The Bizarre History Of Body Hair

If you thought going fully bare down there is a modern trend, think again. Turns out, women have been putting themselves through the painful routines of body grooming for a very long time — though past methods were obviously much less high-tech than the lasers we have today. According to the Encyclopedia of Hair, copper razors from 3,000 BC were found in Egypt and Mesopotamia, while paintings from the 1500s would occasionally show women with little or no pubic hair, says Debby Herbenick, author of Read My Lips. Meanwhile, Egyptian art showcased women with perfect little triangles.

In ancient Greece, having pubic hair was considered "uncivilized." Yep, we've all seen those seemingly hairless Greek statues — and some women, in an effort to mimic that aesthetic, would pluck or singe off all their pubic hair. Archeologists believe Samoans would scrape their skin with sharp seashells to get rid of underarm hair, and “sugaring,” a practice originating in the Middle East, called for cooked sugar and lemon to remove body hair — perhaps the first wax, ever. 

But, grooming trends have changed far more in the past century than ever before. Thanks to modern technology, our celebrity obsession, the tendency to overshare, and let’s face it, porn, what people do to their body hair has become the focus of many a trend piece — and the styles are always changing. One day, Sex and the City is telling you that Brazilians are all the rage, and the next, The New York Times is saying au naturel is in. So, what’s the deal?

We chatted with Spruce & Bond wax and laser specialist Ildi Gulas, and she walked us through some of the major body-waxing trends of the last century — and what may have inspired them. 
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Photo: Courtesy of Harper’s Bazaar.
1900s-1920s
Gillette introduces the first safety razor for men in 1904, and in 1915, the first women’s razor from the brand hits the market. (It was called Milady Décolleté). This was the start of what author Christine Hope called “The First Great Anti-Underarm-Hair Campaign,” in which ads told women to clean up their “objectionable hair.” At the same time, sleeveless dresses were just beginning to be deemed acceptable, so completely bare underarms were a new "necessity," as emphasized in this Harper's Bazaar ad from 1915.
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Photo: ANL/REX Shutterstock.
1940s
Two major things happened during this decade: First, World War II caused a massive nylon shortage, which in turn caused advertisers to focus on getting women to shave not just their armpits, but their legs, too.
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Photo: UIG/REX Shutterstock.
Second, the bikini was introduced to the U.S. in 1946, as Sarah Hildebrandt writes in The EmBodyment of American Culture. And, as the bikini line rose higher and higher, more and more women began putting effort into grooming their nether regions. “As this history illustrated, the more clothes women were 'allowed' (or expected) to remove, the more hair they were also expected to remove,” Hildebrandt writes. Women either tweezed or shaved their pubic hair outside the panty line (now known as the bikini line).
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Photo: Everett/REX Shutterstock.
1960s
The mod movement (and all those miniskirts!) meant that women were expected to have hairless limbs — and thanks to the introduction of waxing strips, getting rid of unwanted fuzz was easier than ever. But soon, things would get decidedly less high-maintenance...
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Photo: Everett/REX Shutterstock.
1970s
When the hippie movement hit the mainstream (although Nair entered the market in 1972), it ushered in an all-natural look, as Deep Throat showcased. This brief dip in grooming was soon to be over (although the expression "'70s bush" lives on). In 1974, the first “pink shot” of a bare vagina appeared in Hustler, and porn stars started shaving it all off soon after.
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Photo: REX Shutterstock.
1980s
One word: Brazilians. In 1987, seven sisters from Brazil opened a salon in New York City called J. Sisters (yes, all their names began with the letter J), which popularized the Brazilian wax in the States. "In Brazil, waxing is part of our culture because bikinis are so small," says the salon's website. "We thought it was an important service to add because personal care is no longer a luxury, it's a necessity."
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Photo: Moviestore/REX Shutterstock.
1980s
The bodybuilding craze of the '80s meant that men were also getting into body grooming. One memorable quote from Arnold Schwarzenegger when he decided to run for governor? "It's the most difficult [decision] I've made in my entire life, except the one I made in 1978 when I decided to get a bikini wax." Thanks to Schwarzenegger and Mr. Olympia competitions, this trend continues into today.
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Photo: Matt Baron/BEImages.
1990s
Though it started in the '80s in the States, a completely bare look didn’t really proliferate until the '90s. "In the 1980s and 1990s, a landing strip was common," Herbenick says. “Before it was popularized, the bare look was being seen more often in strip clubs and in porn films, though this is less often talked about."

Then, celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Naomi Campbell started talking about their waxing regimens. The first mention of a Brazilian wax in The New York Times appeared in 1998, and a Salon article in 1999 noted the proliferation of celebrity photos on the J. Sisters' salon walls (Gwyneth wrote, "You've changed my life!") Meanwhile, men started grooming a bit more — mostly their chests and backs, but some sensitive parts, too — and it was dubbed the “metrosexual” movement.
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Photo: HBO/Everett/REX Shutterstock.
2000s
Brazilians reach the pinnacle of cultural influence with a mention on Sex and the City. “It was definitely that episode that made it a major boom,” Spruce & Bond's Gulas says. “We’re starting to see now that people are going straight to laser, not even going through waxing; just lasering it all off.”
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Photo: Jim Smeal/BEImages.
2010s
Brazilian bikini waxes got so popular that researchers began to predict that pubic lice would become extinct. But, as it happens with pretty much everything, there was soon a backlash. In recent years, many started shifting back to the full bush — or, at least, bush in the front, Brazilian in the back. Original Brazilian proponent Gwyneth Paltrow started talking about the beauty of going au naturel, alongside celeb BFF Cameron Diaz. In The Body Book, Diaz published an entire section titled "In Praise of Pubes," referring to them as a "lovely curtain of pubic hair." It's even popped up on American Apparel mannequins.
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