• Virginie Da Costa

A hair story

Summer is getting closer and closer and so is heat! I look at my legs and figure out I haven’t shaved them since winter started! That makes me wonder: when and why did hair removal for women became that spread and even essential?

One could easily think it’s a modern society thing, maybe one or two centuries old, and that since women are starting to wear clothes that don’t cover them enough anymore. Not really. I mean yes, but there’s more! The perception of hairiness has a long history, dating as far as Sumerian period (around IVth century b.c). There were back then many rituals of purity, in which hair removal belonged. Even men displayed completely shaved head, chest and chin, and pubic hair had to be automatically removed after each sexual intercourse. As for women, who were exiled during menstruation, had to remove theirs to purify themselves of the blood. Thus hair wore a negative significance and symbolized impurity. For millenaries, they have been systematically removed for cultural, social, religious or aesthetical reasons.

After the roman empire’s fall, however, it has changed. Hair is not seen as something dirty anymore, thanks to… Catholicism! Indeed, if God created hair on humans, it means hair is necessary! It was the end for waxing and other methods of removal, and bodies are showed unaltered. But when the Crusades started (1095 – 1434), a new cultural shock occurred. In the West, hairiness was still seen as natural. After having seen feminine bodies without hair in the East, ancient soldiers came back with new removal methods for their wives.

That is how the phenomenon restarted: again hair was seen as disgracious and was automatically removed. Shaved legs were first seen mostly through the higher classes, but progressively spread in other societal layers. The more the body was shown, the more it was shaved. That is how nowadays, it is not customary to see hairy legs under dress’s rustles.

What about the biological essence of hair? Is it healthy to remove it or are we exposing our bodies to a certain risk? It is first of all important to know that every hair possesses its own hair follicle. It is this particular follicle that secretes a sebum that permits to keep our skin naturally hydrated.

“We are not monkeys”. Right but, are you sure about that? Because we possess the exact same number of follicle than our ancestors (even before Homo Sapiens)! Our hair is just thinner and shorter. Furthermore, there is no gender gap with hair! Men and women possess the same quantity: around 5 million. Its main function is to protect the skin against UV rays but also against temperature change. When it’s hot outside, the hair keeps our sweat close to our body to cool it, and when it’s cold outside, it raises to capture a lukewarm layer of air and avoid warmth loss. That’s what we call goose bumps!

But that’s not all! It also protects our organism against foreign body intrusion, such as bacteria, insects or dust. Think about our eyelashes, or our nose hair, that’s exactly their function!

But then, if they are protecting and hydrating us, what’s the big issue about it? Ah, yes. Its smell! In our modern society, we tend to associate (wrongly) bad smell with the sweat of our hair. Sweat, however, is odourless. When our body releases components, which at first don’t smell, the bacteria present on our skin eat those components and then secrete odorous components. That is how it starts smelling.

So why do we go through an olfactory ordeal while travelling in public transports during a heat wave ? Simply because we are not biologically programmed to bear everbody’s odour. Indeed, you surely know that we are mammals, and that the release of corporal smell plays an intense role in our seduction process. Pheromones are secreted by our armpits in order to catch a potential sexual partner’s attention and our hair helps to spread them! Differences in diet and corporal hygiene also alters our smell. In other words, it is normal to not appreciate everybody’s scent.

So, in the end, what is our conclusion? Is hair positive or negative?

Nowadays, science helps us to understand many phenomena. Biologically speaking, your hair is very helpful in protecting you. Unfortunately, women* go through a big pressure about their hair, mostly because of modern aesthetical standards. In the end only one thing matters: the decision is yours. Let’s free ourselves of these standards that we only barely understand.

The choice is yours. And it will always be yours. Your body, your life, your business.

While you decide to shave them all or not at all, do not hesitate to wear your favourite indented bikini at the beach this summer !


Based in Lausanne, Switzerland 

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