“You know, she doesn’t shave her legs…”
“What? I just wanted him to know what he’s getting into…”
This conversation happened just after my first official date with the man who became my husband roughly 6 months later. Needless to say, I was mortified.
In a way, I still am. Why is the state of my leg hair of such critical importance?
Because it is. In American culture, female hair is a really big deal. Just stop, for one moment, and think about just how much money and time goes into managing, or removing hair from various parts of the female anatomy. Mind-boggling, isn’t it?
Leg hair, as it turns out, is a big deal to me. A really big deal. God put it on me. Why should I be expected to remove it? But then, those Barbies I played with as a child had long, slender, monochromatic limbs, free from messy little growths. They shone. They were beautiful.
I have long, slender legs. With a good tan, they used to look quite a bit like Barbie legs. Now that I’m in my thirties, I am beginning to notice irritating imperfections, like stretch marks and little purple spider veins.
Wait a minute. Why am I even LOOKING at my legs? Ugh.
Because we all do. I watched a children’s movie tonight with my family, and I was stunned by the number of shots of women’s LEGS, smooth, hairless, slender, toned legs, that were displayed. Did I mention that this was a CHILDREN’s movie? Oh, how effectively my offspring are being indoctrinated.
It makes me angry.
Asa was right. When I met my husband, I didn’t shave my legs. My relationship with hair removal has been on-again, off-again. Literally.
At the ripe old age of 12, I started begging for the “right” to shave my legs. It was the way things were, according to the fashion magazines I read, the puckered and plucked women I saw on TV, and the pretty, popular girls in school.
But there were always the women who didn’t. And they fascinated me. How could a woman walk around, especially in a bathing suit, as I saw some do, with clearly visible leg and armpit hair? Where did they get such confidence? Where did they get such a counter-cultural self-image? Were they dirty? Didn’t they notice “everyone” staring?
When I left my hometown, I generally stopped seeing “hairy” women. And, over the years, I noticed that, when I was least confident, I was most groomed. During my most abusive dating relationship, I found myself obsessively concerned with always presenting a perfectly groomed, nearly hairless physique. It gave me pause. My feelings toward my leg and body hair reflected my feelings toward myself. By the time Aaron and I began dating, I had laid down my razor, and promised myself a level of self-acceptance that I was, frankly, incapable of maintaining.
You see, I was raised on Barbie, and 17 magazine. (I begged for them.) I grew up listening to completely sexualizing music. I wanted to see myself as something amazing, but deep down, a picture of myself as a mere sex object reigned.
So, when it was time to get married, I got out the wax. If I wax my legs, I’m not shaving, right? After wax, I tried an old-school, metal coil epilator, those little sandpaper pads that abrade hair off of your body, sugaring, harsh chemicals that burned the hair off, and more. I guess I was pretty worried about not being “enough.” You see, my husband was raised on those same images of femininity, the ones that demand a perfectly sculpted figure, smooth, flawless skin, and dear god, don’t grow hair anywhere but the top of your head, and your eyelashes. For those, absurdly long and thick would be best.
So, for the last 14 years or so, I’ve shaved, waxed, and plucked my way through life. My irritation with the entire concept of hair removal regularly rears its head, and my husband is stuck trying to snuggle up to a very prickly woman, as I let the shaving of my legs slip, again and again.
Recently, my family and I moved back to my hometown. And I am seeing hairy women, again. I see women with leg hair. I see women with armpit hair. I see women who are aging gracefully, with long, thick braids of hair, in their natural colors, shot through with white. I see fit, shapely, happy women, who are unashamed of the way their body was designed to behave.
I stare at them.
I stare at their legs, and try to decide if they’re beautiful, or horrifying. I stare at their armpits, and wonder, if I let mine go, how much would my own armpit hair show? And, would I get terrible body odor?
I stare at these women, and pray they don’t notice. I watch them with a fascination that might make some doubt my sexual orientation.
I don’t want to have sex with these women. I want to be one of them. But I’m afraid of the stares, probably of women like me. Women who are envious. Women whose addiction to a razor feels like a compromise of their true selves. Why should I have to spend hours a week removing the hair God put on my body?
And, what if I stop?