Read Plucked: A History of Hair Removal by Rebecca M. Herzig Online


From the clamshell razors and homemade lye depilatories used in colonial America to the diode lasers and prescription pharmaceuticals available today, Americans have used a staggering array of tools to remove hair deemed unsightly, unnatural, or excessive. This is true especially for women and girls; conservative estimates indicate that 99% of American women have tried haiFrom the clamshell razors and homemade lye depilatories used in colonial America to the diode lasers and prescription pharmaceuticals available today, Americans have used a staggering array of tools to remove hair deemed unsightly, unnatural, or excessive. This is true especially for women and girls; conservative estimates indicate that 99% of American women have tried hair removal, and at least 85% regularly remove hair from their faces, armpits, legs, and bikini lines. How and when does hair become a problem—what makes some growth “excessive”?  Who or what separates the necessary from the superfluous? In Plucked, historian Rebecca Herzig addresses these questions about hair removal. She shows how, over time, dominant American beliefs about visible hair changed: where once elective hair removal was considered a “mutilation” practiced primarily by “savage” men, by the turn of the twentieth century, hair-free faces and limbs were expected for women. Visible hair growth—particularly on young, white women—came to be perceived as a sign of political extremism, sexual deviance, or mental illness. By the turn of the twenty-first century, more and more Americans were waxing, threading, shaving, or lasering themselves smooth. Herzig’s extraordinary account also reveals some of the collateral damages of the intensifying pursuit of hair-free skin. Moving beyond the experiences of particular patients or clients, Herzig describes the surprising histories of race, science, industry, and medicine behind today's hair-removing tools. Plucked is an unsettling, gripping, and original tale of the lengths to which Americans will go to remove hair....

Title : Plucked: A History of Hair Removal
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 24610511
Format Type : Kindle Edition
Number of Pages : 280 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Plucked: A History of Hair Removal Reviews

  • Mainon
    2019-02-11 16:17

    The history of hair removal is way more interesting than I'd expected.Herzig starts with a poorly understood fact of early American history: the Native Americans were perceived as having less body hair than Europeans, and this (like everything back then) was used to trumpet the Christian/European superiority. Yet even then there was disagreement over whether the lesser body hair was due to a natural deficiency, or, well, to assiduous plucking.Then we move on, as hair removal becomes a serious business for women, with creams and potions and snake oils that at worst failed to remove the undesirable hair, and at worst caused serious disfigurement. Herzig does a fine job at tracking the attitudes of different eras toward the hair, as the problem is gradually medicalized into "hirsutism" but doctors struggle to define just how much hair qualifies as a clinical problem. Scientific answers to medical problems became all the rage, and X-ray salons were actually very popular for a time! (Yes, prolonged exposure to X-rays will make hair fall out, but no, it's really not worth getting cancer for.)At the same time that hair removal practices are evolving, so too are the places where hair is considered "excess." It may not be that surprising to learn that underarm hair is a fairly recent such area, but legs even more so. Herzig spends a blessedly brief time on the bikini-waxing craze, but by the end of the book I felt like I really had a firm grasp on how attitudes toward different types of body hair, and the procedures that arose out of those attitudes, have changed throughout American history. There were plenty of footnotes and it seemed quite well-researched; I would say this is more a scholarly work than one might expect, but well worth a read if histories of somewhat nontraditional topics (e.g., Salt: A World History) interest you. Frankly, this book would be an excellent companion to -- or a follow-up for fans of -- The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York.

  • Leah Lucci
    2019-01-19 08:12

    The majority of this book is what you think it’s going to be: a delightful history of the crazy ways womenfolk shear themselves smooth. Plucked is also, however, an in-depth look body’s interplay with both race and scientific advancement. The book, surprisingly, starts out with a group judged for not having enough body hair: the Native Americans. White people — seemingly desperate to grab at any straws in pursuit of “manifest destiny” — thought the Natives’ hairlessness was unnatural. Weak. A rugged man-beard was a sign of a brawny man’s man. Then, of course, the narrative hops over to women. Sorry, dames: no hair below the neck. Why? Because we’re evolving away from apes, and should look like it. (Thanks, Darwin?) Or because a “white, smooth” complexion is the tops. Or because certain hair types “indicate insanity.” (Ah, the things people try to prove.)Or because hair removal is an outward indication that you have time and money to throw around. (What’s so wrong with teaching oneself crochet instead?)Or because it’s a porn standard. Or because it’s part of the “third shift.” And oh — the horrors involved in removing it. I won’t delve into too much detail here, because that’s what the book is for but… voluntary radiation. If that doesn’t pique your interest, I don’t know what to tell you. Overall, this book was really interesting and moved along briskly. I dug it.

