It was the summer before I’d be ambling around the adolescent prison yard we call middle school. The year? 2000. The legs? Hairy.
I remember staring at the blonde hairs that covered my scrawny little legs as I sat on the warm blacktop during 5th grade recess and I remember resenting the way they glistened in the sun. I calculated for months how I would ask permission to shave them off. I believe the final wording was: “Mom, do you think I could maybe try shaving my legs, just the bottom part?” Now that’s some nuanced rhetoric.
“Sure, if you want to” was all I needed to hear before hurrying off to fetch my favorite blue tankini, like I was heading to a pool party instead of my parent’s bathroom counter. I suppose my 11-year-old brain had few experiences to draw from. This alone should have been a red flag. Nevertheless I giddily sat with my legs draped over my dad’s sink as my mom taught me how to apply the shaving cream and run the razor up my leg in long and cautious strokes. She of course photographed for posterity.
Looking back I can’t help but laugh, a little defeatedly, that I felt the need to shave my legs at the tender age of 11. I was for all intents and purposes a child. Three years later my heart still raced if I so much as hugged a human male, and I don’t think I nor my girlfriends genuinely cared about having smooth legs. It was just this thing that we were taught we needed to do. Like wrapping cotton training bras around our flat chests. It was an act that signified you weren’t a baby; you were becoming a real woman. Or at the very least, a Delia*s pre-teen.
Since my leg hair is blonde I’ve never been on a particularly rigorous shaving schedule since that summer day in 2000, but I’ll be honest: I’ve recently reached new levels of neglect. I was watching TV the other night in a pair of shorts when I looked down and was startled by the length of the hair on my thighs. My mind immediately time-traveled back to that moment on the blacktop. My fuzzy legs looked like they belonged to a 5th grader and frankly…..I kind of loved it. So I immediately texted a photo to Kelsey, obviously.
If my affinity for hairy legs is a seedling on the cusp of sprouting, the germination undoubtedly occurred when I read the book Wild. I remember being particularly inspired when Cheryl Strayed forwent shaving when she hiked the Pacific Coast Trail.
“I gazed at my bare and battered feet, with their smattering of remaining toenails. They were ghostly pale to the line a few inches above my ankles, where the wool socks I usually wore ended. My calves above them were muscled and golden and hairy, dusted with dirt and a constellation of bruises and scratches.”
Female calves that were muscled and golden and hairy. There is something kind of awe-inspiring and beautifully natural about it.
I also remember reading that Reese Witherspoon opted not to ditch her razor when she played Strayed in the recent movie adaptation.
‘“She wanted to know little details about my time on the trail, like, ‘Did you brush your hair?’ ” Strayed recalled. “I said, ‘Yes, some.’ ”
“What about shaving?” Witherspoon asked.
“Of course not.”
“Will you just tell [the director] that you did?” Strayed remembered her asking. “I’ve done a lot of things, but I’m not going to grow armpit hair.”’
I may be over-projecting my own desires here, but I think Witherspoon really missed an opportunity. She’s “done a lot of things” but can’t imagine not shaving her armpits? Does this strike anyone else as a little sad?
What are we so afraid of? It all starts to seem a little ludicrous when my mind peels back the layer of “we just do it because we are supposed to.” Even moreso when I discovered what happened when I stopped shaving my legs for months out of pure laziness.
THEY GOT SOFT AGAIN. I repeat: they got soft again.
Guys. Listen to me. Read this very closely. You do not have to shave to have soft legs. What you need to do is stop shaving your legs with unfazed commitment. And I promise your legs will still look feminine. They will be less hairy than a typical man’s and still have their feminine shape.
The more I reflect on the offensive societal expectation that women must shave their legs, the more and more perplexed I become that skipping it hasn’t become more of a movement. Why are [voluntarily] hairy legs on a woman still associated with the odd hippy or european? Is this a thing and I’m just out of touch? Why aren’t any of the celebrities who claim to be on the forefront of spreading the feminist message doing it?
Changing our clothes and hair and makeup strike me as activities that, although equally time-consuming, can actually bring many women enjoyment and self-fulfillment and can represent outlets for self-expression (although not for everyone). But shaving? Shaving our legs seems like something that is purely for the sake of men and the [basically] institutionalized knee-jerk judgement of other people. Is there any other way to cut it? I don’t fully buy that it’s a personal comfort thing. Spiky legs are uncomfortable. Hairy lady legs are soft and cozy and cute.
So I’m going to try not shaving my legs on purpose for a while in an effort to practice what I preach. I’m curious to see how uncomfortable I’ll feel in public and I’m eager to see if I can shake it. I have a lofty dream that one day when I’m finally being recognized for my many talents (such as taming guinea pigs), I’ll walk the red carpet in a pair of shorts with my legs in all their hairy glory taunting US Weekly into mocking me.
Update: if you’re interested in this topic, I recommend this great article about body hair and feminism.