I got my first brazilian today. And lest you think that’s too much information, I have a point to make with all of this. Humans are weird about hair. I know I’ve commented on this before, but as I lay on my back with knees to chin, anticipating the next strip of wax ripping off my bits and pieces, it came back to me like a mouse being torn off a glue trap.
We humans have a hair obsession.
One hour later, as if the agony over the brazilian wasn’t enough, I submitted myself to some further experimental torture. I allowed a woman to hold my eyelids shut for over an hour and let her charge me $75 to glue pieces of plastic to my eyelashes—you know, to make me ‘pretty’.
Here’s the BEFORE…
(excuse the nasty mugshot I took in the bathroom after wiping off my mascara)
Apparently women line up for this treatment once every three to six weeks, so they can avoid applying coal tar and guano—otherwise known as mascara—on their eyelashes.
Except you can’t rub them or touch them, and when they stick together it feels like you have a mad case of pussy pink eye. Probably wouldn’t do it again. Oh, but look at my giant batting glammies. That’s my way of saying sexy lashes to the rest of ya.
Here’s the AFTER…
(you make fun of my Photoshop skills and I’ll shank ya)
Update: About 1.5 weeks later, half of them have fallen out already, leaving me with patchy eyelashes. Like a cancer patient undergoing chemo, except I realize that it is brazenly insensitive for me to compare myself to people undergoing chemo. I’m an asshole, but it’s my credibility that really suffers.
So why would I sit there and have hair ripped out of my tender loins, only to apply it back onto my eyelids?—well not exactly from one to the other. But you get the point.
When did women—hell, when did people in general allow themselves to be thwarted by their own follicular preoccupation?
I’ll tell ya. I’ll tell ya more about hair and hairlessness than you would ever learn from your grandma or Gillette or even Glamour. More than you’ll ever care to know. And you know what? You’ll probably thank me for it. Because regardless of the fact that you’ve never pondered the fate of your follicles, or even cared to exercise your imagination by googling this hair removal issue, by golly you will after you read this. Or at least you’ll be able to start a fascinating conversation with that boring prick across the table who keeps trying to introduce you to the benefits of social media.
Consider it my gift to you.
A History of Hair and Its Subsequent Removal
Humans have always been covered with a fuzzy pelt. In fact, we’re covered in so much hair, the only parts of the body devoid of the stuff are the lips palms, and soles of our feet. And we seemed fine with it right up till Neanderthal man got the wise idea of pinching together clam shells to pry the hair out of his own face more than 32 000 years ago. Brilliant plan. Probably tried to knit them together to make a balaclava and give it to his wife for their second anniversary.
Women carried on this hairless tradition by using toxic creams made from arsenic, quicklime, and starch to dissolve their unsightly hair to the bone as far back as 3000 BC. Chemical burns were probably the height of fashion, don’t you know.
Pluck Like An Egyptian
Then as early as 330 BC, ancient Egyptians began shaving their body parts with sharp rocks. Doesn’t seem very wise, but it did quite a bit to control those pesky lice jumping from private to private. Egyptians had impeccable grooming and were often called out for it.
Eventually, the custom got so popular it caught on with the Romans and Greeks and spread all throughout Europe and India. They were squeaky clean head to toe, to the point where their enemies couldn’t couldn’t grab them by anything but their junk. Everyone else was just a barbarian (aka unbarbered).
Now that’s smooth.
It was fairly common to see ‘civilized’ folk looking like hairless rats, since they’d had daily dates with the town barber, who would either pluck or shave their heads and faces with sharp objects EVERY DAY. Ouch, don’t pretend you aren’t picturing a sharp blade tickling your nethers at this very moment.
Mid Century Freaks
Soon enough people started seeing the advantages of making shaving blades out of metal rather than stone. They even got fancy, embossing them with carved handles, and bankrupting small villages by making them out of gold and copper. You can go to museums and see this shit. Not that I’d give you permission to be boring. It’s one thing for me to spend hours researching hair removal, and a completely pathetic thing if you have to go ahead and challenge my research. Don’t be a jerk.
