|Some of that is hair, and some is seaweed. Adjust your monitors for the brightness of my leg skin.|
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 shavingThere 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-ritualSince 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 meIn 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?