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When Things Get Hairy

Hair Removal

Perhaps the greatest irony is that while most women (and men) spend countless amounts of time, energy, and money cultivating the hair on their heads, women often launch violent assaults on body hair that exists elsewhere.

Since the early twentieth century, American women have been influenced in their hair removal by fashion trends that bared legs and underarms. To rid the body of superfluous hair, many women will wax, tweeze, shave, and laser their legs, underarms, and bikini lines. In the pursuit of smooth, baby-soft skin, women are willing to bear excruciating hot wax being ripped from their faces and other areas and the incessant knicks and cuts of multi-bladed razors being dragged across their legs. But why endure such torture?

Koremlu, for instance, was a popular depilatory in the 1930s made from thallium acetate, a rat poison. While effective at removing hair, it also provided a host of additional horrifying side effects such as blindness, baldness, and paralysis

In 1914, advertisements for depilatory creams in Harper's Bazaar painted underarm hair as unfeminine, unhygienic, and unfashionable for the latest sleeveless women's styles. The first women’s razor from Gillette, called the Milady Decolletée, was created and marketed to women in 1915 and helped fuel the cultural obsession with female body hair removal. Fast forward to the 1950s when publications such as Playboy showed clean-shaven, lingeried ladies who became benchmarks for feminine beauty.

 

In spite of the media’s promotion of this hairless feminine ideal, in the 1960s and 1970s, in the throes of second wave feminism, many feminists opposed and rejected the culturally imposed ideals and advocated for women to do with their hair removal as they pleased. As a result, some women preferred to go au natural. However, this phenomenon was short-lived as advertising won out and most women continued to shave, wax, and pluck their body hair.

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2730 Historic Decatur Road, Suite 103
San Diego, CA 92106
Phone: (619) 233-7963
info@womensmuseumca.org
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© 2019 by the Women's Museum of California