long and Painful Process:

Credits: Slow and steady wins the modern day leg shaving race. Photo: Betsssssy/Wikimedia

Some reportedly created shanks from stones and used it like a straight-edged razor. However, if the women wanted to survive, these were the drastic means to do so. Surely, the bacteria and infections associated with this painful process were abundant.

Since proper sterilization processes were unknown, many women became susceptible to fatal illnesses. In fact, women typically didn’t live past 25.

Shave Like an Egyptian:

Credits: Women who aren't fans of society's call for women to shave have Cleopatra to thank for starting the hairless look.

Modern day women may have Cleopatra to thank for shifting hair removal from protection to vanity. The Ancient Egyptians placed social status on a pedestal and based these notions on outward appearance.

In fact, much of their beauty practices for women are still implemented today. Women who had hair surrounding their vagina, legs, or armpits were deemed barbaric. So much so, this surplus of hair equated to a subservient status. High-status women such as Cleopatra were the definition of beauty, and they made sure to keep their body free from unwanted hair.

Women of the time wanted to reflect that beauty and attract men, so they developed many tools that assisted with hair removal.

Similar to the caveman method, ancient Egyptian women used seashells and stones like tweezers. However, they engineered these tools to be more effective and safe.

Sugar, Beeswax, Water and Lemon Juice:

Credits: Pour some sugar, beeswax and lemon juice on me. Photo: Museo del Prado, Madrid/Wikipedia

Women can also thank ancient Egyptians for developing the ever-pleasant waxing method. They understood the efficiency behind removing hair from the root. In order to accomplish this, they would mix sugar, beeswax, water and lemon juice.

After placing it on the skin, they would use a cotton band to remove the hair.

This method has been updated for the modern age and can be used for virtually every part of the body.

The Beauty of a Big Forehead:

Credits: The days when it was decided hair and the beach don't mix.

Queen Elizabeth I is no stranger to setting bizarre trends. From her black teeth to pompous attire, she set the style standard for women everywhere. It’s no wonder that her contribution to hair removal is nothing less than noteworthy.

During those times, the forehead was considered a mark of beauty. Women with larger foreheads were considered more desirable and affluent. Therefore, shaving of the eyebrows was customary to bring more attention to this area of the face.

Paintings of Queen Elizabeth depict her hair as being pulled back and her eyebrows virtually invisible. Women sought to emulate this trend into their own lives.

Beauty Regimen or Practical Joke?

Credits: What's another four letter word that starts with 'H' besides 'hair'? Hurt.

They would use walnut oil on their foreheads to stop the onset of hair growth. In fact, they even went so far as to rub cat feces on their foreheads as that stumped hair growth. How’s that for a beauty regimen?

The stark difference between Western European women and other areas of Europe is their view on body hair. The Romans believed that a body free of hair equated to wealth and cleanliness, a similar mentality of the ancient Egyptians.

A vast majority of their statues portraying women are free from any traces of hair. Therefore, it is uncanny to think that their European neighbors took such a dramatic view of body hair.

Women living in present-day France, England and the UK kept their body hair untamed and abundant. In France, it was and still is viewed as a symbol of sexual attraction in women.

From Vanity to Shame:

Credits: Gillette is the company behind the push to make shaving the right thing for ladies to do.

From the early 1700s well into the 1900s, women in the West were free from societal standards based on body hair. Instead of hair representing beauty or class, liberation was heavy on the minds of women as they sought to gain social independence from patriarchy.

They weren’t expected to shave, tweeze, or remove their body hair in an effort to become more appealing. In 1915, however, advertising companies began to shift their focus.

The household brand Gillette took the 1700 straight razor concept and adapted it to safer standards. The illustrious Milady Décolleté was a shaving kit promising to “keep the underarm white and smooth.”

Women Taking Back Their Hair:

Credits: Before long, razors were being marketed as everyone's best friend. Photo: kropekk_pl/pixabay

One campaign that ran in popular magazine Harper’s Bazaar showcased a woman with her armpits high behind her head. The caption? “Without embarrassment: an intimate talk to women.”

Hair was labeled as something private, shameful and ultimately unwanted. Advertising companies made sure to paint this new razor as a beauty necessity for women. One print ad showcased a beautiful woman, dressed in a fabulous gown, holding the lifesize razor in an upward position.

Directly next to her photo is the quote, “over five million users consider the “star” (safety razor) a blessing.”

Divinity and Absolute Need:

Credits: "I'm only wearing shoes because I ran out of time to shave my toes."

This tricky, yet genius combination of divinity and absolute need make women everywhere think this would be the answer to their prayers. The hair on the bodies of women was referred to as “objectionable”.

In order to fit in the beauty standards of the time, they were prompted to shave “problem” areas such as the underarms to create a more attractive look. Celebrities and socialites contributed greatly to popularizing shaving.

The 1920s actress Clara Bow can be seen in a promotional ad showcasing her bare armpits with confidence. Joan Crawford sported a sleeveless swing dress with exposed, yet bare armpits as well.

Sneakier Forms of Advertising:

Credits: Shaving: just a haircut for your legs.

Advertising companies were crafty in their acts as they sought to attract more women to purchase. World War II brought about a time where women were expected to be a delightful combination of submission and beauty.

Due to a major decline in pantyhose production during World War II brought on by the military use of nylon in the manufacturing of items such as parachutes, women had no choice but to expose their natural legs. This meant shaving more frequently to mimic the smooth effect of pantyhose. The 1940s gave birth to the electric women’s razor that gave women a new alternative to tweezing or depilatory creams.

