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The act of shaving is something that continues to enthrall me. As a child I already understood very well that it was a symbol of adulthood – a scene out of ‘I Stand Alone’ comes to mind wherein the misanthropic butcher discredits one of his many enemies: “He hasn’t even learned to shave himself.” But at the same time I saw how my father, after every single shave, needed to patch up his face. Shaving, for me, was a kind of paradoxical ritual; you needed to slit your throat in order to become a man. Later I discovered how Mark Twain too in his infancy felt a strong coming-of-age connection with shaving. Cf. this passage from his travel book… Read more

The act of shaving is something that continues to enthrall me. As a child I already understood very well that it was a symbol of adulthood – a scene out of ‘I Stand Alone’ comes to mind wherein the misanthropic butcher discredits one of his many enemies: “He hasn’t even learned to shave himself.” But at the same time I saw how my father, after every single shave, needed to patch up his face. Shaving, for me, was a kind of paradoxical ritual; you needed to slit your throat in order to become a man. Later I discovered how Mark Twain too in his infancy felt a strong coming-of-age connection with shaving. Cf. this passage from his travel book ‘The Innocents Abroad’: “Then we hunted for a barber-shop. From earliest infancy it had been a cherished ambition of mine to be shaved some day in a palatial barber-shop in Paris. I wished to recline at full length in a cushioned invalid chair, with pictures about me and sumptuous furniture; with frescoed walls and gilded arches above me and vistas of Corinthian columns stretching far before me; with perfumes of Araby to intoxicate my senses and the slumbrous drone of distant noises to soothe me to sleep. At the end of an hour I would wake up regretfully and find my face as smooth and as soft as an infant’s. Departing, I would lift my hands above that barber’s head and say, ‘Heaven bless you, my son!’”

In historiography the practical and material culture of shaving is linked to an expression of, what has been called, a ‘polite gentlemanliness’. The early modern period saw a change in facial hair fashions. At the end of the seventeenth century to be cleanly shaven became the manly norm, while before beards were the accepted sign of manhood. According to Alun Withey, at the heart of this change lay three main factors: the decline of humoral medicine, the rise of a more ‘open’ and youthful aesthetic as compared with the model of rugged and bearded masculinity, and technological advances in steel-making that meant that razors were sharper and easier to use. Angela Rosenthal points to another potential contributor to negative connotations of the beard, namely cultural and ethnic difference. In satirical prints, for example, the beard was used as a racial characteristic in the depiction of Jewish men.

Supra lies a list of films that contain scenes of shaving of some kind. I know I’ll be more prone to include representations of the contemporary (male) DIY-safety-razor-in-hand shave, so please do suggest.

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