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From the clamshell razors and homemade lye depilatories used in colonial America to the diode lasers and prescription pharmaceuticals available today Americans have used a staggering array of tools to remove hair deemed unsightly unnatural or excessive This is true especially for women and girls; conservative estimates indicate that 99% of American women have tried hair removal and at least 85% regularly remove hair from their faces armpits legs and bikini lines How and when does hair become a problem what makes some growth excessive? Who or what separates the necessary from the superfluous? In Plucked historian Rebecca Herzig addresses these uestions about hair removal She shows how over time dominant American beliefs about visible hair changed where once elective hair removal was considered a mutilation practiced primarily by savage men by the turn of the twentieth century hair free faces and limbs were expected for women Visible hair growth particularly on young white women came to be perceived as a sign of political extremism sexual deviance or mental illness By the turn of the twenty first century and Americans were waxing threading shaving or lasering themselves smooth Herzig's extraordinary account also reveals some of the collateral damages of the intensifying pursuit of hair free skin Moving beyond the experiences of particular patients or clients Herzig describes the surprising histories of race science industry and medicine behind today's hair removing tools Plucked is an unsettling gripping and original tale of the lengths to which Americans will go to remove hair

10 thoughts on “Plucked: A History of Hair Removal

  1. says:

    Herzig’s book helps contextualize why today 99% of US American women remove their body hair and why historically so many women have been willing to die in order to be hairlessDespite the wide range in hairiness within races early European thinkers argued that body hair was a marker of racial difference With the inception of settler colonialism white colonists wrote extensively about Native American hair grooming rituals as a way to establish racist tropes of Native peoples as irrational and ungovernable These racial caricatures reinforced military control and were part of a larger strategy of branding violent conuest as an act of benevolence  With the dawn of Darwin’s evolutionary theory people began to associate body hair with primitive ancestry Having body hair – especially for white women – became seen as a marker of degeneracy an indication of the lingering remains of animalitysavageryWhile body hair removal practices have existed across cultures across time in the 19th century there was a concerted effort to regulate the beauty regimen of white women in order to perpetuate racial supremacy One of the prevailing eugenic ideas upheld by sexologists was that “advanced” civilizations had a visible differentiation between “men” and “women” Mandating that white women remove their hair was a way to make white men and women look different from one another as a means to differentiate white people from racial Others Over time any hair on a white woman’s body became seen as excessive and body hair became further associated with non white races Hairy people were put on display in freak shows to fortify the idea that white people had evolved  from this primitive state These racial politics continued in the Cold War Era when body hair was linked to evidence of “foreign” contaminationIn the 20th century with the expansion of white cis women into the workplace men's econoomic dominance over women and the distinction between sexes became challenged Cis men had long defined their supremacy by their labor power but women's economic mobility challenged this euation Focusing on and demeaning women's appearances was a strategy to keep women down and heighten the contrast between men and women “Hairy women” became synonymous with “failed women” Compulsory body hair removal for women became a form of gendered social control to stabilize the gender sex binary in the face of imminent collapseBody cultivation is already always political Why can't our bodies and our beauty belong to us not these exclusionary ideologies? 

  2. says:

    The history of hair removal is way interesting than I'd expectedHerzig starts with a poorly understood fact of early American history the Native Americans were perceived as having less body hair than Europeans and this like everything back then was used to trumpet the ChristianEuropean superiority Yet even then there was disagreement over whether the lesser body hair was due to a natural deficiency or well to assiduous pluckingThen we move on as hair removal becomes a serious business for women with creams and potions and snake oils that at worst failed to remove the undesirable hair and at worst caused serious disfigurement Herzig does a fine job at tracking the attitudes of different eras toward the hair as the problem is gradually medicalized into hirsutism but doctors struggle to define just how much hair ualifies as a clinical problem Scientific answers to medical problems became all the rage and X ray salons were actually very popular for a time Yes prolonged exposure to X rays will make hair fall out but no it's really not worth getting cancer forAt the same time that hair removal practices are evolving so too are the places where hair is considered excess It may not be that surprising to learn that underarm hair is a fairly recent such area but legs even so Herzig spends a blessedly brief time on the bikini waxing craze but by the end of the book I felt like I really had a firm grasp on how attitudes toward different types of body hair and the procedures that arose out of those attitudes have changed throughout American history There were plenty of footnotes and it seemed uite well researched; I would say this is a scholarly work than one might expect but well worth a read if histories of somewhat nontraditional topics eg Salt A World History interest you Frankly this book would be an excellent companion to or a follow up for fans of The Poisoner's Handbook Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

  3. says:

    The majority of this book is what you think it’s going to be a delightful history of the crazy ways womenfolk shear themselves smooth Plucked is also however an in depth look body’s interplay with both race and scientific advancement The book surprisingly starts out with a group judged for not having enough body hair the Native Americans White people — seemingly desperate to grab at any straws in pursuit of “manifest destiny” — thought the Natives’ hairlessness was unnatural Weak A rugged man beard was a sign of a brawny man’s man Then of course the narrative hops over to women Sorry dames no hair below the neck Why? Because we’re evolving away from apes and should look like it Thanks Darwin? Or because a “white smooth” complexion is the tops Or because certain hair types “indicate insanity” Ah the things people try to proveOr because hair removal is an outward indication that you have time and money to throw around What’s so wrong with teaching oneself crochet instead?Or because it’s a porn standard Or because it’s part of the “third shift” And oh — the horrors involved in removing it I won’t delve into too much detail here because that’s what the book is for but voluntary radiation If that doesn’t piue your interest I don’t know what to tell you Overall this book was really interesting and moved along briskly I dug it

