Look around. Chances are, someone in the room with you right now “manscapes” — you know, trims the hedges, tidies up downstairs, or (in scientific terms) grooms and maintains their body hair.
It may be you. It may be your boss. Heck, it may even be the mailman. These days, manscaping is as common as a job listing with the word “ninja” in the description.
But it wasn’t always that our bodies were primped and preened like this. So how did we end up with an entire industry dedicated to the hair care of our nether regions? And, perhaps more importantly, how did we go from hairy bodies with clean faces to bare skin and bushy beards?
The story of our changing grooming habits is a long and winding road — one fraught with seashell razor burns, arsenic as makeup, and one deeply arousing photo of Burt Reynolds on a bearskin rug.
Where It All Began… (30,000 BC)
While the hairy neanderthal was, in polite terms, “on the fritz,” their homo sapien counterparts were dipping their collective toes into the unexplored world of personal grooming.
How? In the most painful way possible — with sharpened seashells.
It may not have been glamorous, but these trendsetters were clearly onto something. Since then, forms of body hair removal have been practiced in almost every human culture.
Sure, these efforts weren’t much. But for a society that lacked razors, shaving cream, and an even half-decent aftershave, it was a good start. More importantly, it kicked off the ever-changing, often-cyclical trend in human culture known as “grooming.”
It wasn’t long (unless you consider 27,000 years long) until a little old empire on the banks of the Nile would pick up where our ancestral friends left off.
Shave Like An Egyptian (3000 BC)
As a culture, the Egyptians can take credit for a lot of firsts: Irrigation! Clocks! The Police! (The idea, not the band.)
Now, if you’re like us, you probably assumed they were just trying to impress their weird hairless cats. But the truth is (sadly) less entertaining than that. In Egyptian culture, a shaved head was a sign of nobility. In fact, Egyptians often removed all body hair, occasionally leaving just the very top of their head untouched. They even invented a primitive form of waxing, using a mixture of sugar and beeswax to painfully strip hair from the body.
This kicked off the first known instance of grooming for appearance’s sake, and would become one of the few body care constants throughout history. Your hair could say something about you, whether it was status, lifestyle, or personality.
During their fabulous-looking reign, no society would make the same ‘scaping strides as the Egyptians. The ancient Romans and Greeks embraced their own personal care and grooming tactics, they just happened to be… decidedly worse.
Rather than shave, perfume, and apply eye makeup, the Romans would regularly bathe (in mud spiked with crocodile excrement), polish their nails (with sheep fat), and color their hair (with toxic dyes, causing it to fall out).
On the other hand, the Greeks introduced us to an idea that would stand the test of time (for better or for worse): gendered grooming. While Greek men took pride in being bearded and hairy, women removed body hair to appear more feminine.
The Rise of the Razor & The End of Leg Hair (1800’s – Early 1900’s)
The ancient Egyptian, Roman, and Greek societies stuck around for quite a while. Because of this, not much changed in the way of grooming. The early AD’s to the 1700’s were a lot like our thirties: not much going on besides the occasional glass of wine.
Victorian England made an effort to spruce up their looks, popularizing powdered wigs and experimenting with arsenic to lighten their skin. Unsurprisingly, neither of these caught on (we wonder why…).
But all this changed with a sharp invention: the straight razor. Manufactured in England during the turn of the century, the straight razor made shaving an everyday possibility for even the hairiest of gents.
Soon after, an array of shaving supplements to support gentlemen’s newfound shaving habits came along, like mugs, hardened soap disks, and tools to whip up a creamy lather.
The biggest advancement of all, though, was the transition to safety razors in 1903. It took some time before they were widely adopted, but it wasn’t long before their popularity skyrocketed. Shaving immediately became less time consuming and intimidating. We’re not saying it was a huge breakthrough but… it was kind of a huge breakthrough.
While British men were buttering up their faces, their female counterparts across the pond were experimenting with something else: their armpits.
Around 1915, it became common for American women to shave their pits, and soon after, their legs. Why? Well, the media pitched it as an “act of patriotism” to support the ol’ U.S. of A. during World War I (but we prefer the term “double standard”).
Much like in Ancient Greece, body hair continued on this gendered path for decades — women shaving it all, men simply keeping their faces clean. It wasn’t until hippie subculture sashayed its hips in the public’s face that body hair would come back… and in a big way.
Free Love, Long Hair (1960’s – 1970’s)
Six words for you: “Burt Reynolds on a bearskin rug.”
During this stretch, body hair became associated with virility, power, and attractiveness — much like Burt. Combined with the rise of hippie culture, this meant America was all-in on au naturale, and there was no sign of love more vibrant than a hairy chest.
As the hippie movement waned in the ’80s, freewheeling body hair went with it. And soon, thanks to a small salon in Manhattan, male grooming would transport back to the days of Ancient Egypt with the whisper of one little word: “Brazilian.”
The Brazilian, The Boyzilian, and the Naughty Aughties (1990’s – 2000’s)
The magic began at J. Sisters Salon in Manhattan. Started by a group of immigrant sisters from Brazil, they needed a way to make their mark and up their business. In an effort to set themselves apart from the competition, they offered a new kind of waxing treatment: The Brazilian.
The Brazilian was painful, (almost) all-encompassing, and — practically overnight — a huge hit.
Women flocked to J. Sisters to see, and try, for themselves. Competing salons quickly followed suit, and just like that, a new grooming sensation swept the nation.
This led, naturally, to the “Boyzilian”: a cringe-worthy pun with an even more intolerable execution. But soon enough, the media was promoting an image of the “perfect man” who was clean-shaven and smooth like butter — a far cry from the Reynoldsian chest bush of the ‘70s.
And as the century turned, the public was introduced to a new term for the first time: “manscaping.”
Today, the term is ubiquitous with male grooming — there’s even companies like MANSCAPED that engineer male grooming tools including electric trimmers, lotions, and specialty deodorants.
The combination of a new name and rising popularity took male grooming from a practice few participated in — and even fewer spoke about — to something promoted openly as a necessity. It wasn’t long before trimming your hedges came roaring back in a way not seen for thousands of years.
On television, hit shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy further popularized the idea of caring about your appearance, while professional athletes-cum-icons such as David Beckham made grooming cool again. Soon, we were waving sayonara to the days of mustaches, chests like shag carpets, and a lackadaisical approach to our personal gardens. Some media outlets even have it a name: “The era of metrosexuality.”
The Hair and Now, and our Follicular Future (Current Day)
Whether emulating the earliest humans, the prim and proper Egyptians, or the hairy hippies of the ’60s, the only thing we know for sure is that culture will always continue to change…
Which brings us to today. Personal grooming isn’t just the norm, it’s straight-up popular.
- 84% of American women said they removed some of their pubic hair
- 62% said they removed it all.
- 69% of men trim their pubic hair
- 17% shave it all away.
- 35% of men care for their pubic hair weekly
- 42% do it monthly
A tasteful trim seems to be the de rigueur of grooming these days. And, like a Jerry Springer audience member, we’re just happy to be in the middle — ditching full-blown waxes for some casual buzzing is easier, and spares our friends from the sound of our screams.
So, will this era of manscaping last forever? As we just learned, most likely not. After all, many past cultures clearly loved changing their appearances regardless of the downsides (arsenic hair tonic, anyone?). That approach is still pervasive today — go to any bar in Brooklyn, and you’re likely to find a dude with a belly-button-long beard who also shaves his pubes.
But when it takes decades, even centuries for societal trends to change and establish new norms… you may as well buckle up and get some grooming supplies, ‘cus we might be here for a while.
Feeling like your southern expanse needs a little under-the-belt grooming?
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