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Hair Removal Techniques from 1532: “Boil together a solution of one pint of arsenic & an eighth of a pint of quicklime…”

Want to be hairless? Want to feel alive?

Boil together a solution of one pint of arsenic and eighth of a pint of quicklime. Go to a baths or a hot room and smear medicine over the area to be depilated. When the skin feels hot, wash quickly with hot water so the flesh doesn’t come off.

Yes, keep that flesh on. Smithsonian Mag points us to a blog post by art history professor Jill Burke about female body hair throughout history. The above tip is from a 16th-century “book of secrets,” which also includes other hair removal recipes: mixtures of “cat dung and vinegar,” “pig lard, mustard and juniper, and another involving a distillation of swallows.” She talks about hairless Renaissance nudes, John Ruskin’s inability to consummate his marriage because he was terrified of pubic hair, and the persistent erasure of appearance labor:

Thus, as many feminists have pointed out, being a “normal” woman involves a great deal of work that men normally do not have to do. Sandra Bartky, in a much cited essay of 1988, considers Michel Foucault’s argument in Discipine and Punish that there was an “emergence of unprecedented discipline directed against the body” in the later eighteenth century. Bartky takes Foucault to task for ignoring gender – ““To have a body felt to be “feminine” – a body socially constructed through the appropriate practices – is in most cases crucial to a woman’s sense of herself as female”. This explains normative self-governimg practices such as the use of cosmetics, dieting and depilation. For both Bartky and Foucault this self-discipline is a by-product of modernity. Bartky argues that “In contemporary patriarchal culture, a panoptical male connoisseur resides within the consciousness of most women: They stand perpetually before his gaze and under his judgment.”

All the rest of Burke’s post here, and a hairy-lady Tumblr here.


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