Why Do Women Shave Their Legs?
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Why Do Women Shave Their Legs?

Thanks to CuriosityStream for supporting PBS
Digital Studios. Why do women shave their legs and under their
arms but men don’t? And do women shave their legs because of World
War II? So lots of folks find excessive hairiness
(with the exception of the hair on our heads) to be a bit off putting. And this rule seems to be doubly true for
women in places where shorty shorts and bare arms are the standard of summer time. But have you ever stopped to wonder why? I mean: if our mammalian bodies are busy growing
hair here, there, and everywhere, then what makes the hair we trim in certain areas so
darn special? And when did adult women start to believe
that being silky smooth all over was more appealing than our naturally furry forms? Let’s dive right in, because this is going
to get hairy but hopefully not sticky. Our first question for today is: When did men and women start removing their
body hair? And why? So even though removing body hair stretches
back centuries, this practice isn’t universal. Shaving customs have varied across cultures
as well as coming into and out of fashion at various points in time. There are some who note that Ancient Egyptians
may have pioneered the hair removal game with tweezers made from shells and waxes made of
sugar among other techniques. Straight razors (the shaving tool preferred
by hipsters and Sweeney Todd) have been around for several hundred years in one form or another,
with its most current form tracing back to the mid 18th century. And today, certain Jewish sects, and certain
followers of Islam and Sikhism prevent followers from shaving their bodies or men from shaving
their beards for religious reasons. According to Professor Rebecca Herzig in her
book Plucked: A History of Hair Removal, early colonists in the Americas made a seemingly
important note that Native American men and women they encountered practiced hair removal. But the reason behind men like Thomas Jefferson
noting whether or not Native American men had beards was, surprises surprise, some super
whacky, super inaccurate race science entrenched in European customs about class. 18th century Enlightenment theories dictated
that men who could grow beards were “civilized” and those with less body hair were prone to
“feebleness.” Herzig notes that these thoughts were steeped
in humoral theory from the classical age, which was all about your internal balance
and nothing about being funny. It was believed that the four humours (phlegm,
blood, yellow bile, and black bile) needed to remain in balance, and that this was reflected
in a person’s “complexion” which included their external hairiness and skin tone. But all of this was a bunch of hooey since
I don’t know about you but I can’t remember the last time my physician said my yellow
bile was out of step with my phlegm and causing me to grow a beard. Other hair removal trends through the ages
included homemade remedies used by women in the US during the 18th century and a rise
in depilatory creams in the mid 19th century (often made outside of the home in early industrial
factories). But those creams turned out to be less than
popular since they often resulted in burns and other skin issues for women who used them
to fight the fuzz. Although companies tried to rebrand those
same creams as “Eastern” beauty remedies to make them sound more enticing and less
horrible. So people have plucking and priming for a
while, but this wasn’t because hairlessness was a universally accepted beauty standard
for men or for women. So that brings us to our next question: When did shaved legs and underarms become
a beauty standard specifically linked to women? Well up until the turn of the 20th century
in US, women having body hair wasn’t exactly breaking news. But that was in part because many of the fashions
favored by women up until that point covered the majority of their real estate, and it doesn’t
make a ton of sense to shave your legs and underarms if you’re covered from head to
toe. Though removing unsightly facial hair for
women was not completely unheard of. But when those ladies started to show more
skin, we started to see the rise of a crafty razor salesman named King Camp Gillette. In 1915, Gillette created the first razor
marketed specifically to women, the Milady Décolleté razor, which was released alongside
a bunch of clever and tricky ad campaigns that linked the latest fashions to hairless
women. Buying a dress without sleeves or a skirt
with a high hem? Then the message was to go out and get a razor
to compliment your new ensemble. And a lot of these ad campaigns also focused
on making shaving sound less like something that happened at the barber shop, and more
like an intimate part of every well-heeled woman’s daily grooming practices. The message to remove underarm hair caught
on pretty quickly with the rise of sleeveless dresses. But even though hems were higher, stockings
remained a popular alternative for ladies who weren’t into shaving their whole leg. But it wasn’t until WW2 that leg shaving became a bigger trend for women in the US and Europe. In 1939, the DuPont company released the first
