'Hairy Matters'

'Hairy Matters' investigates hair as a historic medium used to enforce hegemonies through perpetuating stylised gender norms.

Throughout millennia, rigid gender stereotypes have long been perpetuated by grooming techniques. Varied and stylised by their social environment, each variant has been a symbol of the shifts of power between their prescribed wearer. 

Ensuring the propagation of hyper-political grooming codes ensured the oppression of diverse gender identities by enforcing prejudice on those who attempted to subvert these norms. Simultaneously, they established and affirmed strict binaries through which gender should be conformed.

Combing through these hairy pasts reveals complex strands wound into matted knots by various hegemonies. Practices were often refashioned with drastic transformation where rich dichotomies can be observed when comparing civilisations only few decades apart. 

Still today, hair remains a hyper-gendered medium. According to research, 60% of LGBTQIA+ individuals change their hairstyles when transitioning or making major life changes. 


Early homosapiens around 30,000 years ago, the Stone Age man, reportedly cared for personal grooming, they would have removed body hair with sharpened seashells or flint. It’s thought that this was to prevent mites and other insects nesting in the hair.

In ancient Egypt, men removed all of their hair because it gave enemies something to grab into during battle. One of the first-known razors, found in Egypt 3000 BC, was made of copper. It is further evidenced that the Egyptians used ‘sugaring’, a practice similar to waxing only with a substance like beeswax, to remove hair. In Egyptian culture the shaved head was a sign of nobility (occasionally leaving just the very top of the head untouched). From here onwards, hair grooming became a constant throughout history to express something of one's status, lifestyle or personality. 

It is thought that it was the ancient Greeks that introduced gendered grooming. While Greek men took pride in being bearded and hairy, women would remove body hair to appear more feminine. 

18th Century Europe, saw men fashioning ‘elaborate powdered wigs’ as a status symbol. Victorian England also saw the rise of arsenic as a product to lighten the skin- to produce a certain ‘glow’. The same period saw the advent of the straight razor, which made shaving an everyday possibility. Following this saw the rise of other shaving supplements such as mugs, hardened soap disks and tools to whip up a creamy lather.

President Abraham Lincoln is accredited for a rise in beared culture popularity but after his death in 1865 their popularity phased out again. Around this time inventor and salesman King Camp Gillette improved the traditional archetype of the razor making a disposable product. 1908 was the last year a man with facial hair became elected president of the United States.

The first razor for women was created in 1915, previous to this conservative dress standards for women made body grooming somewhat expendable. Around 1910 hemlines of dresses and skirts began to rise in European and American fashion, initially just above the ankle and eventually by 1915 they had risen 6-inches, to the mid-calf. The lack of stockings in WWII led to the rise of women turning to hair removal methods. 

Much like ancient Greece, body hair became again a hyper gendered symbol. It wasn't until the rise of ‘hippie subculture’ in the 60’s where these standards came to be reformed. During this period, body hair became a symbol of virility, power and attractiveness. 

The advent of the ‘Brazilian’ waxing treatment reshaped the hairy heritage of hippie culture. Beginning from a salon in Manhattan, ‘J.Sisters Salon’, started by a group of immigrant sisters from Brazil looking for a unique selling point for their business. Their all-encompassing treatment became an international sensation and changed body grooming standards across the globe. The ‘Boyzilian’ became the media's new image of the ‘perfect man’; clean-shaven, hairless, smooth skin. 

The rise of ‘metrosexual’ fashion was popularised in the early 21st century, landmarked by ‘moisturised, highlighted, sarong-sporting, nail-polish wearing’ British footballer David Beckham.

‘Manscaped’ later became a contemporary term, coined in the early 2000’s and rising in popularity in the decades to follow, it describes the landscaping of hair on the male body; male grooming culture. 

Long hair was considered as a symbol of resistance in the dictatorship in Greece in the 1960’s. It was seen as something symbolic, heroic. Men and women alike would often be pulled by their long hair, as a common police tactic. Long hair grew as a sign of active resistance.

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