The Ancient War Against Body Hair
This article is long, detailed history of human hair removal. It began as a normal article and ended up as a dissertation. In the article, I discuss methods, culture, and reasons why behind hair removal throughout history. I had no idea there was so much information about the history of hair removal. I have found that the history of hair removal actually helped me to understand human culture in a new way. Specifically, it has led to a greater understanding of why our modern culture is the way it is.
I hope you find this useful and interesting. I'm sure I got some things wrong, and I will update the facts as I find them. Until then, enjoy the journey through history.
The farther in past you go, the more arguments, and speculation there is among anthropologists, historians, and archeologists. That being said, there is a lot of really cool evidence suggesting hair removal did, in fact, occur at the beginning of human history.
The first humans are documented as early as 2.8 million years ago. According to scientists and researchers, some of the earliest tools ever discovered originate from around 2.6 million years ago.Some of the earliest human tools discovered originate from the last glacial period often called "Ice Age" or, more technically the Pleistocene Epoch. This era lasted from about 1.8 million years ago to about 11,700 years ago. Around 50,000 years ago (the Upper Paleolithic age from 50,000 years ago to about 10,000 years ago, the last period of the stone age) is about the time period associated with the development of modern human habits.
Because our early ancestors didn't make a habit of keeping records about their lives, the discussion concerning early man's
habits and lifestyle remains largely speculative. But that shouldn't disregard the discussion as a whole, don't throw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak. Tools have been discovered that date back to the beginnings of human history. We know from geology, and archeology what our planet's past climates were. Using a myriad of points we can begin to form some theories and at the least good questions.
One interesting theory regarding hair removal dates back to the Ice Age. Obviously, during the ice age, the climate was much colder than it is today. This led many animals, including humans to adapt and evolve in many interesting ways. Many grew hair, others added fat, humans may have done both. Unlike the other animals, humans were beginning to use tools in many ways, including flint, spears, stone axes, and other tools to help them survive.
Some scientists speculate that shaving body hair, especially facial hair was a survival advantage during the ice age. The thinner hair of the face would easily be able to hold moisture close to the skin. This would increase the risk of serious frostbite. At a time when humans probably didn't wear much of anything shaving the hair off could've helped mitigate some frostbite. There have even been some very razor-like tools discovered.
When it came to the actual methods of hair removal researchers speculate they used stone and obsidian blades crafted through chipping to achieve a sharp edge. To use these blades they would have to scrape them over the skin. This would probably pull, scrape and maybe cut the hair if done enough times... ouch. Using their, or a friends, fingers to pluck hair is also a probable method.
Below is a great video of a guy using stone tools to shave with. Enjoy
Early Civilizations (4,000 BC - 500 BC)
History is great. Despite it being in the past there is always more being discovered. There are always new ways of interpreting old material and new insights to be made. There is so much information regarding historical hair removal that this will be one of the larger sections of this article.
The civilization of Mesopotamia is actually made up of several including Assyria, Babylon, and Ancient Persia. The Mesopotamian civilization began to flourish at roughly 3000 BC. We know from archeology that they grew to be one of the most advanced civilizations on the earth at the time. As a society, they accomplished many amazing things. Perhaps the most notable of these achievements is, of course, a written language and number system known as cuneiform. Historians speculate that this occurred around 3200 BC. They also invented the wheel, mathematics, sailboats, astronomy, and more.
Not only were the Mesopotamians great inventors and scientists, they were also very stylish. For me when I think of Mesopotamia the first image in my head isn't cuneiform or the wheel, it's those amazing grape-bunch beards in all the sculptures. Many historians theorize that the Mesopotamians were the first true hairstylists. There is some archeological evidence that suggested dies, combs, and metal hair fixtures were common among nobleman. Mesopotamian men, in particular, seemed to pay extra attention to the hair on their faces and heads.
Before those fantastic beards came into fashion, evidence suggests that the Mesopotamians were clean shaven like the Egyptians. Historians are unsure of whether being clean-shaven became taboo or if was still accepted as a norm. There are numerous ancient texts that seem to contradict each other on this matter. Evidence suggests, however, that having unkempt hair was not socially acceptable.
When it comes to body hair there are equally contradicting ancient texts. Some suggest women were proud of their pubic/body hair because it was a sign of maturity. Other accounts suggest that being smooth and hairless was desirable. The truth is we still don't know who removed body hair and why, but we do know that it was practiced. However, Archaeological evidence suggests the Mesopotamians used methods similar to the Egyptians when it came to hair removal. Archeological digs have unearthed clamshell tweezers and various forms of razors.
Perhaps they had an equivalent of feminists writing articles about being proud of the bush on clay tablets in cuneiform. On a related not, records about the goddess of love and war, Inanna or Ishtar, point to possibly liberal society. The theology states that the goddess could change from male to female. Historians suggest that this may point to the possibility that those with gender conditions could've been somewhat accepted. Also, many statues of the goddess depict her nude and hairless, which could suggest the being hairless was a sign of beauty. This is especially true because this particular goddess was a representation of love, among other things.
Whether it was hair removal or hair styling, hair was an important part of Mesopotamian society. So much so, that barbers were held in high professional esteem. In fact, the pictograph for surgeon's knife (naglabu) could be made by combining the symbols for "knife" and "barber". Barbers also made creams, oils for skin and hair. In Mesopotamia being a barber was a very important job.
