I love to feel the breeze blow through my leg hair
The journey of shedding (patriarchy-induced) body shame
I was standing in the shower, razor in hand, about to begin. I preferred my metal mens’ razor by Gillette with the slightly-gooey lubricating strip because with that there was less razor burn, I didn’t have to buy anything plastic or pink, and I could get refills instead of throwing entire razors to the landfill every time the blades got dull.
The hot water ran down my back as I leaned over to begin, as always, with my right ankle. Then I paused. Out of nowhere the thought arose, “Why do I do this?”
It wasn’t a rhetorical question, it was a literal one. I’d been shaving my legs nearly every day since my mom allowed me to start at age twelve. I assumed there was a good answer, I just needed to get clear for myself on what it was. On that day in the shower for some reason it wasn’t enough to do this daily body ritual on default, just because. I suddenly needed to know why I was doing it. I needed my own reason.
I stood in the running water a couple minutes, curious what that reason would be. Nothing came immediately and I didn’t want to waste water, so I set the razor down on the cold porcelain ledge, finished washing and rinsing, and figured the answer would come with a little time.
It never did.
It wasn’t long before the prickles grew out into soft leg hair and long armpit hair. Eventually, I gave up waiting for a good reason because I realized that for me there wasn’t one.
It’s not that there weren’t reasons to continue shaving my body. There were. I was most aware of these three:
I lived in a society that says women and girls are supposed to have hairless legs and underarms
Being the only one who didn’t was uncomfortable
People may find my hairy legs and underarms unattractive
But none of those reasons satisfied me. My body’s natural state is to be covered with hair. Humans are mammals. If people disliked my body for existing as designed, the problem wasn’t my body. So why was it my body I was altering?
Once I saw this there was no unseeing it. So I opted to embrace my actual body instead of embracing the culturally conditioned messages about my body that I’d grown up surrounded by and had ingested. At the time I didn’t think not shaving was a revolutionary act, but in hindsight I realize it was.
Stopping shaving was a choice to alter my perspective instead of my appearance. In a society that tells women and girls to prioritize the appearance of their body over its comfort or well-being, to reverse those priorities is a radical choice.
For me, it felt both freeing and uncomfortable.
My retirement from shaving happened during an Oregon spring, so I had a a couple months of long pants weather to get adjusted to my body’s natural hairiness before exposing myself to the world. Which was good. Because I have a lot of hair and that took some getting used to. And because it takes time to unwind social programming.
The truth is I’m still unwinding it. I’ve been walking around the world unshaved for twenty years now. At this point the only time I feel self-conscious about my body hair is when I’m wearing a swim suit, and even then I tend to forget to be embarrassed that my legs stand out.
But when it comes to female body hair our culture hasn’t changed much in the last twenty years. Shaving remains the standard and except for when hanging out with European friends or in rare “hippie” contexts, I’m usually the only one who doesn’t.
Which simply means that for twenty years my body hair has given me a clear, visible way to practice choosing my perfectly good body over the cultural program that says there is something wrong with it.
So I do. I make that choice repeatedly.
Having all my body hair puts me at odds with social norms. I don’t look like the smooth-legged women on magazine covers, or Instagram, or even all the different-shapes-and-sizes-and-colors of bodies at the beach. My skin is a very visible way in which I don’t fit in. But I am at home on the earth and I feel that. My legs are a continual reminder that I am a mammal. A furry human animal. And I relish that. I love feeling the breeze blow through my leg hair. It’s a soft, almost-tickly, sensual feeling when the gentle wind caresses me. It feels intimate, like the earth knows me.
Now, I’m not trying to convince anyone to throw away their razor. I’m sharing my story, not a prescription. And I’m no body hair purist. I tweeze every last one of the five whiskers that grow on my chin as well as the two long hairs that grow near my bellybutton. Living in a patriarchal society that not only values male over female but also values mind over body means we all get indoctrinated with body shame to some degree. We each have our own journey with it and hopefully you’re in the process of finding your way home to yourself too. It’s my hope that sharing this part of my journey somehow contributes to yours.
I value being comfortable in my own skin. At ease with myself. That’s not easy in a society that continually tells you something is wrong with your body. For me, getting comfortable with what grows on my skin has been one small but significant part of the journey home to myself. If you’d like to share, I’d love to hear something about what helps you feel at home in your body and comfortable in your skin.
Thanks for reading this issue of The New Story. If you’d like more, subscribe to receive my stories and poems straight to your inbox.
So interesting, isn’t it, Pauline? The difference in how body hair is perceived for men and women.
One of the main perspectives on this is that we live in a culture where men see pre-pubescent bodies and body characteristics as attractive. Also, there is the force of marketing and how Gillette created an entire industry by convincing women they too should shave. Here’s an interesting article on all of that: https://www.brandeis.edu/writing-program/write-now/2021-2022/azevedo-ligia/index.html
But what thrills me here is hearing how you feel the sensations of freedom as you read my little story. Yay!! Let’s keep celebrating the feeling of freedom and go wherever it takes us! 💗
I am with you on the no shaving thing! I haven't shaved my legs or underarms in over 10 years. (Funny thing, I'm with you on the plucking chin hairs lol). It is so freeing and saves a lot of time and money. Thanks for sharing your journey