History of shaving leads to discovery

Denise Watt

Denise Watt

In a last-ditch effort to avoid writing term papers and studying for tests this last week, my roommates and I had had a lengthy discussion-about hair. We weren’t talking about the latest styles, trendy cuts or outrageous colors. Instead, the discussion revolved around the absence or presence of hair on humans, particularly the male species.

I don’t honestly remember how the conversation began, but I believe we referenced a certain television commercial for a board game.

In the commercial, a young man and woman are sitting poolside having what appears to be a lovely time. The date quickly takes a downward turn when, for application of sunscreen, the man removes his t-shirt to reveal a thick, dark, coat of body hair in the exact outline of his shirt.

At this point, his date appears somewhat horrified and upon the screen flashes something along the lines of “best break-up lines” with several choices.

Although an exaggeration, the commercial poses some interesting questions.

How much hair is too much? Why are women expected to remain virtually hairless? And finally, when did the practice of hair removal among us Homo sapiens first appear?

The answer to question one remains varied among individuals – according to my roommates, anything from silky smooth to wooly mammoth. You be the judge.

However, as a journalist-in-training, I did some research to find the answers to questions two and three.

The Internet offers, perhaps not surprisingly, several sites that satisfy “history of shaving” criteria. According to the online magazine-get ready for this-www.cosmeticmagazine.com, men’s first shaving utensils came in the form of shells.

Apparently, early man’s morning routine included using these shells to “pluck out” unwanted hair. Not exactly the silky smooth (and painless) shaving experience that modern-day razor companies promise.

From shells, hair-removal apparatus evolved to flint, then to metal, and eventually to the disposable razors that we now know and love, according to the Web site.

Thank goodness shells are no longer needed, especially for those of us who live about as geographically far away from an ocean as possible.

Body hair trends themselves have gone through several stages throughout the ages, according to the online magazine. Interestingly enough, one of the practical reasons for the advent of shaving was to avoid or reduce the problem of lice. How attractive.

To the question of women shaving, the Web site offers some explanation as well. In the Middle Ages, women opted for the clean-shaven look on top to allow for “elaborate headdresses.” A 1915 piece of advertising featuring a smooth underarm look was enough to convince women in the United States to begin shaving under their arms.

Like most things in this world, shaving has an interesting history. So next time you reach for your Bic, your Schick or your Venus, just think of the hair-removal struggles of our ancestors. At least we’re not dealing in shells.

Denise Watt is a junior journalism major.