Why women want to wax

Last updated 10:01 24/09/2010
BIKINI LINE: The rise of revealing swimwear parallels the rise in popularity of the Brazilian.
Fairfax
BIKINI LINE: The rise of revealing swimwear parallels the rise in popularity of the Brazilian.

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Historians are unable to pinpoint the first group of women to remove body hair, says Victoria Sherrow, author of Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History.

Women in ancient Egypt used beeswax and depilatories made from an alkali, like quicklime, to remove leg hair, she said.

Ancient Romans and Greeks used pumice to remove body hair.

"Some cultures regarded it as uncivilised, since body hair appears on animal bodies," said Sherrow.

"The idea of a hairless body for American women developed between 1915 and 1945."

Many attribute the kickoff in 1915 to Gillette's Milady Decollete, "the first razor designed and marketed specifically for women, and was billed in the extensive national advertising campaign as the 'safest and most sanitary method of acquiring a smooth underarm'," according to author Russell Adams in King C Gillette: The Man and His Wonderful Shaving Device.

The movement also took hold as sleeveless dresses and sheerer fabrics became fashionable and hemlines rose.

Safety razors were also produced en masse.

"As the middle class grew, women's lives increasingly became defined by spending power and habits," wrote Jennifer Scanlon, professor of gender and women's studies at Maine's Bowdoin College, in her book Inarticulate Longings: The Ladies' Home Journal, Gender, and the Promises of Consumer Culture.

It was the perfect storm for advertisers as magazines like Ladies' Home Journal and Harper's Bazaar flooded homes, not only informing, but shaping women's concepts of beauty.

"You see this kind of transformation of the female body - that women are increasingly to be looked at," Scanlon said of advertisements at the time.

"There's sort of the promise that more and more women can gain access to beauty if they engage in these practices (like) shaving their armpits."

While engaging in such practices was synonymous with femininity, during the 1970s and 1980s, not engaging in them became the "litmus test of feminism", Scanlon said.

But since that time, bikini-line hair removal and waxing the whole genital area gained more steam as bikinis became teenie weenie.

Brazilian bikini waxes are "the most popular service" at Chicago's Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa and are "much more popular now than ... four or five years ago", according to Red Door esthetician Mirela Munteanu.

Customers still say "it's a nice feeling that their skin is soft. I believe they feel more feminine".

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European women, on the other hand, tend to leave armpits as nature intended.

British fashion writer Suzannah Frankel says it's the stuff of legend that European women, the chic, beach-loving French in particular, are less likely to remove underarm hair than their British counterparts, who are, also famously, considered not to be as comfortable in their own skin.

"Given that France is a country where beauticians will wax eyebrows, top lip, chin, nostrils (yes, nostrils) in the blink of an eye, this is not just an oversight.

"Instead, while hair on legs and, indeed, pretty much anywhere apart from the head might be considered unsightly, armpits are left just as nature intended," Frankel wrote in The Independent.

- AAP

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