Many women grumble with the endless shaving of hair commonplace in our society. In America, most women remove their armpit and leg hair routinely. A majority of women go further and shave or remove hair on arm and bikini areas. While hair removal has been part of human culture for thousands of years, it is a more modern practice for women in American society. The world of media and consumerism of the early 1900s led to a more hairless society than our American ancestors might have been comfortable.
Armpit hair removal came first in the 1920s
For women, fashion trends and culture changes in the early 1900s led to hair removal, especially for women of upper classes. During the 19th century, Victorian era women were often fully covered, as society focused on strict dress for women. Thus hair could not been seen and didn't need to be shaved. However, during the 1920 flapper years, clothing became more provocative, and more skin with hair exposed. A common example used is an advertisement in Harper’s Baazar in 1915 where a woman had both her arms up in a sleeveless dress. It is believed advertisements like this led to the development of underarm hair removal--as women wanted to look like models in magazines. Also as clothing became short sleeved, it became fashionable to shave arm hair.
Hair removal around the 1960s focused on legs
Shaving of the legs for women became popular a bit later, as dress hemlines got shorter and shorter into the 1950s. Pictures, such as of Betty Grable in the 1940s, showed women showing off legs that were shaved. These ads, as well as fashion changes, introduced the wide use of leg shaving and waxing. It is also safe to say that companies that produced razors and shaving cream were eager to have this trend continue. Shaving companies began to see the market for women and took advantage. Razor companies even paid for some advertisements saying leg hair was gross and unbecoming.
Hair removal today
A more recent hair removal trend is the removal of the bikini line. One study of young, American women says that 60% of women between 18 and 24 remove their pubic hair. This development is new, as bikini hair removal wasn’t commonplace even 20 years ago. Studies have indicated this change is due to smaller swimsuit bottoms, magazines like Playboy, and also TV shows such as Sex and the City that showcased characters getting bikini waxes. These media outlets perhaps encouraged or pushed bikini waxing to be the norm—and it worked.
Shaving legs, armpits, and for many young women, bikini areas, has became a standard similar to brushing teeth or washing your hair. But, these practices were not always a part of modern society. It does bring up questions of how much capitalism infiltrates our lives, and how the media and fashion industries can change the way we treat our bodies. Hair removal isn’t necessary evil—women might see it as liberating or freeing to do as they want to their bodies. But, it is important to ask why you are waxing this or shaving that, and make sure that you are okay with the answers.