In a move that will make many shriek of political
correctness gone mad, there have been accusations that the relatively modern
trend for shaving one’s genitals is yet another sign of Western appropriation
of other cultures.
Now, it is true that many non-Western countries have a long tradition of shaving not only their pubic regions but all their body hair: the ancient Egyptians, for example, removed all their hair, including that on their heads sometimes, plucking it out with tweezers made from shell, rubbing it off with pumice stones and the like, and using a mix of honey and beeswax to make waxes. Turkish peoples invented the earliest known form of depilatory cream, and many Asian and Middle Eastern peoples practised hair removal in some form. Muslim teachings say that the body must be stripped of all excess body hair every forty days or so, to ensure cleanliness, although this is not strictly enforced these days. Native Americans and Central and Southern Americans were believed to simply not grow very much body hair to begin with, but this was later found to be untrue: many of these people removed body hair as it grew in, believing it to be unclean or uncouth.
However, Western civilisation is said to have begun with the ancient Greeks, and then continued under the Roman Empire. Both of these peoples removed their body hair, in various ways and to varying degrees. Rich Romans even had slaves whose job was to pluck their mistress’ or master’s body hair – including the pubes.
But pubic and body hair removal goes in cycles: in some decades and centuries it is bare all the way, in others a fine bush is a source of pride. Queen Elizabeth I was known to remove her facial hair, including her eyebrows – in order to make the forehead seem taller, but whatever grew under her clothing was left strictly alone.
Later generations were all for removal, and still later ones permitted full growths of pubic hair. It was in the 1870s that the first razor was marketed specifically to women, with the first razor designed for women coming along in the 1900s. It was sometime shortly after 1907 that the first advert told women that being hairy was appalling, when it claimed to help women ‘save yourself from the humiliation of body hair’. Shaving, waxing and depilating was in full swing until the 1960s and 1970s when a massive bush and underarm hair were seen as signs of liberation and revolution.
It is probably the visibility of pubes that led to the next swing towards removal – the advent of porn on video and the internet, and the ready availability of print magazines featuring fully or nearly nude bodies.
However, in just a few years, the swing the other way has begun again, with body hair shaming now frowned upon, with people being encouraged to let it all grow out to their heart’s content.In short, body hair – specifically pubic hair – removal is not cultural appropriation. Rather, it is something that should bring us all together as being something practised by almost all cultures at one time or another.