  • Alysa H.
    2019-02-07 08:14

    With a name like Plucked, I was expecting this to read a bit more like a Mary Roach book -- like Stiff or Gulp, informative and smart but also funny. Herzig's Plucked is informative and smart, but it's never funny. It's deadly serious. This kind of book, however, should be judged on what it is rather than what it's not. And it is a very impressive academic text that reveals a great deal more about the history of hair removal than I thought possible, examining the topic from a variety of angles and contextualizing it within a huge, interconnected sociological web. Herzig also avoids making judgements outright, though I appreciated how she made some subtle moral points in the concluding section.This is great work.** I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley **

  • Mauoijenn ~ *Mouthy Jenn* ~
    2019-01-29 14:34

    *NetGalley book review*Now, this book had me really curious. Hair removal. I've worked in the medical field for over 17 years and these kind of books just jump out and scream for me to read them. This was a interesting read. I'll give it to the author she did her research and knows a lot when it comes to this topic. I did learn a lot and I will tuck away all of it in my brain for trivia night or just to mind boggle someone. Good read if your into interesting history topics.

  • Nezka
    2019-02-11 16:09

    Fascinating, well-researched, and well-documented history on how Western/American society has been dealing with body hair, including current technologies.

  • Ashley Holstrom
    2019-01-23 14:21

    This is a heavy look into the science and history of hair removal — from shaving as punishment in Guantanamo Bay to getting routine Brazilian waxes. We get to see the techniques for hair removal, the types of people throughout history who have cared about removing their hair, and what people assume about people who don’t tame their hair, like those reckless young women who don’t shave their armpits (*waves*). This is the most science-y one here, and it’s probably the best if you’re just wanting one book about hair.From Buy, Borrow, Bypass: Nonfiction about Hair at Book Riot.

  • Lori L (She Treads Softly)
    2019-02-09 15:21

    Plucked: A History of Hair Removal by Rebecca M. Herzig is a highly recommended, fascinating look at the history of hair removal in the United States.I am so glad a Rebecca Herzig didn't listen to her detractors and that she pursued writing this compelling history of hair removal. Plucked covers the various ways people have removed unwanted body hair, with the main focuse on the U. S. In the U. S. today the deliberate removal of body hair is a widespread practice that is taken for granted, but the now seemingly conventional and commonplace act of removing body hair to obtain smooth skin is not even a century old. At the same time forced hair removal has been called torture and abuse (like for the detainees at Guantánamo) throughout history. Plucked also covers the changing social and cultural aspects of hair removal.Plucked is well researched and well written. While it is not a complete, thorough examination of every aspect of the history of hair removal, it is short, concise and entertaining enough to appeal to a wide audience as well as those who enjoy history texts. Contents:Introduction: Necessary SufferingThe Hairless Indian: Savagery and Civility before the Civil War“Chemicals of the Toilette”: From Homemade Remedies to a New Industrial OrderBearded Women and Dog-Faced Men: Darwin’s Great Denudation“Smooth, White, Velvety Skin”: X-Ray Salons and Social MobilityGlandular Trouble: Sex Hormones and Deviant Hair GrowthUnshaven: “Arm-Pit Feminists” and Women’s Liberation“Cleaning the Basement”: Labor, Pornography, and Brazilian WaxingMagic Bullets: Laser Regulation and Elective Medicine“The Next Frontier”: Genetic Enhancement and the End of HairConclusion: We Are All PluckedAcknowledgments, Notes, IndexDisclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of New York University Press for review purposes.

  • Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
    2019-01-24 14:15

    Expecting a history of how the ancients removed their hair (you never see the Ancient Romans or Greeks with beards, do you?), I found that Plucked: A History of Hair Removal deals with that topic pretty neatly in the first few chapters. Historian Rebecca Herzig then moves on from the mundane of how body hair was removed until modern times (waxing, tweezing, burning), to how and why it has been removed for the past hundred years or so.The ancients have nothing on us moderns for hair removal methods. Herzig describes early 20th century x-ray treatments for removing hair from the face, a painful and largely unregulated procedure. Radiation turned out to be a less than optimal solution to body hair, but as the century and science progressed, hormone therapy became the next craze in exfoliation. As fashions in clothing and hairlessness changed, laser treatment (also painful and sometimes unsafe) emerged. As the 21st century dawned, Brazilian waxing became as common as tattoos and another painful beauty routine was introduced.Herzig discusses attitudes, science, advertising, the money angle (doctors found that specializing in laser procedure was more lucrative and easier than family practice, for instance). She doesn't ignore men -- although they have only recently begun tending to body hair other than facial in recent years, it's become almost a given that men will do some "manscaping."Plucked is an academic look at hair removal, but it's entirely readable and fascinating for a general reader. Plenty to ponder as you tweeze your brows or undergo the agony of a bikini wax.(Thanks to NetGalley for a digital review copy.)

  • Susanne
    2019-01-26 12:39

    The subtitle of this book lied to me. I picked it up for research into hair removal practices of the ancient world. The book starts with the 1700s. Not a word on the ancients.So it's not actually a history. Not only because of the solely modern scope (1700s - on is considered Modern History in history-land), but because there is an emphasis on analyzing the social significance of hair (or lack thereof) rather than illuminating the mechanics of removal. And yet there is not enough follow-through on the analysis to be satisfying. The work hovers on the brink of making some intriguing connections between hair and Imperialism, paternalism, and sexism, and yet never actually steps over the edge and commits. This all made it a frustrating read for me. But it's probably a very good book taken for what it is, so I'm unsure how to "rate" it. Hence I'm leaving that bit blank.

  • Sally
    2019-02-09 08:30

    A book about shaving, waxing, and plucking that really talks about the economics of gender, race, and class. I enjoyed this book.

  • Laura Giddey
    2019-02-12 14:39

    Not an easy read but good pictures.

  • Jana Rađa
    2019-01-24 14:14

    This one was a lot of fun to read on several levels. The topic of body hair, which in Plucked refers to any hair growth below the scalp line, might not be fascinating in itself, at least not in the usual sense, but it was interesting nevertheless. Depilation is so much part of the whole female experience that it was delightful to take some time to think about all the ridiculous and strange reasons we do it, and how the way body hair (and hair removal) is perceived in our culture changed and is changing. The author, however, makes an unlikely introduction to the topic by referring to the visit of representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to the internment facility at Guantánamo Bay in the closing months of 2006 and the ensuing debate concerning American treatment of detainees that, along with the use of waterboarding and other interrogation strategies, included forced hair removal. As Herzig tells us, “even the critics of US detention policies generally ignored the shaving”, referring to it as “unnecessary” but failing to see the abuse behind it, although “the International Committee of the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, and detainees themselves repeatedly characterized beard removal as a violation of religious belief, personal dignity, and international treaty obligations”. Herzig closes the introduction by describing some of the questions examined in the book:When exactly does a practice cease to be merely “unpleasant” and become “cruel,” “inhuman” torture? What distinguishes trivial nuisances from serious problems? Who gets to determine the parameters of true suffering, and of real violence? Such questions— matters of knowledge and power, privilege and exclusion, life and death— animate this book, a history of hair removal in the United States from the colonial era to the present.Rebecca M. Herzig, Christian A. Johnson Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and Chair of the Program in Women and Gender Studies at Bates College, narrowed her study down to a specific time and place (the colonial era in the US to this day), but it is still a comprehensive study of the topic. Shifting cultural attitudes towards body hair, fertilised by theories of sexual selection and social mobility that were deftly introduced by early marketing experts, are described in detail, and so are the methods used. For example, after the mechanisation of slaughter, the same compounds used to strip hair from hides might also be used to strip hair from the human skin or, my “favourite”, X-ray machines introduced in the late 1890s and used well into the 1920s (when American physicians became reluctant to use them in part as a result of their growing awareness of radiation risk).Herzig writes beautifully. In terms of style, the text reads wonderfully for this type of scientific writing. It is a perfectly structured extended academic paper. I loved the way the author incorporated everything that such a piece of writing should have, and then dived deeper and went farther. Another aspect of the author's writing that is fascinating is her ability to write about all the minutiae of hair removal and then, at the end of the book, take a step back and paint the big picture in bold strokes. We are all conditioned by culture, nowadays heavily influenced by the big industry and marketing, and, pointless and nonsensical as some of the aspects might seem, our very survival is dependent on our submission to the greater forces at play. Put another way, individual choice has become the very vehicle of political control. The more invested we become in “optimizing” individual health and well-being, the more thoroughly do we embody the ebbs and flows of rule. Seen in this light, the waxing, shaving, lasering, and plucking discussed in previous chapters all appear not merely as curious cultural developments but as paradigmatic “practices of the self”: the ongoing efforts of personal transformation that, according to Foucault, actually serve as the capillaries of modern power.When all is said and done, I agree with Rebecca M. Herzig: “Even if we never tweeze another hair from another body, we are plucked.”

