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How Did Manscaping Start?

Manscaping is a humorous term that blends the words man and landscaping. It denotes the removal or trimming of hair on a man’s body for cosmetic purposes via methods like waxing, shaving and plucking.

The earliest recorded cases of manscaping date back to ancient Egypt. You’ve probably seen pictures of hieroglyphics that depict the epic beards of the old pharaohs. It turns out that they were global trend setters. Many accounts suggest that the Egyptians stole the idea of manscaping from Alexander the Great. He and his men kept their hair and beards short so enemies couldn’t grab them in combat. The Egyptians took that idea and ran with it. It transitioned from a practicality to a ragingly popular style trend in short order, and the aristocracy of Egypt found excess body hair to be an unacceptable shame. They were known for plucking and tweezing with a vengeance. Thus, manscaping was born.

While Alexander the Great introduced grooming to the Greeks in ancient times, the Egyptians weren’t the only ones to turn the practice into something social. The earliest known accounts of the goatee stemmed from post-Alexander Greece. Nobles, politicians and various scholars imitated the facial style from how they envisioned their god, Pan. That little bit of body grooming gave rise to a number of styles, and even today plenty of men fashion their hair after the idealized Greek gods and ancient statues.

The Romans, also produced their own manscaping trends. While the Greeks tried to look like gods, the Romans decided that manscaping was more important as a reflection of self. Romans were known for centuries as the clean-cut tribe of the world. They pioneered the concept of a daily shave. And, while some of the practices had practicality in mind, the primary motivation to the Romans was virtue. They reasoned that a truly virtuous person would take the time to make their appearance represent their beliefs. It sounds like the stuffy, ancient Roman version of “the clothes make the man.”

The most compulsive of the ancient body-croppers, were the priests of Ancient Egypt, from the 400s B.C. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, these priests “shave their whole body every other day, that no lice or other impure thing may adhere to them when they are engaged in the service of the gods.”

Although not officially taken up by Hinduism or Buddhism, pubic hair grooming in India has a similarly long, spiritual history. According to one of the less well-read bits of the Kama Sutra, the eligible man of the 2nd century (as explained by the influential commentator Yashodhara, writing around a millennium later), would have “hair shaved from his hidden place with a razor every fifth day, and then, every tenth day, has his body hair pulled out by the roots, because it grows so fast.”

Manscaping your facial hair for the ideal “side stubbles” was an indication of stature amid the American Civil War in the late 1800s. Major General Carter Littlepage Stevenson was famously known for his eccentric sideburns. Today, this in vogue style is connected to hipsters and rock stars. The expression “sideburns” can be credited to Union Army General and Senator Ambrose Burnside, who wore big bold sideburns. His trademark sideburns were so influential that the term “sideburns” is simply a twist on his last name.

According to Plucked: A History of Hair Removal by Rebecca M. Herzig, Westerners continued to disdain the idea of shaving pubes, perceiving it as something exotic or alien, until Charles Darwin published his Descent of Man in 1871. Once society absorbed Darwin’s message that humans were descended from hairier beings, an absence of pelt was increasingly associated with notions of civilization and sophistication. Combine that with the popularity of electrolysis (invented in 1875), safety razors (invented in 1901) and the soaring hemlines of the post-World War I flapper generation, and the era of pubic hair grooming on grounds of taste (specifically, men’s taste) had begun.

he ultimate expression of the hair-free culture was reached in the early 1990s, when a group within the naturist community broke away from mainstream hairy nudeness to form the “Nudest Nudist” movement, in which bodies were free from both clothes and hair. The first “Smoothie” nudist club was founded in the U.K. in 1991, followed by a Dutch branch in 1993. It was a bald move.

Meanwhile, in 1987 the inventor of the Brazilian wax, Janea Padilha, had opened her J Sisters salon in Manhattan. Shortly afterward she performed the first male treatment on the husband of a client. By 2007, J Sisters’ “bro-zilians” had become so popular that even Christopher Hitchens put himself through a back, sack and crack for a Vanity Fair article. The trend kept spreading: The word “bro-zilians,” in fact, was used as far away as New Zealand by the Auckland establishment Off Wax, who liked to tell their “wussy” Kiwi clients to just “grunt up.”

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