The Code of Hammurabi (A text that made up of 282 laws) makes several mentions of barbers in its text. Here is one of them
226: If a barber, without the knowledge of his master, cut the sign of a slave on a slave not to be sold, the hands of this barber shall be cut off.
The Mesopotamians were an advanced people. Their fashion sense seemed to grow with their wealth as a nation. Although many things remain unclear regarding their hair removal practices, we know that it was at least a part of their culture. Some of the earliest depictions of female beauty are from this time and they show the women as hairless.
Historians and archeologists agree that the first settlements in Egypt were likely started around 3500 BC. There are a lot of similarities between these two civilizations. Both began around the same time, both founded their first settlements around rivers, both were started in dry aired climates, and of course, hair removal.
During the early part of Egyptian civilization, Egyptians grew out their beards, braided them, and adorned them with gold. But being hairy began to fall out of favor until by the dynastic period everyone was trying to be a hair free as possible. There are few reasons for this. Body hair began to be seen as symbolic of the lesser, animalistic man. In that light being as hair free as possible was a symbol of civilization, purity, and ascension. Through supply and demand, barbers became a very important piece of society for this very reason. There is some evidence to suggest that wealthy individuals would have a barber live with them to keep them hair free as easily as possible. Imagine shaving the Pharaoh's entire body more than once a day. Those with lesser wealth would still normally frequent a barber almost daily. For priests shaving much more than a social symbol, it was a ritual and lifestyle. Much like the Jews would wear special clothing to represent their purity, Egyptian priests, and religious leaders would perform a ritual cleansing every other day in which they would shave their whole bodies. Kings and pharos would be shaved with bejeweled and blessed razors. This ritual extended to the afterlife. Kings, pharaohs, noblemen and the rich were often buried with a barber and his tools so that they could remain hair free in the life to come. Conversely, being unshaven marked you a lower-class member of society.
To the Egyptians, hair and the lack thereof was such an important part of the culture that it was depicted in detail in various art forms. When they came across other cultures the paintings or sculptures about those people would normally have very detailed hair. This reflects their focus on appearance in defining people. This has been quite useful to historians and archeologists. Because of the Egyptians attention to detail, we know how some of the other cultures at the time goes and dresses. Hat's off to those bare beauties.
This obsession with hair removal led to more advanced methods of hair removal. Just like today, Egyptians were always looking for an easier, cheaper, more effective way to remove unwanted hair from their bodies. In particular, the all-important barbers were looking for easier and better ways to do their jobs. Barbers would develop new pastes, razors, and methods of hair removal.
Some of the primary methods the ancient Egyptians employed for hair removal were razors, pumice stones, and depilatory creams and pastes. These razors were typically made from copper or bronze. Typically a barber would most likely first wet the hair and possibly apply an oil or cream of his own making, then use a razor for as close a shave as possible. Once the shaving was finished the pain began. Pumice stones were then used to rub off the remaining bits of hair. This would be done by the barber or by the shavee. Depilatory creams were also used in ancient Egypt. There is some evidence of arsenic-based creams that killed hair follicles, as well as sugar-based pastes that would act like wax in removing hair.
Ancient Egypt was a place of innovation when it came to hair removal. They took it seriously for many reasons. Some of their innovations have lasted the test of time and are with us today. To this day sugaring is attributed to the ancient Egyptians.
Ancient Greece as we know it began around 800 BC. Before that Greece was a collection of separate farming villages in the area north of Italy. Eventually, the villages became city-states and formed alliances with one another creating ancient Greece as we know it. These city-states (known as poleis) became a defining feature of Greek government, religion, and culture.
As the city-states grew and the religion formed, each of the city-states began to be protected by a god or goddess. Like in Egypt, religion was an integral part of Greek culture. There are many major and minor gods in Greek mythology. These gods all played different roles in Greek life (not unlike Egyptian gods). The worship of these gods became a defining characteristic of the individual culture and government of each city-state. Each city-state grew in its own way. Some focused more on military, others on commerce, still others on government. This diversity played an important role in Greek culture.
It should be no surprise that grooming played an important part in ancient Greek society. Through historical texts, sculptures and other archaeological evidence historians have pieced together the story of ancient Greek grooming. Many ancient Greek sculptures, murals and art show men with beards. The art and some ancient texts suggest that body hair was a mark of manliness in ancient Greek culture. Beards, in particular, were a symbol of maturity, wiseness, and manhood. Many sculptures and paintings depicting beards in ancient Greece are of philosophers, kings, and gods. There are also many that depict men without beards. Both styles seemed to have been acceptable at the time. Also, it's important to keep in mind that these trends varied across city-states. Alexander the Great was influential in warriors clean shaven looks.
Spartans would shave only their mustaches according to the laws.
Besides warriors, men would cut or tear out their beards during periods of grief and mourning. Afterwards they would hang the beard hair on the door in a reminder of their loss.
Despite full beards being the norm, barbers were commonplace. Unlike the Egyptians, the Greek barbers were more attuned to beard maintenance than beard removal. Just like barbershops in other countries at the time, Greek barbershops were a hub for sharing news, and gossip. There are stories of barbers receiving news of war first and being tortured for sharing it.
Just like all trends, facial hair trends changed overtime in ancient Greece. Notably, around 356 BC Alexander the Great changed the style for facial hair by decreeing that all soldiers shave off their facial hair so it could not be grasped in battle to allow the opponent to pull a soldier off it's horse. He apparently hired a ton of barbers the night before a battle to shave all the soldiers to this end.
