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Plucked: A History of Hair Removal

3.62  ·  Rating Details ·  104 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 280 pages
Published January 16th 2015 by New York University Press (first published January 9th 2015)
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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 bu
Leah Lucci
Jan 15, 2015 Leah Lucci rated it really liked it
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 ru
Alysa H.
Dec 09, 2014 Alysa H. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
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 a ...more
Mauoijenn ~ *Mouthy Jenn* ~
*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.
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
Jan 22, 2015 Lori L (She Treads Softly) rated it really liked it
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 t
Biblio Files
Oct 31, 2014 Biblio Files rated it it was amazing
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 metho
Jana Rađa
Oct 10, 2016 Jana Rađa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 c ...more
May 04, 2016 Andree rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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 l
Sally Hannoush
Sep 13, 2014 Sally Hannoush rated it really liked it
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 ...more
May 27, 2015 Denise rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Mar 05, 2015 Patty rated it really liked it
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 ...more
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
Rowan MacBean
Dec 27, 2015 Rowan MacBean rated it liked it
Shelves: arcs, non-fiction

Plucked 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,
Feb 21, 2015 Katarina rated it really liked it
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
Jul 15, 2015 Robin rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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 ...more
Apr 13, 2015 Leah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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 ...more
Mar 03, 2015 Benjamin rated it liked it
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".

On the limits of self-improvement

Apr 19, 2015 Mandy rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Don Gorman
Dec 01, 2014 Don Gorman rated it did not like it
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.
Jan 18, 2016 Leslie rated it really liked it
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.
May 08, 2015 Shay rated it really liked it
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
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!
Jul 08, 2015 Crystal rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Aug 12, 2016 Teresa rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2015
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:
Jan 20, 2016 Laura rated it it was amazing
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!
Aug 03, 2016 Julia rated it it was ok
I'm having a hard time getting through this one. While there is some interesting information, it seems to me the author takes a long time to state the obvious.
Melissa rated it really liked it
Aug 03, 2015
Cassandra rated it liked it
Dec 27, 2015
Jun 30, 2016
Nov 18, 2015 Joanna added it
Shelves: did-not-finish
Much too academic for my leisure reading style. I got sucked in by the cover.
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“The limitations of these methods make it easier to understand why so many women might leap at the prospect of removing hair through prolonged exposure to radiation. First introduced by professional physicians in the late 1890s, x-ray hair removal offered several distinct advantages over other techniques. To begin, x-rays were undeniably effective at removing hair, as even the staunchest critics grudgingly admitted.37” 0 likes
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