I don’t claim to be an expert historian by any means. In fact, I hated history at school. Or, at the very least, I disliked it. But it was the question that arose in my mind; ‘When was the first armpit shaving ever to occur?’ and, even more interesting to me ‘why?’ that led me on a chase to find out exactly why we shave, or at least, what was the point of it.
Here’s what I found out…
So when I first thought about researching women’s hair and shaving histories, I figured that we probably started shaving not too long ago. I thought about how we had a hair revolution in the 1960’s, and figured that being hairless must’ve come in somewhere a bit before that.
I imagined that it came in as a fad via marketing campaigns to sell us these sharp things on sticks that we didn’t really need, but would feel ashamed of ourselves if we didn’t use them.
Cavemen and the Bronze ages
Turns out that it was wayyyy back that this phenomenon of unhairyness started. About 4,000 years ago to be exact. Apparently during the bronze ages both women and young men were said to reduce their hairyness and also to style their head hair. Getting rid of hair for cavemen could also have been for health reasons- if there’s no hair, there’s no lice.
In Iceland men would have to shave their beard off with a sharp stone or a shell or something. This was because their beards would freeze and then break off. I know what you’re thinking- funny. But apparently it would be quite painful. But I don’t care about beards. Because they are nothing to do with my burning question. (Although I do like the fact that the Clonycavan Man had a thin beard and gelled hair into a Mohican! What a dude!)
Anyway, women were said to remove body hair in Denmark around this time. Once married, a woman would shave her legs, and give her husband her skirt to wear as a cloak. Which could be one clue as to why we like the idea of shaved skin nowadays. Perhaps.
The Egyptians (3,000 BC) shaved. They even had their own form of wax. They wanted to get rid of most hair, even head hair, especially the women in high status positions (we don’t really know about the others).
And the Greeks were the same. All of their statues were short of hair. And these were meant to portray beauty. But then, I’m thinking it would take a lot of effort to chip in some extra leg hairs, wouldn’t it? – I don’t know, I’m not a statue maker, but still.
In ancient Rome women would also remove hair, to show their upper class status’.
Why did we ever begin shaving then? …
The answer is that the armpit’s history is a bit murkier and more confusing than I first thought. It’s patchy at best (please excuse the pun).
The only possible explanation so far I have picked up is that shaving was a signification of status. Although, there isn’t too much evidence of whether ‘ordinary’ women would shave, or not shave.
I would love to know if the average poor Victorian woman shaved. But apparently this wasn’t the most important thing for historians to document. Crazy.
So, why do we shave now?
More recently, we can see that in the 20’s you were seen to be more beautiful, hygienic, when hairless. It also simply worked better with the clothes of the time.
Television and swimming trunks
The first record of this being the case was in 1915, when a guy called Mack Sennett made a film called The Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties.
The women in this film were hairless beauties, and he might well have said that this was a good thing, and that hair wasn’t a nice thing to have. Though, there isn’t explicit proof of this.
Following the release of this film, we also saw some adverts about hair removal appear, for women to be able to dance, without that ‘objectionable hair’.
Maybe I wasn’t too far off, after all, with thinking that it was just a marketing fad. But considering how long people have been shaving, maybe its roots (again, I’m sorry!) are more deeply etched into our consciousness and culture than I had ever considered. Perhaps there are deeper reasons connected to human psychology, or, at the very least, class culture and status than I’d originally bargained for.
So, I have answered the questions I set out to for this, being, why do we shave now, where did it come from, and, as best as I possibly could; when was the first woman ever to shave, ever? …
Well, I tried. I guess that’s a hard one to answer. Because they didn’t have VHS, or iphone 5’s back then to record it.
If only they had, they could have had caveman youtube. It would’ve been called ‘stonecube’. And there would have been videos of baby velociraptor’s and t-rex’s… and the video: ‘first woman to ever shave, ever!!! You will not believe this! Horribly disgusting pits!’
Damn. If only.
Know anything more about the history of the first shave? Tell me! Any other hairy incidents, histories or stories, do share them with me! I’d love to know! 🙂