Aristophanes' Thesmophoriazusae, an ancient text, calls attention to pubic hair trends at the time. In this play an elderly man referred to as "the kinsman" has his pubic hair removed. In this particular text, the famous playwright Euripides convinced his father-in-law to remove his pubic hair in an elaborate scheme to dress up as a woman and spy on an angered mob of females at the celebration of Thesmophoria.
EURIPIDES: Get up so I can singe you; bend over and don’t move.
KINSMAN: Damn the luck, I’m going to be roast pig (delfakion)!
EURIPIDES: Somebody bring out a torch or a lamp. Slave brings out a lighted torch and hands it to Euripides. Bend over. Now watch the tip of your dick.
KINSMAN: I’ll watch out, all right — only I’m on fire! Oh no, no! (to the audience) Water! Water, neighbors, before somebody else’s arse catches fire!
EURIPIDES: Be brave!
KINSMAN. How am I supposed to be brave when I’m being turbo-vulcanized?
(Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae 236–243, trans. Jeffrey Henderson)
This is obviously intended to be comedic. Thesmophoria was not a nude event (unlike the Olympics) and Euripides did not need to go to this extreme remove the pubic hair. This does illustrate a possible cultural aspect of ancient Greece, that removal of pubic hair was a distinctly feminine habit. Conversely there are many statues of nude men without pubic hair. This may be due to the artists wishing to display the beauty of the human body to the fullest. Whatever the case, both sexes removed pubic hair, possibly a practice more common among women at the time (sound familiar?).
Unlike the Egyptians who figured out how to make razors and wax, the Greeks seemed to be confined to three methods when it came to pubic hair removal (all of which sound painful).
- Plucking of individual hairs.
- Singeing using hot ashes.
- Singeing using a burning oil lamp.
I mean c'mon guys... even the Romans figured out razors. This process was so tedious and painful that it was no wonder it made it into comedic plays.
Luckily the ancient Greeks were fans of making mundane tasks into art. Depilation was no exceptions. Hundreds of wine bowls, vases, and plates have been found depicting female depilation. Weird, I know. Historians tell us that the main trend for female pubic hair was partial removal. Perhaps a landing strip or something of that sort. Though, this could be disputed. There are sources that suggest that young women would start to depilate themselves as soon as pubic hairs began to grow. Both of these could be true, however, because of the diversity of Greece and it's city-states.
The Ancient Greeks were not too different from us modern humans. In fact they may be more like modern western society than many other ancient cultures.
Ancient Romans seemed to always try to differentiate themselves from the ancient Greeks. Ancient Romans preferred to be more clean shaven more than the ancient Greeks. Perhaps as a way to separate themselves from the ancient Greeks. Romans in general mocked the Greeks for their beards. There are many ancient texts that point fingers at older men with full beards that said in effect "Having a beard doesn't make you wise." Being clean-shaving became so important in ancient Rome that some ancient texts even speak of a coming-of-age religious shaving ritual. The young men would keep growing out their fuzz until they reached the landmark day where they become men. During their first shave, family and friends would watch. Afterwards the removed hairs would be put inside a box that is consecrated to a Roman god. Some young men would shave their first full beard and hang it on a communal tree of hair. In addition, some young men would rub olive oil, and other remedies on their faces in the hope and belief that this would encourage beard growth. Apparently from historical accounts Nero had his peach fuzz stored in a golden box. Although being clean shaven was the norm, some men would sport some facial hair but would keep it neat and trim.
Facial hair was more than differentiation in ancient Rome. Many of the cultures around Rome were proud of their flowing facial locks. In Rome, full facial hair became a sign of simplicity, and barbarism. This was great propaganda and could've been an important factor in helping the Romans believe in their supremacy.
The ancient Roman's, like the Egyptians, had an abundance of barbers who employed a variety of hair removal methods. And like Greece, hair removal made it's way into the Roman literature for us to read about. Seneca writes of 'armpit pluckers" at the public baths. Juvenal complained that "the barber who rasped away at my youthful beard has risen to challenge good society with his millions." It was not surprising given the state of Romes wealth that barbering was a lucrative field. Barbers would use iron razors, tweezers, depilatory creams and more to achieve hairlessness in their clients. Julius Caesar had his face plucked daily for example.
In 117 AD, emperor Hadrian wore quite a thick beard. Although by some accounts it was because he wanted to cover up some of his skin complexion. His beard must've helped change the trends because at the time we know that growing beards became an acceptable practice among the Romans.
As far as body hair removal the Roman's were much more enthusiastic than the Greeks, but maybe less than the Egyptians. Again, thanks to ancient literature we have an insight to this part of the ancient Romans life. In the poems of Ovid, known as the Art of Love (Pretty entertaining and worth a read), in books 3 and 4 we learn a little bit about this. In book 3 section 4 it reads:
How near I was to warning you, no rankness of the wild goat under your armpits, no legs bristling with harsh hair!
