Depilatory Practices and the Dichotomization of Sexes in Twentieth-Century America
Keywords:Body hair, Femininity , Depilation, Queerness, Twentieth Century, America, Ancient Rome
Depilatory practices (hair removal) have become commonplace for many in the United States, especially women. Although depilatory practices are now entrenched in American culture, their social enforcement has a surprisingly recent history. I review U.S. advertisements from the period 1915-1945 and situate the rise in popularity of hair removal in its historical context: the increased popularity of more revealing women’s clothing, changing conceptions of modesty, and stocking shortages. I then jump back further in history, and examine ancient Roman depilatory practices to further denaturalize and historicize hair removal. Finally, I reflect on how this history has shaped the present, through an empirical review of modern body hair perceptions. I assert that hair removal in America was originally, and remains, a tool for dichotomizing sexes amid fears about changing gender roles. Deviations from expected depilatory practices have become a social marker of queerness. These beliefs surrounding hair removal have created a unique and undue pressure for conformity in American women and men.
Copyright (c) 2023 Kaetlin Marsh
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