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Development and function
Underarm hair, as human body hair, normally starts to appear at the beginning of puberty, with growth usually completed by the end of the teen-age years. The evolutionary significance of human underarm hair is still debated. It may naturally wick sweat or other moisture away from the skin, aiding ventilation. Colonization by odor-producing bacteria is thereby transferred away from the skin (see skin flora).
Today, it is more common in much of the Western world for women than men to shave their underarm hair regularly. The prevalence of this practice varies widely, though. Religious reasons are sometimes cited; for example, in Islamic culture, both men and women remove underarm hair to meet religious guidelines of cleanliness. Removal of underarm hair was part of a collection of hygienic or cosmetic practices recommended by Prophet Muhammad (570-632) as consistent with fitra for both men and women and has since usually been regarded as a requirement by most Muslims. Many competitive swimmers remove nearly all of their body hair, including their underarm hair, to make their bodies more streamlined during races. Many male bodybuilders also remove their body hair for cosmetic purposes, as do many (but not all) models in various kinds of erotica.
Seneca the Younger suggests it was common practice in ancient Rome, contrary to leg hair removal: «One is, I believe, as faulty as the other: the one class are unreasonably elaborate, the other are unreasonably negligent; the former depilate the leg, the latter not even the armpit» (letter 114).
In the West, the practice began for cosmetic reasons around 1915 in the United States and United Kingdom, when one or more magazines showed a woman in a dress with shaved underarms. Regular shaving became feasible with the introduction of the safety razor at the beginning of the 20th century. While underarm shaving was quickly adopted in some English speaking countries, especially in the US and Canada, it did not become widespread in Europe until well after World War II.
Underarm hair in art
In works of art, the underarm hair is usually removed; showing it is a mark of modernism. This contrasts to the depiction of pubic hair in art, which is rarely portrayed in works created in the Middle Ages, increasingly common in Renaissance art, and quite frequent in modern times.
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- Paye, Marc; Maibach, Howard I.; Barel, André O (2009). Handbook of cosmetic science and technology (3 ed.). Informa Health Care. p. 703. ISBN 1-4200-6963-2.
- "Compendium of Islamic Texts". USC. Retrieved 24 March 2012.[dead link]
- Weekes, Ann Owens (1993). "Students' Self-Image: Representations of Women in "High" Art and Popular Culture". Woman's Art Journal 13 (2): 32–38.