waves of nylon stockings, which provided women with a cheaper and more durable option for
hosiery than their silk and rayon predecessors. But the new nylon wasn’t just good for covering
legs, it also played a crucial role in WW2 when it was used to create parachutes. As a result, Allied forces like the US and
UK heavily rationed nylon throughout the war effort, which left legs truly exposed for
the first time. Also the UK implemented nationwide clothing
rationing, with people getting vouchers for new items based on the difficulty of making
the item, the availability of the material it was made from, and the age of person in
need of clothing (for example fast growing children received a special allowance). Pamphlets like 1943’s “Make Do and Mend”
encourage everyone to mend old clothing, create stylish patches on holes, and knit new items
out of the yarn picked from old ones including knit underwear. But despite the shortages and regulations,
there was still encouragement from Allied governments for women to boost morale on the
battlefield by maintaining beauty standards at home. So what’s a gal to do if she’s being told
on the one hand to conserve costs while on the other she’s being told that letting
her appearance slide could actually cause the war to go worse? Because not shaving is apparently as bad as
the second WORLD war? Well this led to a variety of solutions including,
you guessed it, shaving your legs to stay smooth, a style that was popular also with
the pin up models of the day. But women weren’t ready to abandon stockings
altogether. This led to a few interesting solutions to
give the appearance of nylon clad legs, including drawing a line up the back of your legs to
mirror stockings or darkening the skin of your legs with tinted lotions and gravy browning,
which is a dark molasses and spice mixture that’s popular in England and used to darken
gravies. Side fact: also popular in the former British
colonies since I grew up seeing this in my mom’s spice cabinet. But despite the final (kind of delicious)
option of gravy legs as a fashion statement, this only worked if the legs were already
smooth. As time went on and styles continued to get
more brief (think mini skirts, high cut shorts, and itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot
bikinis) shaving for women continued to spread and women’s hair continued to receded until
we thought it was the norm. So how does it all add up? Well although having hairy legs may seem outside
of the cultural norm in the contemporary US, our aversion to hair on women’s legs and
underarms it’s actually a relatively recent development. And a development that has more to do with
wartime rationing and sneaky ad campaigns than it does with hair growth being inherently
bad. And we have King Camp Gillette, a guy with
a name that sounds like a cross between a comic book villain, a character from a fast
food restaurant, and a sleepaway camp for the well-to-do, to thank for that. Because he convinced generations of otherwise
reasonable folks that there’s a difference between razors made for men and women, and
marketed a version of women’s razor plated in 14 karat gold so that it would make a great
gift. Because history.So why not? So what do you think? Anything to add to this history of hair removal
timelines? And this episode includes a special shout
out to Liz Gro on Youtube who suggested that we make an episode on the history of gender
and shaving. Thanks for your suggestion Liz and remember
to keep those comments coming since this our second fan pick episode and I’d love to
do more! So drop those questions below, be sure to
follow origin of everything on Facebook and subscribe on Youtube and I’ll see you next
week! Thank you to CuriosityStream for supporting
PBS Digital Studios. CuriosityStream is a subscription streaming
service that offers documentaries and non-fiction titles from a variety of filmmakers, including
CuriosityStream originals. You can get the first 60 days free if you
sign up at curiositystream.com slash origin and use the code origin during the sign-up
process. Hey guys! Thanks for all of your comments on last week’s
episode on the history of birth control! Ross Parlette on Youtube writes that in his
small army unit in the late 1960s there was a “morale indicator” that took note of
AWOL stats and VD stats among other things. Although we’ll all be relieved to hear that both of those numbers in his small unit were actually zero. So thanks for the fun fact that links army
history to the spread of birth control Ross. Brianspo on Youtube asks if we can do an episode
on the history of the minimum wage? So this is a great topic suggestion since it’s
a topic we should all learn more about. And this list of fan suggestions that I’ve been keeping for a couple of weeks now is getting pretty lengthy but I’m adding this one to the list! Also we have a fan pick episode coming up
in a couple of week’s so stay tuned for the big reveal to see if your idea was chosen! I’d also like to give a special shout out
to Amy Nadine Ellis and Karen Yellin on Facebook and Peppermintfoxy, Tragoudistros.MPH and
Isabella Shimizu on Youtube for all of your comments! That’s it for now and we’ll see you here
next week!


