Shaved, waxed, plucked or au naturel: Author chronicles history of hair removal

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Rebecca Herzig, author of the new book “Plucked: A History of Hair Removal,” will give a talk at the Southwest Harbor Public Library on Tuesday, June 2, at 5:30 p.m.

According to some estimates, virtually all American women have tried facial and body hair removal, and most remove some regularly, if not daily. And for most men, despite the fad for the full “lumbersexual” beard, a clean shave is still the look.

But if hair removal is common, that doesn’t make it trivial. Ever since Europeans arrived on these shores, what Americans have done with their hair has signaled racial and social status, political and cultural orientation, and even their views on freedom – all the while giving medicine, science and industry lucrative new markets.

Author Rebecca Herzig will speak at the Southwest Harbor Library on June 2. PHOTO COURTESY OF REBECCA M. HERZIG

Author Rebecca Herzig will speak at the Southwest Harbor Library on June 2.

“You might be surprised what the history of hair removal can tell us,” said Herzig, chair of women and gender studies at Bates College. “I know I was surprised when I learned that millions of Americans once used X-rays to get rid of unwanted facial hair.”

Until the mid-19th century, Americans of European descent looked askance at the meticulous hair removal practices of Native Americans. Yet, in the succeeding decades, hairiness – especially on women’s faces – was variously interpreted as a sign of racial inferiority, criminality, sexual perversion or political radicalism. Feminists in the 1960s and ’70s challenged some of those associations, transforming body hair into a symbol of self-determination.

The book describes some of the dozens of methods Americans have used to try to remove body hair, from razors to harsh chemicals to lasers and even to genetic engineering, and it uncovers surprising histories of race, gender, industry and medicine.

Herzig has written several other books on science, race and ethics. She has taught at Bates for more than 15 years. She has won numerous awards for her work, including the college’s Kroepsch Award for Excellence in Teaching, and currently holds the Christian A. Johnson Chair in Interdisciplinary Studies.

Herzig will have books available for sale and signing. Call 244-7065.

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