Anyway, Western European women went completely nuts as far as hair removal. From around the late 5th century right up till the 13th century women got some perverse pleasure from plucking out all of their eyebrow hairs, as well as their eyelashes, hair around their temples, and their necklines. Those hideous portraits of British royals; they weren’t poorly painted, they were bang on. Elizabeth I brought the bald faced beauty trend back in the 16th century, the old fashionless battle axe. Today we’d call this perverse pastime trichotillomania, but at the time it was all the rage.
The Odd 18th Century
These strange rituals continued. Women in the 1700s continue to shave their heads to make wearing those stuffed-poodle wigs fit snugly. Women also felt sexier when they wrapped their heads in bandages to get rid of the that low hairline. They would have to steep the bandage in vinegar and cat shit first. Of course it complimented the corsets that cinched their waists to be the circumference of ballpark hotdogs. And women continued using creams and lotions to ‘kill’ their hair even when they contained lead or mercury.
It wasn’t easy being beautiful, guys.
Early 20th Century Habits
Now there’s a whole lot of history about the refining of the razor and how men used it throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, but women’s shaving habits seem to plum disappear from the history books. The best guess is that before the 19th century, women who immigrated to Canada and the United States were from European descent (women who at the time had little interest in keeping the fur off their legs and armpits).
Now since North America was the ‘new world’ and women were likely more preoccupied with creating suitable living conditions out of the barren young wilderness than keeping up appearances, they didn’t have time to waste on shaving. It just wasn’t done. This is personal speculation by the way. I dare you to figure out anything different.
Shorn in the Twenties
Then in roars the 1920s. Throw the world’s first war in there, women start asserting their independence in munitions factories and bathing suits. The dresses get shorter, the body itself becomes a fashion icon sporting skin toned nylons, and before you know it, armpit hair—and later leg hair—had nowhere to hide. Cut to the chase where a famous women’s magazine gets a certain grand idea for a marketing campaign. And this is how it unravels, yo.
If you want facts, a brave woman made hair removal in the 20th century her thesis (PDF). There are people out there as obsessed with minutia as I am. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.
Five years before, In 1915, Harper’s Bazaar first placed this daring ad warning women to beware their body hair. You see, for many women, body hair wasn’t given any special attention or innate value. It was just—there. Then suddenly high fashion magazines declare that body hair is now an objectionable problem that causes female odour, and what’s worse, it is unfashionable! Women everywhere freaked the hell out!
“The Woman of Fashion says the underarm must be as smooth as the face.” —Harper’s Bazaar
This brilliantly evil campaign preyed upon women’s newly self-conscious views of their bodies as fashion objects that needed perfecting and paved the way for a revolution in North American hairlessness. It’s so damn hard to get stats, but there are very few countries in the world that have not, in fact, taken these campaigns to heart and made hair removal mainstream these days. Even many countries traditionally associated with the ‘natural look’ such as France.
It’s so mainstream that if you don’t shave your under arms and legs, you’re either jeered for being a feminist or people think you’re making a statement. Weird, huh? Maybe you’ll think differently yourself. Or not.
In less than five years, targeted ads created a phenomena that has even affected people who consider themselves impervious to mass media. Smart sons of bitches like me, too.
So why do I do it? I like smooth. That basically sums it up. I try to threaten my husband that I’ll stop shaving all the time, but it doesn’t really phase him and I usually end up giving in before it grosses him out enough to divorce me.
So there you have it. People (women specifically) shave, tear, rip, and pluck our hair out right now because of some eloquent marketing campaign from the twenties that shifted a tumultuous past with hair into a bald future. Men did it because they had to be first at everything. Even hair balaclavas in prehistoric times.
Eat your heart out, research scientists and librarians. I’m getting pretty good at this research shit.
WARNING: Tasteful nude of a complete stranger ahead.
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