  • Alex Clermont

    This episode doesn't really explain WHY women shave their hair, only that they DID at certain periods in time and how those trends were manipulated and grown… But WHY do women shave their hair? WHY did anybody shave their body?

  • charlotte

    while we’re on the topic, whats up with women’s nipples being so scandalous, while men’s aren’t? neither genders breasts are sex organs, so there’s really no legitimate reason for this.

  • ShinyGoldBacon

    I don't bother shaving my legs because it makes me so damn itchy and takes too long. But I can't stand having armpit hair in summer when it's too hot out, so that gets shaved for damn sure.

  • Whitley Beaver

    Omgsh the girl who is the host is so cute and friendly! She keeps it fun and I keep watching because of her personality

  • Megan B

    I don't shave that much. At most I probably shave once or twice every other month or two. Actually, I get away with that way more in the winter time than in summer. I get that a lot of people are going to say that shaving for women is a sexist, socially imposed idea. But come on, you can't deny how wonderful it feels to brush your legs together and not feel coarse, prickly hair. Oh well, to each their own.

  • Edward Mapletoft

    The propaganda that women should look good for their boys on the front lines wasn't telling women that not shaving their legs was as bad as WWII… That's a bit of a hyperbole.

  • Hating Mirror

    Well, there were other trends that seem dumb now as you showed us, therefore there's another reason why this one is kept.

    And razor blades are different for men and women, now it's about the angle of the blades, back then could be the same, but could be different angle of sharpness

  • mona mohammad

    That religion thing is a bit inaccurate, Islam encourages shaving armpits, pubic hair and mustache but discourages shaving anything else

  • McKinley Murphy

    I hate body hair so much on me or women. Just my opinion its kinda gross to not shave. Ik i shouldn't think that its unhygienic but i think it is. Don't attack me for my opinion lmao

  • Tamra Cook

    Did women start shaving their bushie triangle because adult maturity regression to child hood? Or are their more pedi files than we realise

  • Kris 82

    Do you feel the same about dog/cat/animal hair? Do dogs stink because of hair? I own a dog and the answer is no. The hair on a dog looks cute while on a female it doesn't. It's mostly in our heads, don't try to biologically rationalize it. It's kinda like being used to drinking sweet coffee and then being disgusted when you try it without sugar. If there was no sugar you'd get used to the taste of coffee without sugar and it would taste normal to you. I actually tested that switch on tea and found that to be true. I drink only unsweetened tea now.

  • Kady Cooley

    Personality, (and do take this with a grain of salt it is coming from a germaphobe) I think that both men and women should have their armpits, at the bare minimum . Hair traps smell and hairy armpits are just… unattractive.
    (seriously have you ever seen a guy in a tank top stretch? eww
    OR even worse, when they put their arm behind you and you can feel their armpit hair on the back of your neck?? vomit )

  • BrittBratt18

    Most of just don't like hairy legs or think it's attractive to have overly hairy legs. I don't mind shaving, tends to make my skin feel smoother. Even though I don't show my legs off often, it makes your legs look better when wearing a dress or skirt. I definitely avoid tops that show of the armpit area if I haven't shaved yet.

  • Jessica CW My Fav Things

    I personally hate hair on my armpits do that gets regular maintenance, but my legs- only when I am showing them off, or they get too itchy rubbing against my pant leg/at night.

    I would love to know the history of when and what the first sex ed classes were/came to be.

    I learned about shaving from mine and from my peers and parents.

  • Christopher Hindle

    Has quite a bit more to do with a culture that values looking youthful, the fear of aging, grooming became associated with financial success. At some point in time lice was common, so shaving your body made sense. Hairy bodies are often associated with old, dirty, and/or sick. Hairyness is generally associated with being a primate.

