Unshaven: a tale of hairy legs and self-reflection

Once upon a time, a little girl in NZ hit puberty and her legs suddenly began sprouting soft hairs. Without a second thought, she asked for a razor and began a cycle of constantly removing her leg hair. It just seemed like the thing to do. In the changing rooms at school, she heard girls whisper about the hair on other girls’ legs, laughing about how gross it was. It never bothered her: she was the owner of a razor and therefore also the owner of happily hairless legs.

In case that cliché writing device didn’t make it obvious enough, that little girl was me (although I don’t think that that story is uncommon). When I was that age, everyone I knew was either already shaving or waiting til their parents let them buy a razor. It was never a question whether you would, the question was simply when.

I was no exception. I experimented with different methods of hair removal. Once I had netball trials and knew I couldn’t show up with hairy legs. I tried an Epilady and bit back tears as I ran it over my legs. I showed up at the netball court sporting legs with angry red bumps all over them. But at least they were hairless.

As I got older, I started a series of laser hair removal treatments. Every few seconds I felt a sharp zap and my legs stung afterwards, but it was worth it when I could see the patches of leg that were now hairless. The company doing the treatments weren’t the easiest to get in contact with so I stopped and resigned myself back to my trusty razor.

My life never revolved around shaving. It was just a mundane chore that I did without ever really thinking why.

In my late teenage years, I unintentionally found myself exposed to feminist texts and essays. I realised many of the things I was doing in my life were actually kind of terrible – like making fun of young girls for applying eyeliner crookedly, thinking female musicians were nowhere near as good as their male counterparts, and thinking that women with hairy legs were gross.

After reading about the history of body hair removal (which I recommend doing!), I began another phase of experimentation: this time, I stopped religiously removing my leg hair. 5 sessions of laser hair removal didn’t do much for permanently removing my hair, so after a while my legs reverted to a soft, hairy state I hadn’t seen since I was 11. I went through phases of shaving and not-shaving, but every time I shaved, it further solidified for me that I didn’t like it and preferred my legs natural. So eventually, I stopped completely.

Photo 9-01-16, 4 52 20 PM
ft. awkward foot tan lines

I could pretend that I was being super brave and revolutionary by not shaving, but the truth is that it was winter – I wore tights or jeans everyday because it was cold, and nobody bar Lox even saw my legs. Now summer has rolled around and hemlines have rolled up, and I can no longer hide behind jeans. I hate shaving, I hate the way my legs look shaved, but I’m scared. I’m scared of how people will react when they notice my legs. I know now that I absolutely do not shave for myself – it’s for other people, regardless of whether they actually notice or care. I feel the pressure to be hairless so strongly. The only time I ever see unshaven women in mainstream media is usually mocking, or scandalous, or about how she’s “not taking care of herself”. When I shaved without thinking, I never noticed this. Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier if I was one of those people who actually enjoyed the shaving process, because then I could say that I did it for myself and not because society told me to.

None of this is to suggest that I think that everyone should throw away their razors and embrace the hairy legged lifestyle. This also isn’t about how being ~natural is the ideal state (my hair colour and the fact I’m rarely seen without red lipstick is testament to the fact that I’m not living that kind of life). My feminism had always been about choice – I think that people should be able to choose how to present themselves without fear. I have friends who like shaving, and that’s awesome. I absolutely do not like shaving, and that should be awesome too.

Since starting this piece, I’ve cautiously ventured out a few times without hiding behind a maxi skirt. So far, no one has stared, no one has commented, I’m pretty sure no one has actually noticed. Getting over my own thoughts feels like overcoming the biggest barrier (though if I didn’t have fair hair, I feel like my experience would be quite different). I hope this is a step away from self-consciousness and a step towards “I really don’t care what others think”. I truly think that if we all challenge our (previously unquestioned) ideas about how people should look or behave that we can work towards a better world – where girls don’t feel gross for their bodies changing and grown women don’t feel terrified about going out unshaven.

5 thoughts on “Unshaven: a tale of hairy legs and self-reflection

  1. YESSS!! That was such a good read!! I’ve always hated removing body hair for the simple fact that it hurts like hell and takes ages (I usually wax). Seriously, who wants to go through that?! And yet, I still do it – especially in summer! I’ve always disliked it but like you I feel so pressured to do it – it’s like if you are a woman, you just cannot be seen with unshaven legs. I think if people find body hair gross, it’s only because it’s been seen negatively for so long. If no one shaved, everyone would be ok with it! It’s just a socially learned behaviour & expectation … which means it has the potential to be changed!! If only it could!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know! It was super enlightening reading about the history of body hair removal – from what I understand, people have done it for a long time but it was a Gilette marketing campaign in the early 1900s that really changed things and made women think that body hair was something to ashamed of. It’s amazing (and kind of unsettling) how much marketing can influence our thoughts and actions…

      Liked by 1 person

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