The Art of Love was essentially the equivalent of today self-help pickup artists book to help you get laid. As funny as that is, it actually gives us quite a bit of insight into what was acceptable and attractive at the time. Also, judging from the artwork at the time (funny enough, some of the most useful artwork originates from Pompeii) the general pattern in men and women was to be hairless. Though, at the same time Romans didn't have a problem showing pubic hair.To understand male hair removal we need to shift focus to the penis. You may have wondered why so many ancient statues-especially from the ancient Greeks and Romans have such small penises. Well the simple answer is that contrary to what you might think, small penises were considered beautiful, in other words the ladies dug little peckers. On a related note, many of the statues and artwork depict hair-free male genitals. At the time the prepubescent male was considered beautiful and possibly a sign of purity. This is one explanation for why manscaping was fairly popular, despite the ridicule in the literature at men with hairless scrotums. The ridicule was mostly poking fun at homosexuals. Apparently a trait of homosexuals was to have hairless genitals. Interestingly, it must've been at least somewhat acceptable to practice homosexuality in these cultures.
Both men and women would use iron razors. However, using a razor was less desirable because of common nicks and injuries. The next most popular method was probably plucking using tweezers. Depilatory creams and waxes were also likely used.
- Shaving using iron razors
- Plucking with tweezers
- Depilatory creams and pastes
These were probably not the only methods used but historians agree that they were the most common.
Archaeologists have discovered many tools used for grooming and hair removal from the time period. Razors of various forms, tweezers, scissors, and combs. These tools were made with everything from gold and silver, to bronze and iron.
It's clear the ancient Romans cared quite a bit about beauty. Hair removal was an important part of their culture and was practiced for many different reasons. The main reason was that they believed being hairless was more beautiful (As I do). So when in Rome, shave as Romans do.
The Middle East covers a lot of cultures and a lot of history. I will try and cover some of the prominent cultures and their history as it relates to hair removal. The presentation of the human body (or lack there of) is very important in most middle eastern cultures. Much of what I will be covering here will be about the Islamic cultures.
Many religions throughout history have given facial hair meaning. This is certainly true in Islam. Most historians trace the tradition of wearing a full beard back to Mohammed who was said to have worn a full beard without a mustache.
When it came to beards the Muslims were not the only ones who grew it all out. The Jews were fond of beards. The Jews believed that the freely grown beard symbolised the bridge between the mind and heart beacause it grows from the head and points to the heart. This is analogous with the connections of thoughts and actions, theory and practice, and so on.
For Muslims, especialy women, body hair removal was indeed practiced. In the Sahih al-Bukhari (a compilation made by Imam Muhammad al-Bukhari of the prophet Muhameds teachings) it states that all Muslims must pluck away hair from the navel, genitals and behind the anus. Armpits are also included in this hair removal verdict. In addition, most Islamic scholars agree that complete removal of body hair (from the neck to the feet) is required before beginning jihad (both lesser jihad-holy war against non-muslims, and greater jihad-a personal struggle of submission to allah). Because greater jihad is a constant way of living and removal of hair is required to engange in it, hair removal is a daily occurance. Of course there are many interpretations of this, and I'm sure there are also many ways followers put this teaching into action.
An interesting side note: In the story "The Arabian Nights", an inventor is honored by the Sultan himself for creating a depilatory potion. In the story, this potion became very popular among women.
Waxing, plucking and shaving were all common methods used to remove hair at the time.
In the diverse and large region we now know as India beards were also an important part of the culture. Written accounts from other nations along with sculptures and paintings give us a clue as to the bearding customs of the early Indians.
This statue of the Priest King Mohenjo-daro is one of the earliest examples of beards in Indian history.
India as we know it began in the Indus Valley and, and some eyewitness accountr from Alexander the Great's subjects from around 326 BC give us some insight into the beards of these people.
"They frequently comb, but seldom cut, the hair of their head. The beard of the chin they never cut at all, but they shave off the hair from the rest of the face, so that it looks polished - a fashion statement that existed well before the Amish and the Salafist Muslims claimed it as a signature style. The beards were dyed with a variety of colours."
There were (and are) many reasons for the Indian beards. Of course religous reasons were present but simple fashon trends at the time also dictated whether beards were worn or not. There were even times when beards were either not worn or worn as a form of mourning or even protest.
We can't leave out the iconic Indian mustache. Throughout history there may have been certain significance to the mustache. For example, some dieties were depicted wearing them. However, it could be argued that Also in certain regions only dignitaries wore them. The orgigin of this tradition is still debated. Many Indian's agree that they simply like wearing mustaches.
Hair removal was practiced in India. The pracices and traditions varied from region to region, and religion to religion. Hindu children of both sexes had their heads shaved when they reached the age of four as part of ritual. A child with a shaved head Hair was seen as an embellishment and when the childs hair was removed they were able to confront their bare ego. For adults heads were shaved for special ocations like rituals. Men only shaved their head when an elderly person died, and women only when they became widows.
Sikhs on the other hand were forbiden from cutting or shaving any body hair.
Buddhists have a head shaving ritual similar to the Hindus. In Buddhism newborns have their heads shaved in a ritual of purification. Head shaving is also part of the process of becoming a Buddist monk. The Buddha himself is said to have renounced his old life at a young age bu leaving the palace and cutting off his hair.
Interesting fact: In Turkey, it was considered a sin for a woman to let hair grow out in the pubic area. This belief was the main reason for the rooms in public baths known as "hamams" where women would go to remove hair from their bodies.
Some of the common methods for removing unwanted hair were:
- and sometimes waxing or sugaring
Asia is vast and home to many cultures, religions, and nations. For this reason, there are many different traditions in grooming.