  4. says:

    With a name like Plucked I was expecting this to read a bit like a Mary Roach book like Stiff or Gulp informative and smart but also funny Herzig's Plucked is informative and smart but it's never funny It's deadly serious This kind of book however should be judged on what it is rather than what it's not And it is a very impressive academic text that reveals a great deal about the history of hair removal than I thought possible examining the topic from a variety of angles and contextualizing it within a huge interconnected sociological web Herzig also avoids making judgements outright though I appreciated how she made some subtle moral points in the concluding sectionThis is great work I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley

  5. says:

    NetGalley book reviewNow this book had me really curious Hair removal I've worked in the medical field for over 17 years and these kind of books just jump out and scream for me to read them This was a interesting read I'll give it to the author she did her research and knows a lot when it comes to this topic I did learn a lot and I will tuck away all of it in my brain for trivia night or just to mind boggle someone Good read if your into interesting history topics

  6. says:

    Fascinating well researched and well documented history on how WesternAmerican society has been dealing with body hair including current technologies

  7. says:

    This is a heavy look into the science and history of hair removal — from shaving as punishment in Guantanamo Bay to getting routine Brazilian waxes We get to see the techniues for hair removal the types of people throughout history who have cared about removing their hair and what people assume about people who don’t tame their hair like those reckless young women who don’t shave their armpits waves This is the most science y one here and it’s probably the best if you’re just wanting one book about hair From Buy Borrow Bypass Nonfiction about Hair at Book Riot

  8. says:

    Though very academically worded this book was a fascinating and memorable trip into the history of hair removal in America which yields some very interesting facts For instance I never knew that not long after the discovery of radiation there were several companies who made tons of money using radiation to remove unwanted body hair which was a sensation at the time The invention of the toilet and the private middle class bathroom is also partly why shaving or removing most non head body hair became A Thing

  9. says:

    Plucked A History of Hair Removal by Rebecca M Herzig is a highly recommended fascinating look at the history of hair removal in the United StatesI am so glad a Rebecca Herzig didn't listen to her detractors and that she pursued writing this compelling history of hair removal Plucked covers the various ways people have removed unwanted body hair with the main focuse on the U S In the U S today the deliberate removal of body hair is a widespread practice that is taken for granted but the now seemingly conventional and commonplace act of removing body hair to obtain smooth skin is not even a century old At the same time forced hair removal has been called torture and abuse like for the detainees at Guantánamo throughout history Plucked also covers the changing social and cultural aspects of hair removalPlucked is well researched and well written While it is not a complete thorough examination of every aspect of the history of hair removal it is short concise and entertaining enough to appeal to a wide audience as well as those who enjoy history texts ContentsIntroduction Necessary SufferingThe Hairless Indian Savagery and Civility before the Civil War“Chemicals of the Toilette” From Homemade Remedies to a New Industrial OrderBearded Women and Dog Faced Men Darwin’s Great Denudation“Smooth White Velvety Skin” X Ray Salons and Social MobilityGlandular Trouble Sex Hormones and Deviant Hair GrowthUnshaven “Arm Pit Feminists” and Women’s Liberation“Cleaning the Basement” Labor Pornography and Brazilian WaxingMagic Bullets Laser Regulation and Elective Medicine“The Next Frontier” Genetic Enhancement and the End of HairConclusion We Are All PluckedAcknowledgments Notes IndexDisclosure My Kindle edition was courtesy of New York University Press for review purposes

  10. says:

    Expecting a history of how the ancients removed their hair you never see the Ancient Romans or Greeks with beards do you? I found that Plucked A History of Hair Removal deals with that topic pretty neatly in the first few chapters Historian Rebecca Herzig then moves on from the mundane of how body hair was removed until modern times waxing tweezing burning to how and why it has been removed for the past hundred years or soThe ancients have nothing on us moderns for hair removal methods Herzig describes early 20th century x ray treatments for removing hair from the face a painful and largely unregulated procedure Radiation turned out to be a less than optimal solution to body hair but as the century and science progressed hormone therapy became the next craze in exfoliation As fashions in clothing and hairlessness changed laser treatment also painful and sometimes unsafe emerged As the 21st century dawned Brazilian waxing became as common as tattoos and another painful beauty routine was introducedHerzig discusses attitudes science advertising the money angle doctors found that specializing in laser procedure was lucrative and easier than family practice for instance She doesn't ignore men although they have only recently begun tending to body hair other than facial in recent years it's become almost a given that men will do some manscapingPlucked is an academic look at hair removal but it's entirely readable and fascinating for a general reader Plenty to ponder as you tweeze your brows or undergo the agony of a bikini waxThanks to NetGalley for a digital review copy