I couldn’t resist sharing these thoughts on body hair removal from a Venetian 1562 advice book for women that I stumbled across yesterday (apparently written by a “Greek Queen”, but really by the male physician, Giovanni Marinello). You would have thought that having to deal with scabies, leprosy and “the itch” would have taken up most of the beauty routine of renaissance women – but apparently unsightly hairs also posed a problem. In its assertion that hair removal is healthy and natural, that body hair in women is “excessive” and smelly, alongside the threat that husbands will search elsewhere for gratification if a woman remains undepilated, it may seem creepily familiar to modern readers.
Many are the weaknesses, lovely women, that can spoil your beautiful appearance by attacking the skin from outside: some things break or lacerate the skin, like scabies, the itch, leprosy and other similar maladies. Other things unfortunately diminish your charms, making your skin fetid and stinking. One of these things is body hair, and the other is excessive sweat, or other filthy and corrupt superfluities. Body hair, if you do not have scabies or a similar disease, has to be removed (because it is a sign of surpluses in our nutrition, just as sweat is) after your bath, or whilst you are bathing. And all our efforts are to gratify you and make sure that you are loved and caressed by your husbands, who won’t stick to their promise of chastity because of your bodily defects, and will go behind your back to other women; however teaching you how to remove body hair, we will start with the way to make baths, which will not only preserve your beauty, but keep you healthy and comfortable.
For the context of renaissance body hair removal practices, see my earlier post.