Abstract

The corporeal ideal of a female form free of body hair has a long tradition in Western thought, originating in antiquity and culminating in the eighteenth century. Early-modern discourses on art, aesthetics, cultural theory, and anthropology explicitly defend the ideal of the naked, depilated woman with reference to antique depictions of Venus. Denis Diderot's speculations on the origins of the hairless female body are exemplary for the eighteenth century. His fondness for the "depilated lap" provides for a far-reaching theory of civilization based on female "shame." Pubic hair, in Enlightenment thought, came to be associated with female sinfulness and the fall of civilization. This essay aims to trace the stages of the depilation argument in the eighteenth century. Particular emphasis is set upon its interrelation with contemporary concepts of antiquity and of the female body. Finally the essay analyzes the tendency to establish a self-reflexive metatheory--hair as a "metaphor of a metaphor"--drawing on examples from art and literature.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-315X
Print ISSN
0013-2586
Pages
pp. 17-38
Launched on MUSE
2004-10-11
Open Access
No
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