Who decided women should shave their legs and underarms?
"...U.S. women were browbeaten into shaving underarm hair by a sustained marketing assault that began in 1915. (Leg hair came later.) The aim of what Hope calls the Great Underarm Campaign was to inform American womanhood of a problem that till then it didn't know it had, namely unsightly underarm hair...
... A few ads mentioned hygiene as a motive for getting rid of hair, but most appealed strictly to the ancient yearning to be hip. "The Woman of Fashion says the underarm must be as smooth as the face," read a typical pitch.
The budding obsession with underarm hair drifted down to the proles fairly slowly, roughly matching the widening popularity of sheer and sleeveless dresses. Antiarm hair ads began appearing in middlebrow McCall's in 1917. Women's razors and depilatories didn't show up in the Sears Roebuck catalog until 1922, the same year the company began offering dresses with sheer sleeves. By then the underarm battle was largely won. Advertisers no longer felt compelled to explain the need for their products but could concentrate simply on distinguishing themselves from their competitors.
The anti-leg hair campaign was more fitful. The volume of leg ads never reached the proportions of the underarm campaign. Women were apparently more ambivalent about calling attention to the lower half of their anatomy, perhaps out of fear that doing so would give the male of the species ideas in a way that naked underarms didn't.
Besides, there wasn't much practical need for shaved legs. After rising in the 1920s, hemlines dropped in the 30s and many women were content to leave their leg hair alone. Still, some advertisers as well as an increasing number of fashion and beauty writers harped on the idea that female leg hair was a curse.
...what may have put the issue over the top was the famous WWII pinup of Betty Grable displaying her awesome gams. Showing off one's legs became a patriotic act. That plus shorter skirts and sheer stockings, which looked dorky with leg hair beneath, made the anti-hair pitch an easy sell..."
So there you have it, it's mainly about money once again... (You're free to dismiss this as another one of those crazy conspiracy theories of course. You're free to believe that we humans -or western societies rather- do what we do because we figured out the right way to do things, and that everything is alright. But I won't do that.) I wonder if there are many other meaningless artificial creations humanity wastes its time with that I'm not yet aware of.*
Years ago I had written a little article at school about how hairy legs are actually cooler than they're usually portrayed by the popular culture, and that the hairy legs deserve equal love and respect. :) To be fair, I was referring to men's legs in that article, using my own legs as inspiration. :) But many times I also thought about the way women are almost forced to live their lives more unnaturally than men do; high-heels, thin, hairless bodies and face etc... I even discussed this with my mother once, but she wasn't really able to defend the position that hair removal makes sense. She was too brainwashed to think about it objectively.
I find women who're courageous enough to resist such strong man-made rules more attractive in a way. I'm confident that there will be a time when women will rise up to put an end to this nonsense, sort of like the way atheists are able to express themselves freely nowadays, it will become normal for women to have hairy legs or whatever. Bearded women will become hip! :)
Or maybe not.... I don't know... it sounds pretty ridiculous doesn't it?
But I think it would still be more logical. Let me also add that I can't guarantee that I'll find hairy women physically more attractive, habits are not so easy to overcome. Nevertheless, I can guarantee that I'll do my best and so should we all! For freedom! :)
I found the link to that article through Wikipedia by the way, there might be much better sources out there.
UPDATE: This is much better:
The History of American Women and Hair Removal, 1914-1934
With a lot more details but conclusions are similar:
“…Hair removal was introduced through the efforts of three different industries, the men’s hair removal industry, the women’s clothing fashion industry, and the women’s magazine industry, each of which recognized and sought to profit from women’s new role as consumers. These industries appealed to women’s acceptance of gender norms, marketing hair removal as a necessary feminine trait that could be achieved through the consumption of hair removal products. … The industry’s promotion of the practice of hair removal, combined with upper-class consumerism, succeeded in redefining femininity to include yet another element: the hair-free body…”
*: Do men really have to shave that regularly? Getting regularly short/long hair cut? Expensive suits? Certain types of shoes? High-heels? Fashion? Makeup? Any of it really logical? Getting married? Sports fans? Nationalism? Military? Money? And I'm not even talking about religion/Christmas/mother's day etc... Take the world from another point of view!
See also: Culture and the individual by Aldous Huxley.
"Do you have ideas, or do ideas have you?"
A little addition:
Although not directly related, this article contains a lot of information about the nature of desire and it's interesting:
NYTimes - What Do Women Want?
My personal view is that it's probable that the cultural influences are the strongest factor in shaping women's or men's art of sexual desires. For example that discussion in the article would be fundamentally different if native American or African tribal cultures were studied, I think...
And this book is directly related:
"The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women" by Naomi Wolf
Didn't read it myself, but I think I roughly know what it's saying. And it should also be stated that Naomi is not exactly "unbeautiful" herself... I don't know what's up with that. The need to conform or old habits maybe...or something else... But the point she makes in the book is probably more about avoiding obsession with the imposed standards of modern western beauty, instead of avoiding it all completely. So I think it's alright if she doesn't precisely walk the walk.
UPDATE: Some relevant stuff I found interesting: Do not "worship" hair.