I still remember the first time I shaved my legs. I think I was around 13 years old. I’d been BEGGING my mother to let me do it. I was an awkward and unpopular teenager, so I was desperate to fit in with the other girls my age. I decided that body hair removal was the way to do it. My mother first tried to deny that I even needed to – “You’re blonde! You can’t even see your leg hair!” (She was right.) Then she tried to warn me away from the practice – “Once you start, you won’t be able to stop!” (She was probably right about that, too.) But, she finally acquiesced.
I purchased some green and white Gillette-something with 8000 blades or whatever, and closed myself in the bathroom. I took one swipe at my shin (it had that moisturizing strip, I reasoned, I didn’t need shaving cream! Or even water!) and I took a chunk of skin off the front of my leg. Just thinking about it today makes me shudder. Thus began my war with body hair. A war many women have waged, though some are choosing not to these days. I commend them. Let’s take a look at this entire practice and decide, once and for all, “Body hair removal: beauty necessity or modern torture?”
Women (including female-identifying women) have long been expected to remove most of their body hair from everywhere but their heads. In 30,000 BC humans used sharp shells and animal teeth to get that satin feel (I’m sure it was totally the same). During the Renaissance era, hairlessness was considered a sign of both beauty and wealth. Then, in the early 1900s, sleeveless dresses were all the rage and some idiot decided we needed our armpits to be hairless in order to wear them. Gillette started marketing razors to women, and the rest is hair-story.
In the last few years, I’ve noticed a shift. It’s probably partly due to the fact that I live near a major city, but it’s something I have really only seen recently, and I’ve lived here for eleven years. More and more women choose not to shave their body hair. Any of it. I will fully confess that, due to society’s expectations and programming, when I first see it on a woman I know, it takes me aback. Fortunately, logic quickly takes over and I realize there is actually no need for women to shave their body hair if they don’t want to do so.
Before someone points it out, I haven’t forgotten about dudes, either. Though men shave their faces, no one bats an eye if a guy doesn’t shave his underarms. Though, to be fair, the expectation for a man to keep his facial hair well-groomed is still present for those of them who work in corporate jobs. Does it have to be that way though? While you generally don’t see a man with a full, “mountain man” beard running a board room, why couldn’t we? What does body hair have to do with a person’s ability to lead?
Hair equality, now!
Back to the ladies, as more and more Instagram selfies with leg stubble pop up, the idea gets more and more mainstream. Modern women with body hair used to be an image used to shame feminists. Many supporters of women’s rights did indeed refuse to shave their body hair, saying it was representative of patriarchal expectations. Nowadays, you see female celebrities of all kinds tossing their razors, and young, non-famous women seem to be following suit.
As for me, I admit, I am still trapped by my own insecurity. I will likely shave my armpits, legs, and bikini line until I’m 100. Body hair removal is a very tricky issue coupled with beauty standards, for now. I applaud the women who refuse to conform, though. And I promise not to flinch when you give me a high-five.