  • Andree
    2019-01-27 12:11

    I love to read non-fiction books on strange topics, especially medical or science topics. Usually there’s some weird, wacky, and wonderful information to be found. While I had never stopped and thought about the world of hair-removal I was instantly intrigued by the idea.It definitely delivered. The starting chapter deals with the reaction of settlers when encountering First Nations men who seemed miraculously hairless. The Europeans initially seemed to think these men were of lesser virulence lower ‘manliness’ since they did not have big beards or fancy mustaches. It was simply a difference in trends. While the European men meticulously maintained their facial hair, the First Nation men plucked theirs out.Fashion trends would continue to drive the need and desire to remove ‘excess’ body hair, especially for women. From the Elizabethan era when high foreheads were all the rage to WWII era when rising hemlines called for leg shaving to today when women (and men) have a full range of options on how to deal with their pubic hair. The most tragic part of it all was the extremes that people would go to in an attempt to fit cultural norms. Early depilatory creams could be caustic and extremely harmful. Then there was X-ray was the favoured method of hair removal…until it was found that it caused cancer.This war that we wage with body is a long one and still today few steps have been made towards accepting the natural state of our mammalian bodies. Meanwhile the technology behind hair removal has barely progressed in the past 30 years partly because dermatology is just not a ‘sexy’ area of research. This is something that I have personally witnessed with a healing disorder that I’ve had for 20 years and yet the treatment options have barely changed in that time and still have a success rate of 60-70%. While it is a fine line between determination of a disorder versus fitting into cultural norms. Anytime a person feels anxiety and insecurity in their own skin (pun intended) safe options should be available to them.Plucked was highly informative and eye-opening to a part of history that seldom gets a lot of attention. It is well-written for a non-fiction book and thoroughly researched. Unfortunately the focus was on America. I certainly would have enjoyed for cross-cultural perspectives, but that may simply have been beyond the scope of the book.I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley, for an honest review.

  • Beth
    2019-02-09 09:38

    I forget how I stumbled across this book, but I'm happy I did. The book talks about the history of hair removal in America, and it is fascinating. If you, like me, have wondered why we started shaving our legs - this book talks about it! If you've wondered what's the deal with laser removal, this book talks about it. And did you know that at one point women were getting radiation to remove hair? Seriously - radiation - of the intensity used during cancer treatments. Pretty fascinating stuff.I am interested to know about hair removal in other countries and cultures, so if the author ever wrote a sequel to this book I'd definitely pick it up.

