policing of body hair has always been about race. the classification of body hair was foundational to defining race in the nineteenth century. in 1854 peter browne wrote Trichologia Mammalian in which he divided human species on the basis of hair. after Darwin (1859) race was often seen as an evolutionary continuum: racialized people were seen as closer to animals & white “civilized” people were seen as developing beyond us. body hair became seen as the lingering remains of animality/racial difference & removing body hair became a civilizational imperative. in 1876 the american dermatological association created a study on hypertrochosis — a medical condition to pathologize extensive body hair — & focused specifically on white women. white men became increasingly fixated on regulating white women’s physical appearances as a way to mediate anxieties about race. maintenance of white women’s proper physical appearance was about maintaining the “health” of the white race in the face of migration & racial unrest. magazines promoted models of hairless, white feminine beauty & campaigns talked about hair removal as “remedying evil” & removing racial markers. let me be clear about the implications of this: body hair is not “disgusting” because it’s “unhygienic,” but rather because it was & is still associated with racialized people. everyone should be able to do what they please with their body hair, but regarding those of us who don’t remove it as “unhygienic” is cultural racism. indeed, much of what has come to constitute “women’s beauty” & “women’s health” is actually about distancing from racial difference / gender non-conformity. yet another example of how gender is a racial construct & race is a gendered construct. for more info read “situated technology: meanings” by rebecca herzig.
art by @atsaidraws