One of the most ancient cultures in the world is China. There surviving primary source records that date back thousands of years. In ancient China, just like many other cultures, hygiene and grooming played important roles. In ancient China, however, much more importance was placed on facial and head hair than body hair.
If yo have seen Mulan then you have seen some examples of hairstyles worn in ancient China. These hairdos would signify things like marital status and social rank. Unmarried women would wear their hair down normally in relatively simple styles to show that they were single. Once a woman was married there wasn't a need to show off her locks anymore and she would proceed to wear her hair up. The hair styles of married women ranged from simple to elaborate, depending on the social class of the individual.
One version of the "married-life-bun" was typically made by parting the hair down the middle and putting it into braids. Then one would twist the braids together into figure eights on both sides of the head and then pinning them behind the ears. Depending on the occasion ribbons or colors could be added. These buns could become quite elaborate and decorated depending on how wealthy the women were. The pinned up hair of married women would serve as more than a fashion statement. It was practical not to have your hair falling in the food you were making and not getting in your eyes all the time.
Dancing was an important part of ancient China as well. especially among the royalty and upper class. The dancers would wear elaborate makeup and keep their hair firmly in place above their heads.
All of these hairstyles require very long hair. That is mostly in thanks to Confucius, who taught that hair is a gift from the parents and should be cherished. This was true of men and women. In fact, it even went so far as to condemn haircuts as being a disruption in family honor. For this reason, hair cuts were only given under certain strict circumstances like giving a lock of your hair to a promised lover, or when entering into a religious group. which in most cases would require shaving of the head.
When most people think of traditional Chinese hairstyles they most often think of the queue, shaved forehead with long hair in the back. This is probably because Hollywood, games, and cartoons most often show portray traditional Chinese "badasses" in this manner. However, this was not always the case. In fact, it only became prominent during the Qing Dynasty which was around 1644 to 1912, this was also China's last imperial dynasty. This dynasty was started by the Manchu people who originated from Manchuria in northeast China. In Manchuria it was traditional for men to shave their foreheads and wear their hair long in the back. When Qing Dynasty took over (The Qing emperor was from Manchuria), he issued the Que Order. This was a series of laws that forced men to shave their foreheads and braid the rest of their hair... on pain of death. In fact, the Qing even had a slogan on the matter:
"Keep your hair and lose your head, or keep your head and cut your hair"
This was intended to subjugate men to the new rule. Though maybe the emperor was self-conscious about his hippie hairstyle and being an all-powerful emperor, decided to force everyone to have the same haircut? Anything is possible. At the time throughout the rest of China, this hairstyle was considered humiliating which probably explains the general dislike of the new laws. In fact, revolts and uprising ignited throughout china because of the Queue Order. One of the more famous of these was the Taiping Rebellion. During this time period, it's possible that millions died over this issue. In the end, men began wearing the queue, but not out of honor like many believe, but out of fear.
For a more in-depth history of the Queue check this out.
Hair was also important in other areas of Asia. In Japan, the samurai would wear a topknot. This hairstyle would separate them from others. The samurai was a special social class in Japan and were the only people permitted to wield a sword other than nobility.
As far as body hair goes, it seems that for thousands of years there was no social obligation for women to shave their bodies at all. In fact, there was actually pressure to keep body hair. There are many possible reasons for this. For one superstition has always played a large role in Chinese culture, especially around the idea of luck. It was considered unlucky to alter the body in any way. This probably stems from Confucian teachings. This luck extended to modifying or removing body hair. This may also be why much older Chinese are still reluctant about tattoos. This attitude has persisted into the modern times. Many women who have lived in mainland china are surprised to discover that other women shave their body hair when they visit other countries.
Of course, hair removal was practiced throughout Chinese history (the Queue, for example). Razors and tweezers were used by people for the various reasons described above.
Removing body hair was not, and still isn't, a common practice in China. This generally true throughout Asia, though there are some exceptions. Body hair was mainly removed for medical purposes like lice or wound treatment.
The ancient Germanic tribes, or Anglo-Saxons, have captured the imagination of writers, artists, and poets for centuries. Much of their lives and culture is still shrouded in mystery, but as time progresses we are learning more and more about them and who they were. Perhaps most notably is the rising conclusion that these people were not as violent as is commonly believed. There is considerable evidence to suggest they paid quite a lot of attention to how they looked.
As with all nations, past and present, the Vikings did have wars. No matter how gentle you are, or peaceful, war turns people into tyrants. Unfortunately, these stories persisted through the ages and were built upon by historians who, at the time only had little to work with. Thus most of us probably grew up believing that the Vikings were bloodthirsty bad-asses, craving battle, raping women, wearing horned helmets, and probably never bathing. (Sadly in wars these activities are commonplace). However more and more evidence suggests a very different side of the Anglo-Saxons.
In fact, more and more evidence is revealing that the Anglos were, for the most part, a peaceful people who cared a lot about appearance and art. This is a stark contrast to what I was taught in school and even in popular films (A peaceful Viking doesn't make a good movie I guess). Throughout history, people from other nations have written about the Anglo-Saxons often mentioning their cleanliness and attention to appearance.
