- Today, more and more people are accepting their body hair (and we support that!)·
- Body hair stigma is in a constant state of flux
- The removal of body hair started with cave people
Have you ever wondered:
- Why do women shave their legs?
- Should men shave their chest?
- When did men and women start removing their body hair?
- When did women start shaving their armpits?
- Why is there a taboo about body hair?
We did too. That’s why we set to work getting to know as much as we could about the removal of body hair. See, even though we’re a grooming brand, we’re a firm believer in grooming however you see fit. If you want to shave your legs while braiding your armpit hair, we’re here for you! We also think that body hair—and removal—should be normalized for all. So, we want to provide some context about the beginnings of body hair removal and why we think you should do what you want!
History of social attitude towards body hair for all genders
The history of certain beauty standards has existed since antiquity. Everyone knows about extreme body modifications like foot binding and corsetry, but very little emphasis is put on body hair. Instead, we just routinely hear, “It’s gross!” Body hair holds a lot of meaning for people. For women, it’s commonly repeated rhetoric that they should remove all their hair minus what’s on their scalp, brows and eyelashes. Anything else is “unsightly.” For men, the removal of body hair is usually limited to their face, and wanting a smooth leg is considered “weird.”
We at Meridian are firm believers in the removal of stigma from grooming which is why we’ve crafted this article. We know that you’re probably thinking something along the lines of “Here’s another brand trying to connect with me by being ‘cool’, but trust that we’re big supporters of personal choice.
This article will explain to you the history of body hair removal dating back to cave people through today. We won’t spoil anything quite yet, but let’s just say we’re glad we live today. Read on to learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about hair removal through the ages.
When you think of shaving, it probably goes back as far as those baby-faced royals in the 1400s; however, hair removal actually dates back to around 100,000 BCE. Researchers estimate that around this time, cavemen pulled out their hair follicle by follicle while using rock or shell tweezers (um, ouch!). However, by 30,000 BCE, cavepeople realized they could shave with sharpened flint. This would lead to hairless bodies and the prevention of mites and lice from roosting in the hair. It also may have helped them in battle with other tribes by preventing hair pulling and grabbing.
Shaving became a staple in ancient cultures through the years, with researcher Reda Attalla noting
“The shape of beard in Egypt, and Mesopotamia were developed through the ages. Through the shape of the beard, it is possible to distinguish between the Egyptian, Iraqi, Libyan, or Syrian race, the ancient Egyptian distinguished between a king and an individual through the shape of the beard. The ancient Iraqi also distinguished between the Assyrian writer and the Aramaic writer in terms of rising or shaving it, the motives for growing a beard varied between being a measure of: masculinity and maturity, judgment and authority, parenthood and old age, power and prestige, and religiosity.”
For ancient Egyptian women, all hair was removed, including that on the scalp (men removed their scalp and body hair as well, just not the beards). They used the seashell tweezer technique as well as pumice stones and waxing with beeswax or honey. However, this was not simply due to vanity. The removal of body hair was considered more comfortable in the hot climate, lice was more avoidable and wigs—considered a necessity for women and worn by most men—fit better.
hair removal dates back to around 100,000 BCE.
In short, body hair and how it was shaved held a lot of meaning for ancient peoples which influenced how we view body hair today as well. Body hair’s “gross” factor was born, and in the coming centuries, we would see different trends detailing which hair was acceptable and what needed to go.
We could literally have you here for hours discussing the changing attitudes towards body hair across the world, but we realize you have a life too! Therefore, we’ve decided to focus on some highlights between the ancient world and the 1800s.
In the Renaissance era, high foreheads were considered the ideal. Because most women’s hairlines didn’t start at their crown, they would pluck their hairs back. Those who didn’t want to shave used mixtures of vinegar and cat poop or quick-lime (which commonly removed the skin as well). Eyebrows were drawn on and quite thin.
- During the Medieval period, hair was considered feminine amongst Catholics. Rather than displaying it, women were expected to cover it up with a headdress, only to be seen by their spouses.
- Elizabeth I removed all her eyebrow hair, making it fashionable to have no brows.
For men, beards were in and out of vogue through the years. However, beards were used as a demonstration against Catholics by Protestants in the 1500s which may explain why King Henry VIII wore a beard.
- Beards fell out of fashion by the mid-1700s with the invention of the safety razor and really didn’t come back in fashion in the United States until Abraham Lincoln sported one in the 1860s. This doesn’t mean that nobody wore beards—we’ve seen some mean mutton chops—but most people considered full beards unfashionable.
- African peoples commonly shaved as well; however, facial hair was usually styled in specific ways to denote social rank. When slave traders came in the 1400s, Africans were forced to remove all their hair.
- During the Qing dynasty, men were lawfully required to wear their hair in the queue style. This required them to shave the front of their scalp while growing it long in the back.
The 1900s brought so many changes to body hair, especially for women, that it necessitates its own section.
See, until this time, body hair on women was heavily covered up thanks to voluminous skirts and long-sleeved gowns. In fact, seeing body hair was considered a privilege that only husbands should view. There was no reason to remove it as there wasn’t a way for most to view it. The only hair women removed was unwanted facial hair. Clean-shaven-ous was considered a hygienic ideal; however, this didn’t apply to women, especially in the upper-crust of society. That changed in the 1910s.
Before this time, razor manufacturers were focusing exclusively on men. They sold men razors which then needed to be refilled with blades. Poorer men went to barbers for once-a-week shaves while wealthier men shaved daily. Clean-shaven faces became synonymous with wealth. However, razor manufacturers began to think about how they could expand to women.
Enter the Milady Decollette from Gillette in 1915, a safety razor for women (complete with pink packaging), and the answer to the common question of “Why did women start shaving?” The company began to advertise that women’s body hair was masculine, unhygienic, unnecessary and that women should aim for a “smooth” look. Women began to question their body hair, but many still chose not to shave.
This changed with the start of the flapper era in the 1920s. As skirts became shorter and sleeveless gowns showed armpits, women were shamed into shaving. Those who held onto the hair on their legs were removing it permanently by the 1940s when nylon stockings were in short supply. However, public hair was still considered free to grow (albeit with some manicuring) for several more decades.
With the rise of the porn industry, we eventually saw the removal of the bush on both men and women as well. In the 1980s, performers of both sexes were stripped of their hair down there, leading to that baby-smooth look we tend to associate with people of both sexes.
Body Hair Today
Today, we’re pushing back against hair removal stigmas and letting people grow or shave whatever they want. Whether they want to go back and remove all their hair like the Egyptians or let it grow wild and free is up to them, but body hair growing choices are becoming more socially acceptable around the world. We proudly see celebrities with armpit hair and don’t blink an eye at axillary hair.
How Meridian drives the next wave of society’s attitude towards body hair
At Meridian, we believe people should be free to make their own grooming decisions.
At Meridian, we believe there is no right answer to “what body parts should a man shave” or “should women shave their armpits.” Instead, we believe people should be free to make their own grooming decisions. From trimming body hair to letting it grow, we’re here for you. Check out our trimmers and have fun making your own body grooming choices!