Hair today, gone tomorrow

Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin

"Haven't you heard?" she said. "The bush is back. It's official. I saw it on my timeline. In Vogue."

When you think about it, humans are weird. Weird how we used to be four-legged and fully hirsute and weird how we shed that in patches as we grew to stand on only two. Weird how we've gone through centuries of taming our hair and weird how we primp it and put it on show or hide it, and weird how pretty much everyone's hairy and weird how nobody likes to talk about it, especially not on a weekend morning with a decent hot drink over a respectable newspaper. Weird.

A brief historical timeline, then, of our weird (Western) relationships with our furry selves. About 1.12 million years ago we evolved into relatively hairless beings with concentrated areas of sebaceous glands and associated protective hairs - groins, armpits, beards. We know this because someone has done a study about the kind of lice that were proliferating at the time. Weird. The Greeks took a dislike to that kind of uncivilised amassing of hormones and plucked their nether terminal locks out one by one, or took the easier approach and role-played Moses and the burning bush.

The Edwardian solution; only the eyebrows are showing. Photo: Getty Images
The Edwardian solution; only the eyebrows are showing. Photo: Getty Images

By the Middle Ages, everyone - except the lice-ridden - were letting it all hang out, and, for the lousy, the merkin was born. And who doesn't love the word merkin? Especially when you're eight and you first find out what it means. Ewwwww. Weird.

The Renaissance saw a kind of smooth-it-over conspiracy that would be continued by the porn/not porn trade in the here and now, and then there were those weird, weird 18th-century lovers who used to collect their amorous other's short and curlies as souvenirs and wear them in hats. No, really. There's even a snuff box in the museum of St Andrews in Scotland that is stuffed full of choice offcuts from one of King George IV's mistresses. Actually. Queen Elizabeth I kept her lower regions regally resplendent, but chose to remove her eyebrow hair. See, even if you're a Queen, the site of the shaggy power struggle is always there, constant but changing, if you like to buy in to that kind of game. Weird.

The 1940s saw fewer nylons but more razors; emancipation reached the bikini line soon after. The '60s and '70s - well, see Hair: the musical - the '80s brought back glam and smooth. And then. Then. In 1994, in all those nice, decent all-American stores that sell wholesome things such as candy and handguns, the Black Crowes had to put black covers on their Amorica album background, making it a blackground, blacking out the offensive sight of pubes escaping a patriotic thong. Way more offensive than handguns in a candy store. Totally, totally weird.

When I was busy giving birth in 2003, just before my Caesarian, my emergency Caesarian, the razor came out and the person with the razor said "Shall we give you a Brazilian?" And one of the million people in the room - OK, there were only 11 - said "What's a Brazilian?" and everyone stopped the emergency procedures and started gesturing with hands that either went up and down or got progressively closer, and in that unbelievable day, that was one of the most unbelievable things. Because who is lucky enough to live blissfully unaware of the cultural creep of the Brazilian? The landing strip, the Hollywood, the time Gucci did that G thing, the heart, the margarita, the red carpet ... and too many people ask Google "which style of private hair do guys prefer?" as we give over yet another body part to painful, impossible commodification.

It's a heavy history, this, to hold and weigh while you're making depilatory decisions for the end of winter, an impending holiday or a lifetime of slavery to the wax. Do you go for the full monty or just the half leg? Never mind the penury of breakfast smash, a comprehensive outsourced bodily pruning/maintenance habit is going to cost you way more than an avocado a day. And for what? What are we doing here?

Humans - totally weird.

 

Comments

Hirsute - with much hair. Ursa - bear. Ursula Major - primary army officer.

Very interested in the album title "Amorica". It is both a baby girl's name, and an old word for Britain. "Armorica" is the Celtic name of Brittany (France). It seems that Germanic tribes made trouble on the Celts' British Territories, like Kernow (Cornwall), so more and more of them crossed the Channel to Armorica. (Nothing to do with the Crows' song).

 

 

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