Women shave legs and appear to be little girls.

When children grow, at a certain age, they start to grow more hair all over. We always have hair all over, but at some age, we grow thicker, stronger, more noticeable hair. This age is the age of puberty, when our bodies change. In the USA, the normal age for puberty is between 8 and 13^. At that age, girls and boys start to grow more noticeable hair on their legs. It is almost always before the age of 18.

So, when a women of 20 or 30 or so on, in order to appear more attractive, as our society defines attractiveness^, shaves her legs, what age is she attempting to appear to be? She is NOT attempting to appear to be 18. She is not thinking about what age she is attempting to appear to be at all, but she is attempting to appear to be 13 or so.

Why does our society, here in the USA, want women to appear to be 13?

My first thought was that it must be a marketing campaign designed to sell razors. And there does seem to be some proof of that. The first mention I can find of women removing hair for any reason started in May, 1915 with a fashion spread in Harpers Baazar showing a women in a sleeveless gown with bare armpits. Under it is an ad for a hair removal powder.

Razors for women didn't appear anywhere until 1917 and in the Sears and Roebuck catalog until 1922.^

Leg shaving seems to have started soon after that, but really became popular around WWII with rising hemlines and pinup girls "to inspire our boys."

At the start of the war, nylon stockings were popular, but the nylon was needed for the war effort, so believe it or not, some women would shave their legs, then draw a line up the back of the leg to imitate the seam that was always present in stockings of that time. This does not, however, seem to be the start of leg shaving; hair under stocking is uncomfortable and shows so the shaving of legs started first, nylons came after.

It has been said that leg shaving was promoted by a razor company reeling from the lack of men buying razors since so many where "over there" fighting WWI^

Women in europe didn't start shaving until years later. After WWII one woman I spoke to came to the USA from Holland. She first noticed that American women had "weak" legs. They looked thin and frail to her. It was pointed out to her that her legs looked "stronger" because they were hairy and the women here were shaving. Her friend said she shaved because if she didn't, she would "look like an ape." My friend from Holland wasn't going to be a slave to fasion, but while at the denstist office, in the chair, she noticed that he kept lookin at her legs, and she thought: "He thinks I look like an Ape!" That's all it took; she started shaving her legs that night.
Leg shaving happens in Brazil, North America, Australia, Middle East, and Europe. Women in Europe, while they do shave their legs (even in France!) are not as religious about it as they are in the USA. It does not happen in Asia
Could it be simply related to the age old desire for women to look different from men? Since women generally have less hair than men, making a women have less hair, makes her less like a man and, supposedly, more womanly. There are certainly many examples of this, and not just since breast implants and high heels took hold; ancient peoples did everything from lopping off little girls toes (women have smaller feet) to stretching out necks (women have thinner necks). This tendancy for each sex to try to look less like the other is called artifical sexual dimorphism. Sexual dimorphism is very common, and there isn't anything wrong with helping it along. The problem is that in leg shaving, we have picked something that is not only makes women look less like men, it makes them look more like little girls.
As shaved legs became the standard of beauty in the USA, men became trained to find them attractive. As a result, men are no longer sexually attracted to the naturally hairly legs of mature women, but instead are attracted to a version of legs that are naturally found on underage girls. This doesn't excuse the actions of molesters, but it is one more small step in the wrong direction.

See also:
http://www.metacafe.com/watch/1280795/origin_of_pantyhose_why_women_shave_their_legs/ the video shows some of the pictures of the original ads and photos.


G. Koep said...

A very interesting post from so many perspectives. I wish more people would stop, and think and question things in the manner you have here. My wife quit shaving her legs a few years ago, and I totally support her. She has beautiful legs - hair and all.

James Newton said...

And we are sexualizing our children:

James Newton said...

Some historical data

The paper suggests that shaving started after publication of Darwin’s 1871 book "Descent of Man" as an attempt to separate us from the ape and other animals. This does not explain why only women must shave and hair is valued in men.

It also quotes an 1893 study of 271 cases of insanity in white women, which found that insane women had excessive facial hair more frequently than the sane.

Hair removal may also have been a class issue, with higher classes able to remove hair.

The author apparently misses the idea that appearing to be young would be a motivating force for hair removal. No mention is made of it, and I personally expect it is the primary reason.