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When Did Women Start Shaving? A Brief History
I am currently writing a piece on what it means to me to identify as a “witch.”
It is autumn, and the history, mythology, cartoon drawings, and scary movies about witches are everywhere.
What most of these stories miss is that most women who identify as witches are merely claiming body autonomy and independence.
We reject structures and systems that would oppress or otherwise regulate us and how we live our lives.
Over the four decades of my life, I have spent much time exploring what being an independent, freethinking, strong woman means.
Shaving is one of many of those explorations. I went through several periods since puberty wherein I declared I was not going to shave!
After only a couple of weeks, however, I got too irritated with the coarse, bristly hair that grows all over my body (literally) that I reunited with my razor and shaving cream.
It really got me thinking, “when did women start shaving? And why?”
Table of Contents:
- Who Says I Have to Shave?
- When Did Women Start Shaving?
- Media Is Not to Blame
- What Self Care and Autonomy Mean
Who Says I Have to Shave?
Recently, my family fell in love with the movie The Greatest Showman, and I identified with the bearded lady.
“Why shouldn’t I grow out my chin hair?” I thought to myself.
“It grows naturally. It is my natural self. I should be able to be my natural self.” I reasoned.
After only a few days, I could not stand it anymore, and I returned to plucking away at the hair on my chin and upper lip.
As an avid historian who has studied and taught women’s history, I understand the argument against modern beauty standards.
I am a staunch defender of any woman who fights for the right to own her identity and make her appearance choices.
Still, we must remember that not everyone is bowing to compulsion. Some of us like shaving.
I shave my legs because my father's family is Bulgarian, and we grow thick, coarse, dark hair. I do not like the feel of my hairy legs rubbing together.
Nor do I enjoy scratching my chin and feeling stubble or hair growing there. Also, having hair on my face increases the oil in my skin, which encourages acne.
No, thank you.
Shaving and plucking is a win-win-win for me.
When Did Women Start Shaving?
And apparently, it has been a win-win-win for many women for thousands of years.
Yes. You read that right.
Long before advertisers and media told American women to shave their legs and armpits, women in Egypt and India were shaving their heads, their legs, and their pubic areas.
Around 3000 BCE, women in Egypt thought that pubic hair was uncivilized. Ancient Roman women removed hair using pumice stones and tweezers.
Cleopatra and her contemporaries had waxing practices! More recently, Elizabethan women in England got rid of their eyebrows to make their brows appear longer.
Whether it be for personal beauty, class reasons, or hygiene, hair removal has a long history.
In modern times, the concept of shaving arose once more as women’s bodies became more liberated. It makes sense if you think about it.
Before hemlines were shortened and sleeves fell off, most of the women’s bodies were covered in the colder western world.
As we moved further west and became more progressive, we also introduced the concept of “leisure time” to our industrial workforce.
Suddenly families were spending weekends at the beach or the lake. Women now had shorter skirts, sleeveless shirts, and (gasp) bathing suits.
With more body parts exposed, shaving those hairy body parts came into fashion again.
Media Is Not to Blame
Many articles exist pointing the finger at the media and marketing, and of course, advertisers and beauty standards play a role in women shaving body hair. But the truth is that many women shave simply because they want to.
Data shows that more than 80% of women from puberty engage in the removal of at least some of their body hair. We do it for many reasons.
Hygiene When you have excessive hair, especially around parts of your body that tend to sweat more, you will notice body odors begin to collect in the hair and get stronger over time. Shaving is a practical way to eliminate or at the very least reduce those odors.
Bugs. It is a reality for women around the world that bugs may collect in pubic hair or underarm hair. No one wants body lice. Keeping body hair to a minimum can help keep them away.
Skin Conditions As in my case, excessive hair, especially if it is naturally coarse, can collect more oil. For someone with already oily skin, more oil means more skin problems like acne and cysts.
No, thank you.
I will continue to pluck.
Because We Feel Like It Finally.
The joy of the modern woman is that we do not have to answer to anyone but ourselves. If we want to shave simply because we like the look, or in my case, the feel of smooth skin, more power to us.
And likewise, for those women who choose to go au naturel, yay for them. The history of women shaving and removing hair has shown that women throughout time have always found a way to do what they want with their bodies for a wide variety of reasons.
Today, fortunately, is no different.
What Self Care and Autonomy Mean
Ultimately, the choice must be ours.
Media and advertisers will continue to peddle beauty standards and the products that will get us there, but we are not without options.
The most important part of self-care practices is that we care for ourselves in ways that make sense to us.
Self-care is an act of rebellion against a world determined to tell us who to be, what to be, what to wear, and even how to shave or do our hair.
That act, however, is not supposed to merely be the opposite of the current standard. It is, instead, a matter of us connecting with our inner selves and listening to what we actually want and need.
Then, we simply follow that intuition. We, in short, are true to ourselves. Shave or do not shave. Just be sure you are doing, or not doing, it for you.
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