Haare als Symptom. Diskurse über Weiblichkeit, Schönheit und Identität
It seems to be a fact of nature that the human body is covered with hair. Not only do the hair of the body and the hair of the head differ with regard to texture and structure, they are also an ideal, benchmark, or threat in terms of gender. The female in particular, has to live up to the ideal of a smooth and hairless body, with numerous procedures and techniques, products and advertising campaigns designed to help her do so. Women are willing to shave, wax, epilate, and undergo laser treatment. Female hairiness is the focus of attention not only in popular scientific discourses, in the media, and in the cosmetic and beauty industries, but also in everyday forms of bodily activities. Medicine considers excessive hairiness a phenomenon worthy of diagnosis and treatment. The implications of female hairiness – in medical, cultural and historical contexts – are connected with historical practices and cultural conceptions of self-attributions and the attributions of the others. Ideas about female hairiness can be found in stories, cultural practices, and manifestations of knowledge and power. They range from freak shows of the nineteenth century and psychiatry textbooks of the early twentieth century, to the beauty and cosmetic industries and subversive body practices. Much more than just a natural fact, female hairiness refers to a complex system of body technologies and knowledge-based practices that interpret it as peculiar and pathologic or uncanny and subversive. The following uses a cultural-historical approach to analyze the different meanings attributed to female hairiness.