I have been shaving for the past 25 years and, you know what, you guys? I can't do it anymore. I have born the slings and arrows of outrageous stubble most of my life and I'm here to announce that I am done with shaving and waxing for good. Well... mentally. Physically I see myself keeping it up for a while longer, if only sporadically. Because society and peer pressure and beauty standards and Patriarchy. Always with the goddamn Patriarchy, you guys.
In feminist circles, women's body hair (especially, lately, their pubic hair) is the source of much discussion and debate... sort of annoyingly so, in fact. Because, ultimately, what someone else does with any of their hairs is no one else's business. At all. It's also, on an individual level, wildly unimportant. And yet, bearing that in mind, it's sort of interesting to take a look at the practice from a somewhat academic perspective. Why do we shave? And when we choose not to shave, in a society that makes punchlines of women who don't, what is the motivation behind that?
Ladies, go bare, go hair, go any way you want. Hell, switch it up if you feel like it, just to keep people guessing. But let me tell you about the stages I have gone through that have brought me to a point where I'm just about ready to throw in the towel.
I was a particularly fuzzy child. On top of that, I also looked significantly older than I was when I was 9 years old. By 10 I was 5'2". By 12, people started asking what college I went to. This somehow made my prodigious amount of body hair all the more embarrassing to me. I knew I didn't look like a hairy kid — which was bad but slightly more acceptable — I just looked like a hairy lady. I also couldn't, as some of my friends did, just dismiss it as light-colored baby down. It was dark and thick and therefore extremely noticeable.
Recognizing my embarrassment (and the fact that my body was mine to do with as I pleased), my mom handed me a razor and shaving cream in fourth grade and invited me to partake of this milestone. At first it was super exciting. I was one of the first girls I knew to shave and it felt very grown-up. I swallowed all the pink, flowery, hyper-feminine marketing hook, line, and sinker.
Because even with safety razors there's a learning curve. And if you have delicate, sensitive skin like I do, you're going to break out into angry red bumps of irritation every time you shave. So let's just say that the romantic thrill of shaving looses its luster pretty quickly.
I feel like you don't even have to have a difficult time shaving to want to seek out the quickest, easiest, least painful way to remove body hair. I have personally tried waxing, threading, depilatory creams, and lotions, and that's hardly an exhaustive list of options. But for various reasons, ranging from prohibitive costs, to pain, to just no working, I begrudgingly resigned myself to the also faulty razor.
There comes a day in many a young lady's life when the flame of enthusiasm for shaving goes from a dim flicker in the night to being completely snuffed out. Shaving no longer brings you any joy, even if having less body hair is in some way rewarding. But this is basically where shaving goes from really wanting to shave to feeling like you have to shave.
If we didn't have specifics, you could already tell it was a lot of both... but I'm bringing receipts. According to one 2008 study, the average shaving American woman will spend $10,000 and two months over the course of her lifetime on removing unwanted hair. And for those who wax once or twice a month, that number goes to $23,000.
Do you even know what I could buy with that kind of money? I can barely wrap my head around it, but I promise it would be more exciting and enjoyable than hair removal.
While depilatory practices have been around for thousands of years, and, indeed, have never fallen out of fashion in some places in the world, removal of body hair in Eurocentric cultures is a practice less than a century old. In her very interesting book, Plucked: A History of Hair Removal, Rebecca Herzig points out that women shaving legs and armpits didn't come into fashion until, well, most people could see legs and armpits with the advent of flapper fashion in the 1920s. (Before then, Americans actually found other culture's interest in hair removal to be a weird quirk.) Europeans didn't really buy in until after that (please observe exhibit a: Sophia Loren's armpit hair).
Now this realization gets the wheels turning (even more than they were turning when I realized how much money I could save by staying hairy) and I was like "So, wait. This isn't just a normal part of human evolution? This was a conscious, pretty arbitrary decision... that isn't even as old as my great-grandma? Really?"
Mammals have hair. We are mammals. According the the transitive property (which is literally one of three things I remember from high school math) that means that we have body hair by design. Barring medical conditions, this is just the way we're made... and isn't it sort of weird that society is telling us that there is something inherently disgusting and unhygienic about the way we exist?
All right, society. Fine. I'll play your little game. My legs and pits and various other bits and bobs shall be smooth and hairless... but only when those parts of me are on display. So, like, the winter? The winter is my time. I will not be shaving. And when the spring rolls around and the short skirts come with it, I'm only going to shave the parts of my leg that are showing. My upper thighs shall remain as furry as a satyr's and I will make no apologies.
How come you bros are allowed to have hair from the neck down? Why is my hair unhygienic and yours is OK? I get that you're often pressured to shave your face (and, for the record, I think that's bullsh*t, both in principle and as a matter of personal taste because #LongLiveBeards) but your face is pretty small compared to the rest of my body. This hardly seems fair.
So, as I said, I've reached a point where I shave pretty infrequently because I ran out of f*cks to give. But every now and then I still feel the yen (or, more frequently, the societal pressure) to scrape the hair off my body with a sharp piece of metal (see how weird that sounds?!). The other day I started shaving my armpits and my 6-year-old son (who is not used to seeing such things) saw and, as a result, we had the following conversation:
Him: What are you doing?
Me: I'm shaving.
Him: What's that?
Me: It's when I take the hair off my body with this razor. It's like giving under my arms or on my legs a haircut.
Me: *spiral into existential crisis quandry because OMG WHY?!*
There's a lot of stuff I do that's based, in some way or another, on my societal conditioning. But in those instances, I usually have a good answer as to why I partake of them. So when my asks me why I wear makeup, I answer, "Because it's fun." When he asks why I do my hair, I answer "Because I think it looks pretty." But I really don't care at all about the aesthetics of body hair. And it's certainly not fun. So... why?
I'm not saying that all women shave exclusively for the benefit of other people... but I'm going to say that a great many people who do say that are lying to themselves. No judgment: I said it for a really long time, too, but it's still a lie. Because I promise that if we all lived alone on individual islands where we were never to see another soul, most of us wouldn't be overly concerned about whether or not we had body hair. We're told and internalize the idea that hairless = good, hairy = gross, but internalized is not intrinsic.
I'm getting to this stage, I think, but I'm not quite there yet and I don't know that I'll ever completely be cool with showing the world my natural state. The other day I went to a pool without having shaved my legs for several weeks because I couldn't be bothered to spend the time or effort shaving... but I still took a few quick swipes to my armpits.
Because society cuts deeper than razors, folks.
One day, with luck, anyone who chooses can feel free to be a part of an Unshorn Utopia.
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