  • Christopher Hindle

    Many people question captive animals like horses. Should it be legal to own horses as pets? I always thought it was odd that people lock horses in their stable (horse prison), lock horses in trailers and tow them on the highway, attach all kinds of leather harnesses to them, just so they can take them out to ride them once or twice a year! I literally know people who keep their horses in a small stable year after year just so they can let their grandkids ride them once or twice a year.

  • siene 15

    I'm actually sort of surprised by how many comments make it sound as if shaving underarm hair is a MUST. Sure, I've done it a couple of times (only because it feels nice and smooth) but I see more women not shave them here in Germany than I see those who do. I've never even heard about "smelly underarm hair" until a couple of moments ago o.O

  • Sigurd Bjrnson

    Well, there's hair and then HAIR. As a now 67 year old American I've mostly encountered shaved legs and pits, but I had one girlfriend with strawberry blond fuzz, it was practically transparent. It would be crazy to shave that.

  • ?GiriGirl?

    This video doesn't actually explain when/why men developed a preference for hairless women. The Gillette marketing ploy only worked because people already thought hairless legs/under arms on women appeared more desirable. This was not informative.

  • faizah saeed

    1:30 that's actually not true the prophet Muhammad peace be upon him ordered Muslims to remove the hair from the private areas and armpit for the sake of cleanliness and good smell.. there's other instructions like cutting nail and reducing moustache hair but maintaining beard and also brushing teeths.. the hadith called sunan Al-fitrah u can look that up

  • Monica Supersonica

    I think native Americans didn't practice hair removal, they simply have less body hair. In Honduras, native descendants have less facial hair and thinner body hair. They don't shave as much. I think white women trying to darken their legs and making them smoother with greasy ointments was to emulate the natural beauty of the indigenous women they deemed as savage.

  • LPrincess Aziz

    Your wrong alot when you site religious rules. Should stay away from siting them. Culture is different than religious expression.

  • Kyoumi masu

    I stopped shaving a few years ago when I realized that my boyfriend doesn't really care as long as I maintain, which I expect for him. We had a nice talk about it and how marketing companies try to make women spend more by have women's only and men's only products like there is actually a difference.

  • Azurafied/Angel Connelly

    I only have to shave my legs every 1.5 years. That's really lucky for me because I forget to shave them most of the time.

  • Kelsey

    The only reason I shave my legs is because 1. I like the way the wind feels in summer 2. I don’t like when my hairs get snagged on my pants 3. I don’t like how itchy it is and 4. I alway think somethings crawling up my leg when the hairs move. I could careless about what other people think, I do it for my own comfort.

  • downbntout

    Is this really a question? With dark hair sticking everywhere like a man's, is that a girl image? Why even ask? Pssh

  • Kinko Sam

    This does not explain why. Let me explain why. It's really a matter of attracting the opposite sex. The women that shaved had a better sex life than the ones that did not. Hollywood pumped this act more than ever. Like today's trendy haircuts and fashion, shaving is a fashion that started and isn't going anywhere.

  • Who Who

    All I can say is I have a leg fetish, so please shave ur legs and I'll worship them all the time. It's not a waste of ur time to shave them trust me

  • Stephanie Huesler

    It's also interesting to note that various races have varying amounts of body hair; Asian men often have difficulties growing full beards, and both genders of several Asian and Oceania countries often have no leg or underarm hair. I lived in the Philippines for a while, and the women there couldn't understand why western women shaved their legs: they would have loved to have hairy legs, and would often sit and stroke the legs of westerners who didn't shave just because it was so novel…

  • Ronnie Brown

    another example of how humans cannot seem to live in the "natural" world….humans seem to be the only animal that cannot be natural…living, sleeping, eating are all done in ways that did not exist more than 200 years ago….we are over running the planet and changing everything….to be not natural is the natural now…..

  • Conor O'Brien

    There’s no doubt that shaving is time consuming, possibly expensive, under-appreciated and unnecessary ‘required’. And, there’s no doubt that shaving (one’s legs in particular) provides a heavenly-like smooth asf feeling that boosts one’s confidence. Whatever floats your boat!