Louise Keampe Hendriksen, a curator in Roskilde at the Viking Ship Museum said:
“Several archaeological finds have revealed tweezers, combs, nail cleaners, ear cleaners and toothpicks from the Viking Age,"
These finds alone suggest that grooming was of high importance to the people at the time. In the medieval times a man named John of Wallingford from England described the Vikings as such:
”They had also conquered, or planned to conquer, all the country’s best cities and caused many hardships for the country’s original citizens, for they were – according to their country’s customs – in the habit of combing their hair every day, to bathe every Saturday, to change their clothes frequently and to draw attention to themselves by means of many such frivolous whims. In this way, they sieged the married women’s virtue and persuaded the daughters of even noble men to become their mistresses,”
Many historians believe that the Anglo-Saxons either invented soap or introduced it to Europe. At least soap in the way we know it today. Throughout history, cultures have made various forms of soap. Some of the earliest evidence found dates back to golden age of Babylon. Romans and Greeks used tallow and even treated Urine to wash clothes and themselves. Cleanliness it seems was important to all cultures.
Not everyone praised the Anglos for their cleanliness, however. By some accounts, the Islamic people were disgusted by the cleaning habits of the Anglos. Arabian explorer Ibn Fadlan wrote:
"Every day they must wash their faces and heads and this they do in the dirtiest and filthiest fashion possible: to wit, every morning a girl servant brings a great basin of water; she offers this to her master and he washes his hands and face and his hair -- he washes it and combs it out with a comb in the water; then he blows his nose and spits into the basin. When he has finished, the servant carries the basin to the next person, who does likewise. She carries the basin thus to all the household in turn, and each blows his nose, spits, and washes his face and hair in it."
Fadlan came from a society where one was expected to bathe in correspondence to the daily prayers which happened to occur five times a day. Also, the Islamic customs at the time dictated that (I'm paraphrasing here), a pious Islamic person should only bath under running water or water poured from a container so that the rinsed water would not touch the bather again.
As a defense to the Norse Fadlan was speaking of, it is likely that he was exaggerating out of disgust. It's also likely that the bowl was emptied after each use as some other texts and stories seem to hint at. However, even if the container was emptied Fadlan would likely still be grossed out because of the reuse of the container.
When it came to pubic hair specifically it is likely that the women would engage in some form of pubic hair epilation. In 101-44 BC Julius Ceasar wrote:
"The Britons shave every part of their body except their head and upper lip."
Much of the pubic hair traditions of the northern tribes are still unknown and could've varied widely from tribe to tribe. (I will update this section when I find new information.)
When it comes to beauty and cosmetics, hair wasn't the only thing these people were obsessed with. Hands and fingernails were also very important, especially during special occasions. In Ireland, for example, women would dye their nails crimson using berry juice. A similar method was used as blush to redden the cheeks.
The ancient Germanic tribes were very attuned to their hygiene and fashion. They bathed, washed and kept up their appearances often. Because hair grooming was such an important part of the culture, hair removal must've been if for no other reason than for maintenance. Many hair grooming and removal tools have been found in archeological sites that suggest hair removal typically for more than just maintenance of hair.
Africa has some of the most diverse cultures in the world. This is partially due to the size and geology of the continent. This diversity has sprouted many different cosmetic and grooming habits.
In Kenya the Masai tribe practices head shaving as part of the many stages and rituals of becoming a man.
- At the age of 14 a boy is circumcised and becomes a warrior.
- 10 years later he becomes a senior warrior. During this ceremony he sits on the same cowhide that he was circumsized on while his mother shaves his head.
- -two other ceremonies throughout life-
- The Masai man's final ceremony signifies the end of his journey into manhood as he becomes a junior elder in the tribe. During this ceremony he is givin a chair by an elder. He sits in this chair and has his head shaved by his wife.
In the Masai tribe warriors are the only people allowed to grow long hair. Even women shave their heads.
The Masai weren't alone in their attitude towards hair and grooming. Many other tribes placed a signifiant importance on hairstyles for various reason. Some of the most unique hair styles come from African tribal roots.
The significance of these hairstyles was both aesthetic and spiritual. They just enjoyed looking cool I guess. In addition to that hairstyle often was a visual separator of roles in a tribe. Many tribes also associated a spiritual signifiacance to their hair. Some tribes believed that communication passed through the hair and because the hair is the highest point of the body it was closer to the gods.
Some hairstyles were very complex and beautiful.
For these and other reasons hair is still an important part of Afro-culture.
Like so many other cultures around the world, the ancient Americans placed special importance on hair and lack it for various reasons. Ancient America was filled with thousands of different nations and tribes. I will cover a few interesting points from the north and south American nations here.
For many North American nations hair on the head had very important spiritual significance. Many believed that hair was a physical manifestation of our thoughts and thus hair was an extension of our inner selves. This belief coincided with their belief in mother earth. The hair on the head was likened to the grass on the earth and was treated accordingly. Again, this varied across nations and even individuals. Perhaps you remember that in ancient China men were ordered to shave the front of their heads as a means of oppression the new ruling class. In ancient America, there are many accounts of warriors cutting the hair and scalps off their enemies for similar reasons. Of course, there were nations where short or no hair was preferred. Different styles also signified different times in a tribe like war and peace, for example. Of course, hair styles also changed because people either liked or didn't like them. In most cultures, hair was so important that children were taught early on how to care for their hair and that grooming each other strengthened the family. The hairstyle was also a way to signify social and governmental status within nations and tribes. Chieftans would sometimes have elaborate hair and headdresses along with religious leaders. Archeological digs have found ornate combs made from various materials as well as headdresses and other types of hair decorations.
