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Here’s the History of Hair Removal You May Not Know

HelloFlo is a womens health company committed to normalizing the conversations we have about womens bodies so that we can all live healthier lives.

When body hair becomes a feminist statement

As women living in 2017, we are fortunate to possess the power to make choices for ourselves thanks to our foremothers who forged the way. One choice that we face is that of deciding to shave tonight. Or maybe I’ll just put it off until tomorrow. Or maybe I’ll quit shaving until spring (hey, the temperature is dropping and I need all the warmth I can get!).

Today, society puts pressure on us both to shave and to take the feminist initiative not to shave. We can choose to grin and bear it for that Brazilian wax or we can wave our hands in air, showing off hot pink pits like Miley Cyrus. The ball is completely in our court.

Flashback to the ancient world, where the story of maintaining female body hair first began. Egyptian women opted to remove of all of their fuzz because any sign of hair was deemed uncivilized. Their beauty weapons of choice: tweezers (to remove all that stubborn hair, even on their heads), beeswax and pumice stones. In ancient Greece, it was in vogue to pluck out pubic hair one by one with tweezers. Not painful at all. Finally, the Romans also hopped on the hairless bandwagon, though it was mainly confined to the upper-classes (both men and women removed their body hair).

More: 7 Hair removal techniques ranked from worst to best

A little while later, under the reign of trendsetter Queen Elizabeth I, facial hair was out; I’m talking eyebrows and the tiny facial fuzz that no one can really see. How was this done? Using ammonia-soaked bandages and walnut oil, of course. The amazing part of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, however, was that pubic hair was in. A furry bush was encouraged, but if you were unable to grow a nice carpet, merkins (pubic wigs) were also an option.

Fast-forward to 1915, when hair really became a hot topic. That year, Gillette released the first women’s body hair razor (men had been using razors since the 18th century). Around the same time of this razor’s appearance, the high society fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar featured an advertisement of a young woman, arms in the air, with perfectly pruned pits. This marked a turning point in hair removal. It was now unsightly for a woman to grow armpit hair, period. Around the time of World War II, shorter hemlines and nylon shortages (no more stockings, ladies!) spurred women to shave their bare legs.

Up until the 1950s, shaving practices remained fairly unchanged, but in the ‘60s and ‘70s, women were vibing the full-on bush once again. This isn’t that surprising, however, given all of the sexual liberation and hippie culture going on. The tides turned once again in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when the lady garden was kept nice and tidy. But the 2000s took this tidiness to the extreme when the Brazilian wax stepped onto the scene. Was this the final answer? If Carrie Bradshaw gets a Brazilian, does that mean we all should take note and turn our boxes into naked mole rats?

More: Everything you wanted to know about pubic hair removal, from an Instagram star

As it turns out, Brazilians and silky skin are not the be-all and end-all. Cue Roxie Hunt and Rain Sissel, founders of the Free Your Pits movement. This program was ultimately designed to challenge the standards of female beauty through normalizing unkempt body hair. Hunt shares her conscious decision not to shave in an article for Offbeat Home & Life.

She quickly became my hero when she described feminine beauty and American culture: “We shirk our own social responsibility as women by not making choices in line with our own values, following the belief that our beauty is unattainable without paying the price of judging ourselves, our worth, and our beauty through someone else’s lens. And then on top of that, we literally pay the price by buying our own beauty and supporting these standards. Because business is business, and business must grow, regardless of hair in my armpits, you know?”

The Free Your Pits movement, which includes a new trend in which women not only make the conscious choice to grow out their pit hair, but also to dye it, has turned many heads, especially with this piece in The New York Times.

More: 5 things I wish men understood about having a vagina

Does this mean that we should all toss our razors and follow suit in the name of feminism? Of course not. The point that Roxie Hunt and her movement aim to prove is that we women can make choices about our bodies that should be based on our gut feelings alone, not what beauty standards dictate. If you want to shave, shave. If you want your leg hair to be long enough to braid, go right ahead. The Free Your Pits Manifesto says it best: “Here’s to being you, whatever that might be, and for inspiring and encouraging others to do the same.” Amen, sister.

By Barbara Bent

Originally published on HelloFlo.

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