Sunday, February 15, 2015

Hair removal discussed

Depilation: Hair-erasing | The Economist

Gee, it's a short review of a book about the history of hair removal, but there is a fair bit in there that I didn't realise before.  For example:
There is no finer example of this than the reaction of the
bearded Europeans to the smooth skin of the male and female native
Americans they saw when they arrived on their shores. George Catlin’s
portrait of the eldest son of Black Hawk in 1832 (right) reveals the
preoccupation that many colonists had with hairlessness. Hair was
political, too, and formed part of a debate about Indian racial
characteristics and whether natives were capable of being civilised.
William Robertson, a Scottish historian, said hairlessness provided
evidence of a “feebleness of constitution”.

Attitudes shifted after Charles Darwin published “The
Descent of Man” in 1871 and perspectives on the relationship between
humans and other animals changed. Although American theologians ignored
or rejected Darwin’s ideas, the notion of a connection between man and
ape had a great cultural impact on how hairiness was viewed. Freak shows
and circuses displayed “dog-faced men” and “bearded ladies”, and
unusual hair growth was even tied to various pathologies. By the start
of the 20th century, plentiful hair had been linked to signs of sexual,
mental and criminal deviance.
Hadn't heard this before, either:
Aversion to body hair spread rapidly, fuelled by the racially tinged
hygiene movement and less restrictive dress codes. Advertisements for
hair-removal products sprouted everywhere, and by the start of the
second world war body hair had become disgusting to middle-class
American women. The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1938 was partly
provoked by a rash of injuries from depilatory creams. One of the most
popular creams contained thallium. Women were maimed by muscular
atrophy, blindness or limb damage after using it; some even died.

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