As told on CBC Radio's Morningside...
We all know the power of advertizing. At the turn of the century, for example, the South African Diamond company, DeBeers, created the image that the diamond was forever and therefore would make an excellent wedding ring.
Another marketing campaign around this time convinced the women of North America to shave their body hair. Notably, women in the other parts of the world do not engage on masse in this ritual. Even in French Canada the habit is not largely undertaken.
It all began with the May, 1915 edition of Harper's Bazaar magazine that featured a model sporting the latest fashion. She wore a sleeveless evening gown that exposed, for the first time in fashion, her bare shoulders, and her armpits.
A young marketing executive with the Wilkinson Sword Company, who also made razor blades for men, designed a campaign to convince the women of North America that: a. Underarm hair was a. unhygienic and b. unfeminine.
In two years the sales of razor blades doubled as our grandmothers and great grandmothers made themselves conform to this socially constructed gender stereotype.
This norm for North American women has been reinforced by several generations of daughters who role modeled their mothers. Daughters are now making choices about body image that include an awareness of the multi-billion dollar fashion industry construction of the beauty myth.