Female body hair is having its moment in mainstream media. Celebs like Madonna, Jemima Kirke, Miley Cyrus, and Scout Willis have sparked Internet freak-outs and inspired just as much (if not more) praise for going au naturale. It's great for them — and a huge move forward for the women who count themselves as their respective fans. Young women growing up need body positive role models now maybe more than they ever have before. And even women who count themselves as fans are benefitting from the body pos messages these celebs are sending. Especially when it comes to body hair.
No one bats an eye at a man covered in body hair, but for some reason it’s a controversy when a woman doesn’t shave. Even though pop culture icons are embracing their naturally occurring body hair, some still blow it off as just a “hippie” fad. Others think not shaving your legs as a woman is "gross," though there's really no biological rhyme or reason why we're supposed to do it. Does it look nice? Sure, but no one makes a man feel insecure for legs filled with hair. Does it feel nice? Yeah, but you know what feels great? Being in control of your body and making choices that reflect what you personally want. And that's when I decided to stop shaving my legs.
As a self-described feminist and one who’s willing to try just about anything once, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Not only was I eager to discover how ditching the razor would feel, but I was equally interested in seeing if I'd receive any kind of judgment for my choices. If Internet comments are any indicator, I figured I could probably at least count on some side-eye from strangers. But regardless, I was eager to find out.
For two weeks, I decided I'd ditch the razor and stop shaving my legs. My goal? Well, I was hopeful that I'd learn something new about myself and how I define and live-out feminism. I was interested to see how not shaving would change me as well as the affect it'd have on strangers. Would they notice? Care? Even pay attention?
And after two weeks, I walked away with more than just itchy legs.
Day 1: The Beginning
OK, so really, this is day two, you guys. I stopped shaving on day one, but didn't have any "data" to report because my hair was just starting to grow in. So consider day two my "new" beginning. I live in Florida, where it’s pretty much bikini weather year-round. It’s fairly common to see flip flops and shorts even during winter. Where I live in particular, there’s a pretty big beach culture. So having hairless legs is a somewhat essential part a woman’s grooming routine. Personally, I get professionally waxed for small things like brows and underarms, but tend to just use a razor and shaving cream on my legs. It was actually pretty nice on day two not to worry about shaving.
I’m not quite sure what I expected to happen so early on in the experiment. I was somewhat impatient and disappointed that I hadn’t reached Sasquatch status already. Though I do have naturally dark hair and fair skin, the stubble that was growing was really only noticeable if you were up close. I almost was hoping someone would have noticed my leg hair. I was eager for a moment when I could preach about empowerment and body positivity, but it seemed I’d have to wait.
Day 5: Houston, We Have Hair!
Almost to the halfway point of the experiment and I finally felt like my leg hair was apparent! It’s funny that before this, I’d feel nervous going out if I had missed a couple days’ worth of shaving. Now, however, I was anxious to get a reaction. The first person to notice my growing leg hair was actually my 20-month-old son. I was sitting on the couch with my legs stretched out on the coffee table when he came over and rubbed my leg. He scrunched up his nose and giggled then spent the next few minutes with his hand going back and forth, slightly hovering above so the hairs only tickled his palm. At least my first reaction from a person was a positive one!
My husband was the second to notice. I had decided before the challenge not to tell him what I was doing. I wanted to see if and when he’d become aware of my leg hair on his own. I was bored with waiting, though. So that night we were sitting on the couch – I promise I do more than sit on the couch, by the way – and I casually extended my legs towards him. He rested his forearm on my shins and didn’t say anything. Finally I came out and asked him if he felt anything different. He responded, “Huh. Oh, yeah.” And that was that. When I pressed him for more input, the most I got out of him was that he didn’t mind it, and it felt kind of funny.
Day 8: Do Old Habits Die Hard?
Officially past the halfway mark, I was a little disappointed that the two people – one of whom was not even an adult – hadn’t said anything very profound about my leg hair. People say a watched pot never boils; so I chose to keep my mind off of other people’s opinions for a bit. Instead I’d try to focus on myself and how I’d changed so far. I already thought it was interesting that I was so ready to ditch the razor. Having been bullied for my dark body hair growing up, I was surprisingly prepared to take back ownership of my body.
If you’re like me, you tend to do most of your heavy thinking in the shower. As I was washing my hair, I reflected on what else was different since I started the experiment. A lightbulb went off: I saved so much time not shaving -- and it’s not just a matter of using a razor. For me, I wait a while for the steam and hot water to soften my hair and I exfoliate to get rid of dry skin, preventing ingrown hairs. Then I apply the shaving cream, pay close attention to mind the treacherous hills and valleys of my ankle bones. Post-shower, I pat dry and slather on the lotion to prevent dryness and irritation. I hadn’t had to do that in over a week and it felt great!
Day 11: Why, Hello There!
As I was enjoying my new, razor-free lifestyle, I thought back to the last time I had this feeling. Once I began shaving my legs as a young teen, I didn’t stop until midway through my pregnancy. It was a solid four or five months of yoga-like poses and awkward angles before I gave up on shaving my legs. At a certain point, there’s really not a single f*ck to give about what anyone thinks about your appearance. That was such an empowering time for me and it was nice to feel that way again.
But just as I was enjoying my reclaimed freedom, I encountered the long-awaited reaction I’d been so eager to experience. I was standing in line at Starbucks and a few teenage girls decked out in VS Pink yoga attire were behind me. I wouldn’t exactly have described myself as frumpy that day, but I was wearing shorts and my furry legs were fairly apparent. I was wondering if I should switch up my order when I heard one girl in a hushed voice say, “Ashley, look.” I turned around to see what she was talking about when I noticed they were looking down at my legs with a mix of rolled eyes, scoffs, and giggles. The only thing I thought to say was, “Is something funny?” They looked at me like I had eight heads and then it was my turn to order.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t embarrassed or even upset. I did my best to channel RuPaul and sashayed away with my head held high.
Day 14: Life’s A Beach
To celebrate the last day of the challenge, my husband, son, and I went on an impromptu trip to the beach. It was high tide so there weren’t too many people on out, but enough to make me wonder if my body hair was going to garner any stares. I don’t know about you, but pretty much any outdoor outing with a toddler requires most if not all of your attention. I was far more preoccupied with what our son was doing than what people may or may not be thinking about my body hair.
Usually when I’m at the beach, I’m tugging and adjusting my suit to cover any lumps, rolls, or stray hairs. But this time, I felt freer. Something about shedding the notion that women are more feminine when they are hairless actually made me feel more empowered. This body has carried and given birth to human life. It has seen its fair share of illness. It has its scars. So what does it matter if I have hair on my legs?
We ended the day flying a kite and it felt apropos. Like the kite, my confidence was reaching new heights.
Did Ditching The Razor Work?
Growing up in the western world and in a time when celebrity perfection is idealized on the cover of most magazines, I was indoctrinated that any hair that wasn’t on your head was unsightly and should be removed. The childhood bullying didn’t help either. Whether you live in a beach town or not, there’s definitely be peer pressure to look or present yourself in a certain way. It took both my pregnancy and this experiment to truly open my eyes regarding body hair on women: it’s natural and nothing to be ashamed of.
My lifelong mantra — “If it doesn’t harm you or others, then I don’t care” — still rings true to me today. If you wanna rock colored armpit hair, a full bush, or prefer the hairless route, I don’t care. And frankly, neither should you. Women already have a hard enough time with pay gaps, glass ceilings, and internet trolls scrutinizing our every flaw. We don’t need to be tearing each other down as well. Do whatever makes you happy and don’t listen to the haters.
Images: Courtesy of Sarah Bunton (5)