There is a misconception that Native Americans cannot grow facial hair. (Many of the stereotypes of Native Americans actually stem from a German author named Karl May who never actually set eyes on one). This is simply untrue. There are accounts of bearded 'Indians' and even some with mustaches. Like everything else facial hair was subject to trend and cultural customs. However, much like the Chinese, facial hair was the exception in early Native American nations. When there was a need to shave historians agree that stone or bone tools were most often used. Aside from that plucking appeared to be the preferred method.
As far as body hair went, historians tend to think that it was normally left untouched. The state of body hair varied greatly and still varies today across Native Americans. There seems to be an inverse bell curve from hairless to hairy. That includes the genitals. Hair growth patterns seem to be different than European people as well. Some Native Americans (and descendants of) might not grow hair on the legs at all but have a lot around the belly. When body hair was removed it was most likely done via plucking.
Middle Ages (Approximately 450 AD)
As the glory of Roman empire faded, so did the practice of hair removal. Perhaps it reflects the decline of society, whatever the reason we know that hygiene was not as important as it once was in many regions.
(the sasquatch is a depiction of how backwards and hairy the people of the middle ages became haha)
Among the religious, however, shaving facial hair was still quite prominent especially after the Catholic church split from the Eastern Orthodox. Church leaders encouraged shaving among its leaders to distinguish its followers from the Jews and Muslims. Hilariously it even became a law for clergy to shave. In 1096 AD Archbishop of Rouen declared that bearded men be excluded from the church.
Though the practice of genital hair removal among women was still fairly common. This was true, especially among royalty and prostitutes. In some castles, there are whole rooms that were once dedicated to hair removal for women (1100 - 1500 AD). It is thought that this was done for sexual and hygienic reasons-pubic lice for instance.
On the other end of the spectrum were the monks. When most people think of monks they seem to think of the strange hairdo that monks sported. Typically they would sport a chrome dome with hat hair. Today this would be seen as quite strange. At the time it was a religious ritual and they believed it brought them closer to God.
Unfortunately, hair removal during the middle ages was the exception rather than the rule. At least in the European cultures.
In England, shaving was still popular among women who were following the example of Queen Elizabeth I. The Queen popularized tweezing of eyebrows and the use of oils, vinegar and ammonia to remove hair from the forehead for an elongated effect.
Renaissance (Approximately 1300s)
This was a glorious period for mankind. It was a time of enlightenment. It was also a time of renewed hair removal. Much of the paintings at the time began depicting women with minimal or no body hair.
Tweezers, ointments, and shaving began to be more commonplace. In this author's view, making the world a more beautiful place to be in.
Although there were more records kept during this period than the middle ages there is still very little documentation of hygienic habits. For this reason, it's difficult to know how common the practice of hair removal really was. We do know that the health environment had not changed much from the middle ages. Lice and other skin parasites were still fairly common. This may have been motivation to remove body hair, especially in a society where people were beginning to live more enlightened lives.
The first folding straight razors were manufactured in England in 1680. By 1740, razors were being manufactured with decorated handles and blades from cast steel by benjamin Huntsman.
Straight razors were the most common method of shaving until the late 18th century (late 17oos) when the modern razor as we know it was born. Up until this period razors were primarily used by barbers and were considered a specialty tool. People just didn't shave themselves, particularly men.
Thankfully we had entered a period of invention. A French inventor named Jean-Jacques Perret imagined a world where men and women would be able to shave themselves in their own homes. After many ideas and tests, Perret created the world's very first safety razor. He used a wooden guard onto a standard straight razor.
Later, in the early 1800s, Perrets razor design was altered into the modern Sheffield straight razor. This razor featured a rotating guard which doubled as a handle (much like a Swiss army knife). A wire guard was added along the edge of the blade as well as a portion that caught lather from the face.
Twentieth Century (1900s)
By this time society had come a long way. As a culture, we had finally circled back to where we were more or less during the Greek and Roman eras. This is the era when progress entered the steep exponential slope that we are experiencing today. Hair removal was not exempt from this storm of progress.
At the time, razor blades had to be kept sharp through routine tune up and service. Normally the head of the razor had to be removed and the blade sharpened with a whet stone. This was quite time-consuming. This was also the reason many didn't shave themselves, and went to barber shops instead.
A man named King Gillette (He was not a real king, that was literally his name) changed shaving forever. Originally Gillette was a traveling salesman but he had an entrepreneurial streak which eventually changed his life. He found a problem and pain point and jumped on the opportunity like every good entrepreneur would. And yes this is the beginning of the modern company called Gillette. In 1904, King Gillette filed two patents on razor blades, razors, and different combinations of the two. Gillette was a true entrepreneur, on his patent application he wrote:
"I am able to produce and sell my blades so cheaply that the user may buy them in quantities and throw them away when dull without making the expense ... as great as that of keeping the prior blades sharp."
As an entrepreneur, Gillette was truly visionary. In today's, entrepreneurial pop culture we are always hearing about Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, and John Rockefeller. Often we don't hear much about other great entrepreneurs who set up shop in less sexy industries, like our friend King Gillette. He had envisioned the world where shaving was easy, simple, and inexpensive. He didn't just want to make a product he wanted to change the world and make a lot of money doing it. Which of course he did.
