Monday, July 1, 2013

What I learned from a summer of not shaving

What I learned from a summer of not shaving == Hobo Mama
Some of that is hair, and some is seaweed. Adjust your monitors for the brightness of my leg skin.
A few years back, I started seriously considering stopping shaving.

I started shaving in junior high. I was on the swim team and was mortified when we were doing our warmup stretches that I was the only girl sporting armpit hair. I tried cutting them with scissors —ouch! I tried tweezing — double ouch! I finally begged my mom to let me start in with a razor. She said, Fine, but remember: Once you start, you can't stop.

She was referring to the myth that hair grows in darker and thicker once you start shaving.

I thought, Fine by me! I don't want to stop.

For me at age 12 or 13, it was a coming of age as well as a cultural distinction. I lived in Berlin, and at the time very few German women shaved. I wanted to mark myself as an American among my American peers. I was fine with my German friends choosing differently, but I wanted to be sure I wasn't confused for anything but what I identified with.

Fast forward to now, when I'm part of this larger online network as well as various local groups of crunchy, hippie, feminist, counter-cultural parents, and I've found myself wondering if I now need to NOT shave to fit in. How the wheel turns, hey?

Why to question shaving

There are good reasons not to shave. For a practical one for busy moms, it takes less time. From a green perspective, you waste less water and pour fewer chemicals down the drain. From an economic one, you don't spend money on razors, gels, or other hair removal products and techniques.

My friend Jennifer has opened my eyes to an unsavory side of WHY women shave, and why we shave what we do — armpits, legs, pubic hair — we're infantilizing our natural women's bodies and making them once more prepubescent and hairless. Pretty weird once you think of it that way.

My shaving non-ritual

Since motherhood, I've been at best an indifferent shaver. I don't bother during the winter. I don't shave my bikini line unless and until I'm going swimming. I've been known to wait till my swimsuit is on and then see exactly where the line falls...

One downside of nearsightedness cured with glasses instead of contacts is that I'm pretty much blind in the shower. And legs are sooo far away. So I just kind of do some passes as I can, when I feel like it. If I miss a patch, I get it next time. Or the time after that. Whatever. For instance, that picture at the top? That's after shaving. I think I missed a whole leg.

I used to try home waxing and depilatories and have special razors and gels. Now I'm lucky if I'm in the shower with a little soap. I've frequently shaved dry as I'm about to run out the door in shorts.

So last summer I decided, This is it. I'm going to give it a real college try and NOT shave, at all.

What not shaving was like

  • It was freeing. I was surprised to feel as comfortable as I did with not shaving. Maybe it's because of my hippie sisters, who are always with me in spirit, and often in person, but I just didn't feel very awkward. Or maybe it's because I've never been a person people look to for grooming tips, so I was able to fly under the radar. I felt particularly daring showing off my hairy legs in shorts and swimsuit on a trip to Massachusetts, far from my crunchy cave of comfort, among people who don't understand or appreciate my sometimes counter-cultural ideals. I felt like I was making a statement. A quiet, hairy one.
  • No one bothered me about it. No one talked about or questioned my newly hirsute properties, not even Sam. I'm honestly not sure anyone noticed.
  • I saved time and energy. Showering became even easier when the question of "to shave or not to shave" was taken from me entirely.
  • I don't like how hair looks on my legs and pits. I was hoping I'd get used to it enough that I'd find it pretty. I hear some people say that about their hair. I've become more and more tolerant of other people's body hair, wherever it falls and on whichever gender, but I failed to embrace my own from an aesthetic standpoint. My skin is very pale, and my hair very dark. My leg hair grows sparsely in places, and thickest around my shins, where it ends up looking sort of like patchy black leg warmers. And my armpit hair — I thought maybe growing it out well past the stubble stage and letting it become loose and flowy and soft like my husband's would make it more appealing to me, but it turned out to be the opposite. It suddenly looked very manly to me, and I really didn't like it being part of me or catching sight of it when I'd raise my arm.
  • The wind blowing through leg hair is kind of tickly and kind of sweet and weird at the same time.

What not shaving taught me

In the end, I realized that shaving or not really was my choice, and not something being forced on me, though certainly the culture pressures women toward shaving, and that has had its effect on me in my unfamiliarity with and distaste for my own body hair as it grew in.

I've decided this summer that I'd rather shave again, in my own lazy way. Right now, looking down at my legs, I can see I've missed several clumps of long-ish hairs from the winter. That's correct: I just did my first shave of the summer, for the low tide visit in the photo. It's kind of like sheep shearing season, only in my shower.

Now that I know why I shave, and that I can choose not to, I feel more comfortable making the choice that looks more appealing to me and more in line with my gender choices within this culture.

I'll still, however, think it's weird that our culture has evolved to expect this from women, and I'll gladly stand up for the rights of anyone to refuse to remove body hair for whatever reasons. I'll also have to wonder what I'd teach a daughter about shaving — if I'd be as hesitant as my mom at letting her start. Probably so.