  • Sally Hannoush
    2019-02-07 13:15

    I would first like to say that I had never given much thought on hair removal and how it came to be. The many different ways and places to remove hair is something I always knew as fact. This book wasn't at all what I expected. It was not a light read. The seriousness of the information hit me hard. The science of hair on the body is also described and defined in technical terms. As times change you can see what hair removal means and how it is done. A lot of examples on ways to remove hair was given-in context of subject. Some materials used for this was a surprise for me: shells, woods, bone, copper, wire, sharks tooth, chemicals, razors, and x-rays-to name several but not all. This practice is costly and had many trial and errors. Some reasons hair removal was practiced were mentioned throughout the book. It was used in government control by causing disgrace and embarrassment to some people as well as a way to control hygiene issues. Different cultures have other understandings on what hair removal means and where it is removed from. Some cultures and/or religions form superstitious beliefs while others use it for punishment, class statues, vanity, social trends, time period trends, and identification. They also learned it is helpful for pre-surgery ease. There were examples of "freaks" who had too much or to little hair on their bodies which can be explained with biological information that was not known in the past. I was not just reading about hair history but the history of other subjects as well. The subject was well researched and has around 40% of notes and sources at the end of the book. This seemed like a textbook to me and actually had me taking notes so I can recall information later. This was extremely long and mentally taxing. I did learn a lot and found some information very fascinating.

  • Denise
    2019-02-06 16:39

    This book really surprised me, but in the best way. The book does of course cover exactly what it says on the tin, discussion of the various ways people have removed their body hairs, but the historical undercurrents of why they’ve done it, and to what levels, are wonderfully laid out and explored, and it is deep and disturbing and fascinating. The book is a complicated braid of scientific racism, caustic skin-melting patent medicines, sexual anxiety, homosexuality vs. heterosexuality, radiation hair removal vs. laser hair removal, femininity vs masculinity, and the medicalization of beauty. The short and simple "Acknowledgements" section at the end is unexpectedly one of the loveliest parts. She talks about her reluctance to tell others what she's been working on, immediate assumptions from people about her personal habits on body hair, the covert and overt professional discouragement from other academics, including being told point blank to drop the topic in graduate school and pick something "better." Naturally, she then does go on to thank the people who did encourage her. But this section really spoke to me. Academic freedom is all well and good, but freedom doesn't equal respectability. What good is the ivory tower if we do not encourage the weird and uncomfortable things? A great case study in how personal is political and the political is personal, and now I’ll never be able to shave my pits again without having to take a good, long, uncomfortable look at why I’m doing it. I received a reviewer's copy of this book on Netgalley.

  • Patty
    2019-02-14 08:15

    Despite the general feel of the cover and summary, this isn't a pop science book, but an academic history of body hair with a fairly restricted focus: the US, from the late 1700s to now. All of which is fine, I just would have liked that to be clearer when I was deciding to read it. Nonetheless, it's a pretty fascinating topic. Herzig describes not just the history of how to get rid of unwanted hair – the invention of safety razors! the bizarre fad in the 1910s and 20s for using x-rays to make hair fall out! (Surprise, that did not go well for the patients.) Snake oil depilatories! Modern day lasers and waxes! The unexpected role of industrial meat butchering! – but also why some hair is declared unwanted in the first place, a topic that ends up relating to ideas of the body influenced by race, gender (particularly femininity), sexuality, health, and class. There's a ton of neat little facts in here – for example, the main place women in the 1700s worried about being hairless was their foreheads – but Herzig also manages to relate body hair to big, important factors of life in the past and now. A really well-done book.I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

  • Rowan MacBean
    2019-01-20 09:15

    I received PLUCKED: A HISTORY OF HAIR REMOVAL as an ARC through is an interesting and informative history of hair removal in the United States. The first chapters talk about how Native Americans were viewed as savages partially because they were relatively hairless compared to Europeans, and how eventually depilatories became vital to the new invading Americans. This was the part that really held my interest. After that, the book goes into the types of hair removal methods, and how they spread as the country grew. With a short stop at "hairy feminists" in the 70s, Plucked brings us all the way up to present-day hair removal, and the popularity of the Brazilian (which they don't do in Brazil).

  • Katarina
    2019-01-28 11:30

    man, we do a bunch of crazy stuff to ourselves...This book talks about the history of hair removal and is very interesting. Points I found most interesting were how abundance or hair, or absence of hair is linked to superiority or inferiority of cultures. Throughout history amounts of hair or hair growth patterns have been linked to insanity, gender confusion and crime.Then there are all the different methods that people have used to rid themselves of unwanted hair. Many seem so insane now, that it's hard to believe people would do that to themselves. The amount of money spent on this industry is staggering.The book is very scientific, parts were a little hard to read, or too technical. Very interesting, but dry.