Because of his vision and business prowess, Gillette did much more than create a product. He actually created an entirely new way of creating and doing business. He decided to start with very low-cost products and then create higher priced products to up-sell once his brand gained credibility.
Some interesting side notes about his business:
- Gillette's 1904 patents prevented others from recreating Gillette-like razor handles and blades.
- Gillette sold the handles at a high price for the duration of the patents and sold the blades at low cost.
In this way, Gillette created affordable means for the average person to shave. The culture didn't fundamentally shift quickly until WWI. During WWI men were required to remain clean shaven so gas masks would fit perfectly. Gillette jumped on this opportunity and signed a contract with the US Army and supplied every soldier with a Gillette shaving kit. In this way, Gillette became a household brand. Found in nearly every home and bathroom.
Social norms were changing rapidly at the time too. Arguably from the top down, meaning that marketing and commercialism influenced culture. As companies like Gillette were changing the shaving culture for men, similar sources were affecting women as well.
During this period the definition and portrayal of the female body was shifting drastically. At the beginning of the period, the prevailing attitude toward women's bodies was conservative. This was probably due to the puritan influence of society at the time which was very shame based. However, the bright side of this coin was that character and skill were the primary focus of a woman's worth.
While there is quite a bit of debate among historians on what specific press campaigns effected this change and how. However, most everyone agrees that the media did directly influence this cultural change. This is unfortunately used by many feminists as evidence that shaving and makeup were imposed by a chauvinistic regime of businessmen.
Before we move on let's please remember that body hair removal is not a new thing. As I explained in previous sections about historical civilizations. Let's kill the stupid idea that body hair removal is a new modern trend. It simply isn't. I believe this argument happens when people believe these things are mutually exclusive. They most certainly are not. Marketing and women's desires effected the change in culture together (I further believe this argument is largely pointless, partially because it is normally ignited by someone who is trying to deal some insecurity or pain in their own life).
The truth is that makeup and beauty had been evolving with rest of the times. Initially, it was primarily a grassroots industry. While males certainly caught on and saw it as a business opportunity as well as a chance to make their lives more beautiful, without the women there would have been no real movement or market. They were looking for these solutions already, and the new companies created it.
So let's not stoop so low to make this a "men vs women" argument. So if we are all out of elementary school let's move on. The truth is, unlike many angry journalists ar your grandma will tell you, is that there were many influential women driving the industry forward. In fact, when it came to women's cosmetics, women were more successful than men.
However, it happened it is clear that hair removal was an integral piece of the shifting definition of ideal body image for females. This shift can be clearly seen looking through historical magazines, ads, and products. Particularly this change can be tracked along with changes in clothing styles. One notable change was the appearance of sleeveless dresses (When your armpits are displayed for everyone to see, the appearance of those armpits may become more concerning). Later during WWII importance of shaving legs was impressed upon women. We can see this trend clearly in the many photos of bombshell models of the time like Marilyn Monroe.
If would be a sin not to cover the much-quoted 1915 issue of the Harper's Bazaar magazine. This single ad is often touted as the single most influential thing in changing the culture. Of course, as we know these generalizations are nearly always inaccurate and often made to prove some sort of emotional opinion. It is true however that it did make an impact. This ad used phrases like "objectionable hair" and claimed that "You need not be embarrassed!". Whether or not this was a product or cause of the culture change is up for debate.
I will say this. I do not condone the use of shaming in any way. I believe these types of marketing campaigns did capitalize on social shaming to get sales. This shift in society is ironic in a way. We moved from shaming women into being conservative, to shaming them into being promiscuous. The only difference is that the reasons were different. The former was based on religion, the later on capitalism (Which is arguably just another religion).
Over the years more and more marketing like this showed up. This trend coincided with the upward trend in hair removal frequency among women. This was the beginning of the beauty and cosmetics industry as we know it today. This industry exploded and women in the 1920s had a huge variety of products related to hair removal. These products included various different types of razors, depilatory creams, and powders. Among these were many curved and round razors designed specifically for underarm use.
The pubic regions were not left out of this cultural change. As with leg, and armpit hair, a smooth vulva became socially desirable. Because of technology this trend quickly became widespread. This was due to many different factors including hair removal tools, and the ability of the media to reach people unlike anything ever seen before in history. In fact, it effectively eradicated pubic lice in developed countries.
The modern era is turbulent and full of exponential change. It's exciting and scary. Instead of culture trends being confined to localities many trends become global. Hair removal is no exception.
There are countless reasons for this change. Unfortunately, pop culture and pornography have played a huge role in defining the ideal body image for women in modern times.
One of the most interesting changes to me is the perception of the male body. Within the last 50 years, the ideal male body image has shifted from being hairy to smooth and hairless. I think this is a great change.
For these and other reasons, having a hairless body is the accepted image of beauty for both sexes. But this isn't as cut and dry as it seems. This age of progress has led to wonderful changes in social structures around human rights. These changes have made it acceptable for women to choose to remove hair or keep it.
This era has also created some new and wonderful hair removal methods like laser hair removal, and electrolysis. Hopefully, new, safer, and more effective methods will emerge.
Unfortunately, the beauty and cosmetic industries are still saturated with hacks, spammers, scammers, and bad science. Lot's of tabloid shit going around convincing every one of the latest "breakthrough". I hope this blog will be able to shine the light on the good and bad in the industry.
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