Prior to this, the type of women who shaved frequently were dancers or showgirls. Because they led an alternative lifestyle, shaving wasn’t a topic publicly discussed.

A Newfound Invention:

Credits: It was never intended to be involved in the hair fray, but honey has played its part. Photo: flaviasaad0/pixabay

Many didn’t want to be associated with a routine of that sort. This newfound invention, however, revitalized the way society viewed shaving and it was now acceptable on a commercial level. More print ads showcased the electric razor as the new standard of beauty.

Women everywhere were seeking to recreate an image of perfection. On a positive note, the risks associated with shaving were drastically lowered. Safety surrounding shaving was a focal point for many companies in an attempt to limit the spread of infections. Fortunately, razors came a long way from seashells and stones.

All About the Pubes:

Credits: "If they do it in porn, why should I be doing it at home?"

During this time, the focus was primarily on legs, armpits and brows. The West was still quite conservative when it came to the genital area. The idea of a woman shaving her private parts was simply unheard of.

It wasn’t until the invention of the bikini is 1946 that women started grooming their intimate flower. Since their inner thighs were more exposed than ever, they felt that excess pubic hair was simply unacceptable.

However, vaginal hair removal was still a taboo topic of such. During the early ’70s and ’80s, the only introduction to a bare vaginal area was in pornographic films.

Reserved for a Certain Caliber of Woman:

Credits: Hair, hair, everywhere. Or not. Break out the wax!

Much like the showgirls of the early 1940s, this style was reserved for a certain caliber of woman. It wasn’t until the early 1990s when the infamous Brazillian wax went from unheard of to standard.

Celebrities flaunted their love for total hair removal and popular shows even depicted this treatment. Instead of something previously deemed as mysterious and foreign, it was now an exotic luxury.

Although innovative, the idea behind the Brazillian wax was adopted from the designers of the sex industry.

Fake News, Misleading Advertising:

Credits: The below-the-belt norms for women have changed drastically over the years.

In order to live up to this pornographic ideal of women’s beauty, total lower body waxes became the new beauty norm. This utter removal was said to be more attractive to men and even enhance sexual experiences.

In addition, it was marketed to be a cleaner, more effective option for “the modern woman.” As the trend began to grow, popular songs by men emphasized the need for a woman to be “bare” in order to gain his attention. Women in movies shamed their girlfriends for going weeks without a wax. In fact, the sight of stubble on the bikini line sent women into a frenzy.

Having a bit of stubble was viewed as unclean and disorderly. This is a mentality deeply ingrained in women even today.

Shaving Trends Change Like the Wind:

Credits: Forget about razor blades. Now it's time to break out the lasers. Photo: aletuzzi/pixabay

The society we live in has adopted a more accepting view of body hair on women. Prior to the recent women’s rights movement, shaving or waxing was a part of some women’s weekly or daily routine. With options ranging from razors to lasers, hair removal has taken on a more permanent connotation.

Popular stars like Kim Kardashian speak highly of laser hair removal and even promote this form of treatment. The convenience of never having to shave again with the promise of a smoother finish is appealing. Now, hair removal creams have evolved from sugar and cat feces into organic substances that melt the hair away.

Day spas and beauty salons make millions of dollars annually simply from hair removal alone.

To Shave or Not to Shave?

Credits: Going au naturel in today's age is gaining acceptance. Photo: Pixabay

Despite the many avenues of hair removal, women now have the ultimate choice behind shaving or going natural. In addition, they aren’t scrutinized for the beauty choices they make. Shaving is just as accepted as not shaving in the year 2018.

When a woman has a free-flowing arm or leg hair, it is a symbol of independence from social expectancy. This freedom seeks to redefine beauty in creative ways. Women are proudly showing their natural armpit hair in popular campaign ads or social media feeds.

This resilient effort to eradicate standards of beauty and create an effortless equality between men and women is legendary.


Ultimate Form of Self-Expression?

Credits: It's your hair to do with exactly as you please. Photo: John Rocha/Pexels

Women can be seen dying, bedazzling and even braiding body hair as the ultimate form of self-expression.

As opposed to the previous expectations of total hair removal, women are now setting their own standards for beauty. This is a revolutionary and exciting time to be alive as the spirit of feminism is at its peak.

Historical Records of Manipulation:

Credits: 'No shave November' isn't just for guys anymore. Photo: John Rocha/Pexels

The concept of “no shave November” may soon apply to women across the globe. Shaving is now seen as a personal choice as opposed to a stern command. Now, when a woman is shamed for choosing not to shave, she has the backing of historical records of manipulation to guide her defense.

In addition, myriads of women stand together to support each other in this fight for gender equality and breaking beauty standards. Opting not to shave could potentially be beneficial to our environment.

Disposable razors are nonbiodegradable. The plastic formed around the razor will clog landfills and potentially harm marine life. Electric razors or waxing are ideal methods of hair removal as they are environmentally friendly.

In summation, being controlled by the views of the popular opinion is not a new concept. Unfortunately, women have been at the receiving end of that scrutiny for centuries.

Making Progressive Efforts:

Credits: Some day, no one will care either way if a woman does or doesn't shave. Photo: S.Pakhrin/Flickr

Fortunately, our society is making progressive efforts towards acceptance. Soon, the issues between shaving and going all-natural will be that of the past.

As societal standards of beauty begin to shift, women everywhere are feeling more confident in the skin they are in.