  • Xaforn

    I don’t care if anyone shaved or if they don’t, as long as they aren’t shamed into it like my ex did for years, he even shaved from head to toe. I get painful Ingrown hairs or cuts no matter how they’re removed so to me it’s pointless and a waste of time, plus I just prefer to be all natural. I find my partner who is fuzzy as a bear to be more attractive that way, but that’s my preference and he prefers women don’t shave.

  • Sapphire

    There's ABSOLUTELY a difference between men's and women's razors. Look at the angle of the head! One is made to be held upright & shave the face & neck, the other is meant to be held head-down, and shave legs (including behind the centerline of the body). The blades themselves aren't different, the materials aren't different, but the actual construction matters. A woman using a man's razor to shave her legs is gonna end up with a LOT more nicks & bleeding because of the more severe angle.

  • J Mc

    I don't mean to troll, just to engage in a bit of critical thinking–this seems to be a history of why European-American (ethnically) women shave their legs or historical trends in hair removal–that perhaps has slowly bled over to other groups due to slick marketing campaigns and European (cultural) dominance. Body hair amounts and distribution varies both within and between races and individually with hormonal changes. Further, the custom seems to have been almost nonexistent in Europe until the last 30 years or so, except when a trip to beach required it for the well-to-do Anglo-Europeans. I don't believe that Black women in the States were as engaged in this practice until much later, as it seems (not an expert here) the standard of beauty between groups was not at the present level of consistency until very recently with the evolution of mass media. I think we need a title revision and more consideration for race and ethnicity–because, as of now, you are telling history that seem to require a Black/Asian/Other History Month supplement, and that can't be good.

  • Jan Verboven

    haha ! Good Tube. Women don't WANT to shave (perhaps facial hair, but that's it!) Let it grow Ladies, dare to do it and show everyone how a NORMAL female looks like – attractive and natural. And it spares you time, money and gains you respect over time (yeah the US is a difficult place) – If children see their naked natural parents (in a NON sexual NORMAL way) they will imprint it as the normal look and you don't get to catch you're 12 year old daughter shaving anything! Children of European nudist (real nudists) have NO problems with body type (unless very excessive fat or slim) or body hair. They simply don't care, as it should be. Gender education (you call it sex-education) is taught from primary school on wards. They shower together until 12 years (because of the girl's first menarche – which can happen sooner, so she is 'relieved') They know exactly how bodies function or look like. And this wile my children went to a Catholic school !
    Unwanted pregnancies are rock bottom here – sexual attacks or denigration are very rare here in Belgium. Teenage pregnancies are rock bottom versus the US. We don't circumcise boys (only the Jews and Muslims do it) We hate guns and gun crime is very low. Normal nudity is accepted – flashers (for sexual reasons) are laughed away by girls and happen seldom, but adult sports teams shower together female/male regularly. No problems. Most women have normal bushes and armpits.Strange, that the land of 'the free' is so prudish but has the highest gun violence the highest rate of teen pregnancies. While female hair is not accepted ?? It baffles me.

  • Brian Hutzell

    1:10 "Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd
    His skin was pale and his eye was odd

    He shaved the faces of gentlemen

    Who never thereafter were heard of again

    He trod a path that few have trod

    Did Sweeney Todd

    The demon barber of Fleet Street" – Stephen Sondheim

    BTW – I used to live on Fleet Street! (But in Boston, not London)

  • eclipse

    Because we men like silky smooth legs that lead up to the juicy bits
    You will also get more massages by us if you are smooth

  • Catlynna

    The only people that told me to shave are my girl friends (about my legs) and my family.Shaving is a waste of time and in the future body hair will be ignore with both genders.I'm still young so my parents tell me to shave even tho I'm lazy and dont wanna do it but I do shave my armpits cause I sweat easily.I sometimes want to shave (cause school) and a lot of people there I know so I get scared you could say but nobody says anything so I'm pretty chill now but I still don't wanna shave ugh.(I'll give my kids an option to shave when I grow up)

  • 6t76t

    I shave because I hate how my body feel when covered in body hair, especially when I feel sticky and sweaty during a hot day. I always liked my soft smooth skin.

  • Teykel Meeka

    I didn't know I was supposed to shave until I was humiliated in middle School by other girls. Yeah. I like the way it feels to have shaved legs but did not come naturally.

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