  • Robin
    2019-02-04 10:14

    How quickly our society's views on hair removal have changed within the last 100 years (not to mention the last 10 years). Herzig's research is impeccable. My one issue is that her work reads more like a dissertation than narrative non-fiction, but I have to admit I did enjoy putting my academic hat back on. Her interview on Baltimore public radio a couple of months ago inspired me to seek this out -- I'm glad that she's making the circuit and finding her voice. I think it is useful to think about why we do what we do -- especially considering how many hours (and hours and hours) of our lives we spend removing our hair. It's pretty insane.

  • Leah
    2019-01-24 11:10

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Hair removal is something that is such a part of our lives and I enjoyed the way this book took the reader on that travel through time from when body hair was the norm, to the need to remove it, from body hair being empowering, to men and women feeling the need to remove it completely. What also is extremely interesting is the measures taken to remove hair and how products weren't regulated by the government as they didn't see hair loss as be something that could have dangerous outcomes if done wrong.At times the author strays from the subject material, but otherwise this was an enlightening and interesting read.

  • Benjamin
    2019-02-01 11:20

    Informative history of hair removal, in the final conclusion the author takes the easy way out and brings the inevitable Foucault on the stage.Bonus points for reminding me of Christopher Hitchen's unforgettable "sack, back, and crack" wax, which he described in Vanity Fair as "like being tortured for information that you do not possess".

  • Mandy
    2019-02-02 08:35

    Who’d have thought the removal of body hair could be such a fascinating subject! It appears that unwanted body hair has always been a problem for the human race and the ways of getting rid of it have ranged from the bizarre to the frankly dangerous. This book is very much an academic study and quite dry at times, but the subject matter is interesting enough to make it a good read for the general reader as well and I certainly learnt a great deal. Well researched and comprehensive, it’s both thought-provoking and engaging, and I very much enjoyed it.

  • Don Gorman
    2019-01-17 08:09

    This book reads like a thesis that someone (probably an aggressive editor) thought could be converted into a mainstream book. It doesn't really work. There is a lot of information here and a lot of history as well, but you really have to work hard to get through it. I guess if you are deeply into dermatology or weird psychological aspects of our society you might enjoy this, it was a struggle for me.

  • Leslie
    2019-02-05 14:24

    Pretty interesting topic! I'd never heard about X-Ray hair removal before, scary! Or all the home made stuff people would cook up at home to get rid of unwanted hair. I've got this old household management book from 1921 (inherited from my grandmother), I'm going to see if there's any recipes for hair removal in it. It's got how tos on everything else, and I do mean everything, even how to make cleaning products and vinegar.

  • Shay
    2019-02-14 09:23

    Published by New York University Press, Plucked is an accessible academic history of a subject that is simultaneously mundane and esoteric. It is a history that is both bizarre and contradictory, with body hair and its removal being variously saddled with positive or negative connotations, often depending on the gender or race of the more

  • Maxine
    2019-02-17 15:16

    An interesting book on a fascinating topic, however this is far more academic then you might think based on the synopsis and the cover. Once you get past the somewhat dry academic tone, this is a fantastically interesting story. I only wish it had been written in a more accessible manner so more people would read it!With thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC!

  • Crystal
    2019-01-24 13:21

    This was pretty academic, and I didn't get everything out of it that I had hoped to. But the discussions about x-ray hair removal, Native Americans not having as much hair as colonial white folk, and Brazilian waxes were interesting.

  • Teresa
    2019-02-05 11:35

    3.5 stars "Herzig is not out to entertain but she is also not needlessly pedantic or bogging the reader down in details and often allows herself some dry wit so this is very readable."read more:

  • Laura
    2019-02-06 11:10

    I read this as research for my "No-Shave Experiment" that I still haven't concluded, started in November 2014. It's really interesting/illuminating, with plenty of "insert indignant exclamation" moments. At some point, I'm going to have to turn my scribbled notes into a blog post!