Leg Beards and Hairy Pits

So, last night as I’m about to step around Jake into my bathtub, I glanced down. Holy Cow, the hair on my legs was long enough to plait!

Okay, I’m exaggerating, but it got me thinking about when women first started shaving their legs. And their pits. And their nether regions (I could’ve used the word pubes, but I like nether regions better). I also thought about the first time I saw a woman with full-on leg beards and hairy pits. It was in Laguna Beach—natch—and yes, she was a hippie.

I wasn’t that long off the boat from Africa and was totally fascinated. I was never inspired to try it myself, it just doesn’t appeal to me. But I’m not fond of shaving; it has ruined the skin on my legs. That’s because we had to use bits of tin to shave with in the wilds of Africa. Yes. I’m exaggerating again. Anyway, here’s the scoop.

originally posted by Mental Floss on August 13, 2009

Earlier this week, Ethan Trex taught us about the history of shaving. Several readers left comments inquiring about when women started shaving their legs and underarms, so we cracked open the mental_floss book In the Beginning: The Origins of Everything. Here’s what we learned:

American women had no need to shave their underarms before about 1915 – after all, who ever saw them? Even the word “underarm” was considered scandalous, what with it being so near certain other interesting body parts. Then came the sleeveless dress. An ad in the fashion mag Harper’s Bazaar decreed that to wear it (and certainly to wear it while participating in “Modern Dancing”), women would need to first see to “the removal of objectionable hair.” They didn’t need much convincing, and by the early ’20s, hairy underarms were so last decade, at least in America.

The ’20s fashion was risqué on the bottom half, too, but most women of the era didn’t seem to feel the need to shave their legs, and when hemlines dropped again in the ’30s, the point became moot. The ’40s, however, brought even shorter skirts, sheerer stockings, and the rise of leggy pin-ups such as Betty Grable. “The removal of objectionable hair” suddenly applied to a lot more surface area.

Naughty Bits
Was it porn actresses who started this one? GIs concerned about disease? The Brazilians? Nah. For hundreds of years, the bikini wax has been a common practice among a group more often associated with extreme modesty: Muslim women. In much of the Middle East and North Africa, brides-to-be remove all their body hair before the wedding night. Yes, all of it. Frequently, they stick with the aesthetic after marriage – and some men do likewise.

You can pick up a copy of ‘In the Beginning’ in the mental_floss store.


8 thoughts on “Leg Beards and Hairy Pits

  1. I clicked through from UBC because of the hairy pits and the dog pic, well I thought you were shaving your dog…
    The second thought was that’s a Staffie isn’t it? So Ok, I need more coffee this morning, or maybe my head testing!
    Thanks for the morning chuckle. Like women the world over I often think, “Why do I put myself through this?” Now I know, you learn something new every day!

  2. I remember hearing that leg shaving started because prostitutes wanted to prove they didn’t have crabs. Their clients liked it and asked their girlfriends and wives at home to do the same. I have no idea if that story has any resemblance to truth, but it felt true when I heard it.

  3. My first experience of really hairy armpits was that Belarus woman who was celebrating her win! my eyes were out on stalks & jaw dropping amazement at the mass of hair! Thanks ofr the giggle, just saw hundreds of little plaits all over your legs! 🙂

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