Thursday, January 22, 2015

Plucked: A History of Hair Removal

Plucked: A History of Hair Removal by Rebecca M. Herzig
New York University Press: 1/16/2015
eBook Review copy, 280 pages

ISBN-13: 9781479840823

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 questions 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, more and more 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.
My Thoughts:

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 States.

I 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 focus 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 removal.

Plucked 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.  

Introduction: Necessary Suffering
The Hairless Indian: Savagery and Civility before the Civil War
“Chemicals of the Toilette”: From Homemade Remedies to a New Industrial Order
Bearded Women and Dog-Faced Men: Darwin’s Great Denudation
“Smooth, White, Velvety Skin”: X-Ray Salons and Social Mobility
Glandular Trouble: Sex Hormones and Deviant Hair Growth
Unshaven: “Arm-Pit Feminists” and Women’s Liberation
“Cleaning the Basement”: Labor, Pornography, and Brazilian Waxing
Magic Bullets: Laser Regulation and Elective Medicine
“The Next Frontier”: Genetic Enhancement and the End of Hair
Conclusion: We Are All Plucked
Acknowledgments, Notes, Index

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of New York University Press for review purposes.

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