Women's Body Hair
hair of any kind on women is a state which appears to have been
shunned during the medieval period. This is widely reflected in
artwork of the time.
Pictured at right is a detail from
the illuminated Book Of Hours For Bourges Use dated 1500
and made in France. Although the time period is towards the end
of the medieval and start of the renaissance periods, the woman
still upholds the traits deemed desirable and beautiful- pale,
white skin, small upright breasts, generous hips, high forehead
and blonde hair.
Even though plucking the eyebrows
and hairline at the top of the forehead was commonplace for many
women, the church was extremely unhappy about this. In Confessionale,
clergymen are encouraged to ask those who came to confession:
If she has plucked hair from
her neck, or brows or beard for lavisciousness or to please
men... This is a mortal sin unless she does so to remedy severe
disfigurement or so as not to be looked down on by her husband.
books cite small tweezers made from copper alloy or silver as
part of medieval toiletry sets. The tweezers at left are dated
from the 15th century and feature brass tweezers, an earscoop
and a nail pick, all hinged to fold away when not in use.
Contemporary artworks, when they
show the female private parts at all, show it clear from any growth
of hair. Since the general practice of tweezing the face and hairline
to achieve a fashionable look was popular, it is not hard to imagine
that women may have also removed the unwanted hair from the pubic
region. Trotula de Ruggiero's 11th century treatice, De Ornatu
Mulierum (About Womens Cosmetics) advises a hair removal
remedy for women:
In order permanently to remove
hair. Take ants' eggs, red orpiment, and gum of ivy, mix with
vinegar, and rub the areas.
A written reference to female pubic
hair I have found is in the telling of the tale of Griselda,
a popular story many times retold, of a cruel husband and his
submissive and enduring wife. In one version, the husband Gualtieri
discusses the type of woman who when turned out of her house in
only a chemise would warm her wool or rub her
pelt against another man to procure fine clothing. It is fairly
certain the the wool and pelt referred to is the woman's pubic
hair. From this we can ascertain that at least some women retained
Chaucer, too, in the Miller's Tale talks a woman who is bearded
around hir hole.
To counter this view, Erasmus in
his work The Praise of Folly speaks of an old woman buying
herself a younger lover saying:
Nowadays any old dotard with
one foot in the grave can marry a juicy young girl, even if
she has no dowry.. But best of all is to see the old women,
almost dead and looking like skeletons who have crapt out of
their graves, still mumbling "Life is sweet!" As old
as they are, they are still in heat still seducing some young
Phaon they have hired for large sums of money. Every day they
plaster themselves with makeup and tweeze their pubic hairs;
they expose their sagging breasts and try to arouse desire with
their thin voices.
Even though this text was written
in 1509, it shows that at that point, it was normal for a woman
to be without pubic hair. Whether this extended to the peasantry
is doubtful and whether it extended to all of the European countries
can only be guessed at.