Sydney: Revealing swimwear gave rise to the Brazilian wax, many cultures thought having body hair was uncivilised and French women don’t wax their underarms—these are just some ‘hairy’ facts that some experts have revealed recently.
However, Victoria Sherrow, author of ‘Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History’, has said that historians are unable to pinpoint the first group of women to remove body hair.
Women in ancient Egypt used beeswax and depilatories made from an alkali, like quicklime, to remove leg hair, she said.
Ancient Romans and Greeks used pumice to remove body hair.
"Some cultures regarded it as uncivilised, since body hair appears on animal bodies," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Sherrow as saying.
"The idea of a hairless body for American women developed between 1915 and 1945,” she added.
Many attribute the kickoff in 1915 to Gillette`s Milady Decollete, "the first razor designed and marketed specifically for women, and was billed in the extensive national advertising campaign as the ````safest and most sanitary method of acquiring a smooth underarm," according to author Russell Adams in ‘King C Gillette: The Man and His Wonderful Shaving Device’.
The trend also picked up as sleeveless dresses and sheerer fabrics became fashionable and hemlines rose.
Safety razors were also produced en masse.
"As the middle class grew, women`s lives increasingly became defined by spending power and habits," wrote Jennifer Scanlon, professor of gender and women`s studies at Maine`s Bowdoin College, in her book ‘Inarticulate Longings: The Ladies` Home Journal, Gender, and the Promises of Consumer Culture’.
It was the perfect storm for advertisers as magazines like Ladies` Home Journal and Harper`s Bazaar flooded homes, not only informing, but shaping women`s concepts of beauty.
"You see this kind of transformation of the female body - that women are increasingly to be looked at," said Scanlon of advertisements at the time.’ ``
"There`s sort of the promise that more and more women can gain access to beauty if they engage in these practices (like) shaving their armpits,” she added.
While engaging in such practices was synonymous with femininity, during the 1970s and 1980s, not engaging in them became the "litmus test of feminism", said Scanlon.
But since that time, bikini-line hair removal and waxing the whole genital area gained more steam as bikinis became teenie weenie.
Brazilian bikini waxes are "the most popular service" at Chicago`s Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa and are "much more popular now than ... four or five years ago", according to Red Door esthetician Mirela Munteanu.
Customers still say "it`s a nice feeling that their skin is soft. I believe they feel more feminine".
European women, on the other hand, tend to leave armpits as nature intended.
British fashion writer Suzannah Frankel says it`s the stuff of legend that European women, the chic, beach-loving French in particular, are less likely to remove underarm hair than their British counterparts, who are, also famously, considered not to be as comfortable in their own skin.