A brief history of shaving

Stella Hadamer

More stories from Stella Hadamer


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The younger generation is experiencing an interesting twist in beauty norms as quarantine throws a wrench in a decades long practice in feminine culture: shaving.

Within the last half year or so, lockdown has become a constant in our lives, and with it came a multitude of new experiences, one of which pertains mainly to the female demographic. The question has arisen: “to shave or not to shave” to which many have answered with “not.” Thus “winter legs” have become a year round reality for many female WJ students. And while, if we weren’t in quarantine, this may be seen as a negative, many WJ students have found the experience oddly liberating.

“I don’t shave anyway. I don’t get a lot of hair but I have a friend who has stopped shaving because of quarantine. She said that she just doesn’t care anymore,” sophomore Shiima Nantulya said.

In the past few decades shaving has become an expectation of women, and as more and more girls were brought up with the idea that shaving was mandatory, it became just that.

“I often receive comments from my own family to do it [shave], so that I look clean and beautiful,” junior Camille Lorillou said.

As a society we have come to simply accept this as a fact of life, but many a woman has asked herself at some point, however fleeting the thought, why? Why do I shave?

To explain why shaving is such a big part of society’s cultural norms we have to go back to the beginning in 1915. It all started, as many things do, in a boardroom full of men. The Gillette razor company had hit a rut. Men were shaving their beards but that just wasn’t enough. So they thought about how they could extend their customer base. They were stumped until someone pointed out that half the population was full of untapped hairy potential: women. Thus the “Milady Decollete Gillette” was introduced, advertised as “A beautiful addition to milady’s toilet table-and one that solves an embarrassing personal problem.” Suddenly ads started popping up in magazines, appealing to women that if they wanted to be seen as elegant and upper class they must shave their underarms. At the time it was of the utmost importance that a girl find a husband, and how could she possibly do that with hairy underarms?

“I’m not surprised that men created this for women since men also created so many other ways to make women insecure. It is kind of crazy how it is a normal part of most women’s lives simply because a company decided that women should be a certain way,” junior Kalkidan Jemere said.

But they didn’t stop there. As the showing of skin became more common, razor companies realized that they could go even further with their money-making scheme. So legs came next. By the 1950s shaving was a daily norm. As the 80s came around, however, shaving became all about the sex appeal. Even today women shave their legs if they have a date, but if they’re still single during the winter they let it all grow out. Of course, nowadays, the message of body positivity and the right to options has started to grow in popularity. The idea that women, and men, should take care of their bodies however they want has come to the forefront.

“This norm is not something we can change easily, but I hope women do whatever they feel comfortable with. If you want to shave you should do it, but not because anyone else tells you to. And if you don’t want to shave, you should be able to stick with that decision without feeling like people are going to judge you for it,” Jemere said.

Although it may be a while before this makes a substantial difference in the total population of shavers, it’s already making a difference with today’s youth.

“You should never feel the need to shave. It is time that we, as a society, change our mindset so that women can feel confident in their body and not be ashamed of something as natural as body hair,” Lorillou said.