Do you shave or remove various body hair? What do you think about the cultural implications of your choice?


dawn said...

i'm currently a hybrid after doing extremes and much in between.

i find i must shave my armpits, especially in summer. otherwise my *fragrance* becomes overwhelming to me. don't know about anyone else ;)

i let my legs go starting last year. i'm quite used to it, though i still get odd looks. i only felt uncomfortable about it when attending a recent wedding. at least on that day, my dress was long enough to cover :) i'm sure people wondered when i had shorter skirts on for the rest of the weekend.

as for swimsuits, well, i addressed that issue this year by getting shorts!

Olivia said...

I tried my own experiment in not shaving a couple years ago. I had been in the habit of shaving every other day since middle school and I was really just tired of it. I went about six months with not shaving my legs (but kept shaving my arm pits), and in the end, I just couldn't get used to the feel of it. The hair on my lower legs is really coarse and it was uncomfortable when my pants and socks rubbed on it. I also noticed just putting on lotion would make my legs itch.

So now, I only shave below the knee, and my under my arms, and I do it much less often (maybe once a week). I also never shave any pubic hair. Like you, I'm glad I tried going without shaving. It helped me realize I didn't need to shave so often and now I know I'm doing it mostly for comfort. I wonder, though, if I had never shaved what the hair would feel like and if it would bother me.

Tara Borin said...

I stopped shaving regularly 10 years ago (I think?) Over that time, I've shaved occasionally, usually on a whim. I think my mom had the hardest time accepting it. I remember her telling me that women weren't supposed to be hairy (to which I replied: then why do we grow hair?)

Like you, I've learned that shaving really is a choice. I think that's the most freeing thing about not shaving...realizing that it's a choice you get to make, not something you should (or should not) do.

Thanks for sharing your experience!

Unknown said...

I WANT to not shave, but it is so uncomfortable for me. My hair is also thick, dark, and course. It is scratchy for as long as I have ever let it grow, and I never get used to it. Plus, even if I have just shaved, you can see the tops of those little black hairs against my pale white legs, and I just hate it. I'd love to stop shaving under my arms, but I just get so nervous about it. I have a friend who was at our house one day and she stretched her arms up over her head - in a tank top - and there were some brazenly unshaven pits. I nearly fainted with how SEXY it struck me as being! And it wasn't someone I had ever associated with being sexy before, but just how accepting of herself she was, with those unshaven arms. I don't know that I can put it into words correctly. I've gone without shaving before on days when I felt like I *should* shave, but I have never had the confidence to wear a tank top without, or to just brazenly lift my arms up over my head for anyone to see that I hadn't shaved.

Now, I only shave my legs about once a week, and my underarms once or perhaps twice a week during the summer. But it still gets long enough that quickly that I just don't think I could handle how thick and dark it would be if I stopped completely. Perhaps some day I'll try it!

And, as an afterthought, I do think it is completely unfair that my husband's body hair, and men's body hair in general, is considered sexy and manly, while women with body hair are considered gross, or as if they simply don't care for themselves.

Lindsay said...

Yes if I don't shave every day or two, I need yucky aluminum based deodorant to be socially acceptable odor wise. I can get away with Tom's if I shave and I prefer that!

desfenton said...

I'm very lucky Thai me leg hair is sparse and invisible. I can go months without shaving, run around in shorts, and nobody would know I hadn't shaved.
Maybe I have a thyroid disorder.

But my armpit hair is something I haven't let grow longer than half an inch. Maybe I will...

My other hair I'd prefer not to have, because I feel cleaner without it.

I loved your post, and I really live the sentiments that it be a personal choice for each woman.

By the by, I love when my husband shaves his arms, but I love his chest hair!

Tree Peters said...

I can totally relate... though not to growing up in Germany - that is just sooo cool.
The photo is funny. You are at least as "bright" as me... maybe even brighter. I can't see any hair though.
I like the conclusions you've come to.
As far as my daughter... I'll give her options. We'll see how it goes. Her school is pretty crunchy so who knows what the girls will be doing. For sure she'll be seeing it all and she can decide for herself.

Anonymous said...

I shave, but not nearly as obsessively as I used to. As a teen I shaved my bikini area, legs (bikini line down to ankles) and underarms DAILY. Nowadays I rotate - Bikini area one day, calves another, etc.

There was a time when I even shaved my arms. And even my back at one point! I have dark hair and hit puberty early, and kids suck. I remember my mom telling me that she thought her arm hair was sexy, looking down at it glistening in the sun. I remember it vividly, standing in our front yard. I was disgusted (by the idea of my own hair, not my mom's). Years later, I actually find my own arm hair sexy! (My toe hairs are less sexy and I shave those!)

I am much more comfortable shaved or, ideally, waxed. I let everything get pretty overgrown after giving birth recently and it was SO uncomfortable. I have to admit, shaving makes me feel cleaner too. (Most people can't see body hair unless they're REALLY close, so it really is more about ME than what others think.)

mrsculpepper said...

I haven't shaved on the regular for about 8 or 9 years. For very special occaisions like weddings or my upcoming highschool reunion i might. And it is very very freeing. Not just in the shower, as a time saver, but in spirit. I can just walk out the door, as is, pretty much anytime. I do generally brush my teeth and my hair, but thats about it most days, LOL. I guess i no longer feel an obligation to be "prettied up" to go out in public. Although I feel pretty when i look in the mirror. i don't feel tied to what society thinks is pretty. ykwim?

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