From the Romans to Sex and the City: how body hair went out of fashion in the UK | Roman Britain

Ever since Roman texts warned ladies in opposition to showing “bristly like a goat”, physique hair removing tendencies have come and gone, however historians say Britons now have much less physique hair than ever earlier than in human historical past.

The UK retail trade for shaving and hair removing merchandise was value £574.1m in 2022, and with the appearance of laser hair removing, there exists the choice to take away physique hair completely.

For the reason that Nineteen Nineties, folks have eliminated “an increasing number of physique hair”, stated Karin Lesnik-Oberstein, a researcher on the College of Studying, with laser strategies changing into more and more prevalent.

The curiosity in physique hair removing extends deep into the previous. This week, a brand new museum exhibition opened at Wroxeter Roman Metropolis in Shropshire, which seems at how hair removing was an essential ritual earlier than communal bathing for women and men.

Displays embody a few of the 50 tweezers discovered within the web site’s bathing complicated, the place folks paid for hair removing earlier than exercising or bathing, and to differentiate themselves from the “barbarian” bushy Britons.

Wroxeter’s curator, Cameron Moffett, stated Roman texts embody recipes for home made depilatory lotions, or reference grinding hairs away with pumice stones. She added that these habits disappeared within the UK because the baths fell into disrepair and folks started protecting their our bodies.

However though there’s proof of hairlessness 2,000 years in the past, it was accomplished for very completely different causes. “The Romans didn’t take away physique hair to look lovely, they did it for cultural and non secular causes – males eliminated it as an indication of purity,” stated Viren Swami, a professor of social psychology and an professional in physique picture at Anglia Ruskin College.

The site of a bath house at Roman City Wroxeter.
The location of a shower home at Wroxeter Roman Metropolis. {Photograph}: Powered by Gentle/Alan Spencer/Alamy

Swami stated cultural understandings of physique hair diversified extensively over historical past – whereas most individuals would have been too poor to afford costly instruments like tweezers, there was curiosity amongst wealthier folks. For instance, aristocrats within the 14th century eliminated facial hair to make their faces seem extra oval, thought-about an indication of standing.

“Throughout historical past we discover examples of [hair removal] in most completely different cultures, however whether or not it was widespread is tougher to reply,” he stated. “The proof base suggests traditionally it was comparatively rare and related to spiritual values and standing fairly than beautification, however an enormous shift occurred in colonisation, when Europe introduced alongside the concept to be bushy was barbaric, and hairlessness was an indication of improvement and enchancment.”

He added that physique hair removing went mainstream within the late nineteenth century within the UK. “Within the early twentieth century, as clothes grew to become extra liberal and confirmed legs extra typically, we noticed the advertising and marketing of razors telling ladies in the event that they had been bushy they might not be perceived as female. Adverts warned ladies they wouldn’t discover a husband.”

“Cultural strain” to look female reached its apex within the Fifties, when youthfulness grew to become co-opted as a female trait, he stated. “There’s a deep sense of misogyny right here – telling ladies to develop into hairless will not be youthful, it’s prepubescent.”

Though leg and underarm hair removing was common all through the twentieth century, in Lesnik-Oberstein’s ebook on physique hair, The Final Taboo, she factors to the character Samantha Jones speaking about Brazilian waxes on Intercourse and the Metropolis because the second that pubic hair removing went mainstream.

The present fad for excessive hair removing mirrored a rising societal curiosity in beauty surgical procedure, “tweakments” and physique modification, mixed with the “pornification of wider tradition”, she stated. As with different long-lasting or everlasting physique adjustments, younger ladies “might discover they remorse this”, she added.

She stated it was virtually not possible to discern the place physique hair removing tendencies had been heading: “Physique hair is so intimately sure up with concepts of sexuality, and sexuality will not be topic to cause.”

Now, Shiyan Zering, a magnificence analyst at Mintel, stated that pubic hair removing was “on the rise”, with almost half of adults opting to trim, and it options in additional promoting campaigns.

“Pubic hair removing is changing into much less taboo and is more and more being seen as an act of self-care. The hole in hair removing tendencies between women and men is closing, particularly within the youthful demographic,” she stated, noting that 49% of 16- to 24-year-old males take away underarm hair and 62% pubic hair.

Catherine Simpson, who wrote a ebook, One Physique, exploring her relationship along with her physique after receiving a most cancers prognosis, stated that regardless of studying to not fear about her form or gray hairs, she couldn’t let go of her “lifelong battle” with physique hair, despite the fact that she discovered its removing painful and costly.

“I’m a assured lady however I haven’t acquired the boldness to stroll round with bushy legs. Even I don’t perceive that, as a result of I’ve thought a lot about this topic, how ludicrous these requirements are. I can’t outgrow this conditioning – it’s so sturdy. Bushy legs are seen as very the antithesis of femininity.”