Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Choosing to shave - or not!

Thank you very much to my anonymous follower who sent a link to an article in the New York times from yesterday.  It's about hairy women and the response to them in the media.  Apparently the comic Mo'Nique doesn't shave her legs and has been getting flack for it lately now that's she's better known across color lines.

The article explores the question of whether its OK to choose NOT to shave ones legs and underarms.  The sense I get from the article is that the public would prefer that their stars DO shave.  Here's a quote from the article about Mo'Nique:
On Web sites like, people posted comments like “I have to HURL now ... Disgusting is an understatement.” It would seem that a collective ewww rang out nationwide, one designed to make every ’tween girl snap to attention and realize that leg hair is not allowed.
I'm confused about what it is about hair on the legs that would make a person want to vomit. 

For me, personally, I remember the pressure to shave very well.  I didn't develop all that quickly.  I was 13 or 14 and wasn't feeling the need for a bra or any other form of restraint.  I did not want to mature.  I was very happy being a child, thank you very much, and didn't feel any desire whatsoever to enter the complicated realm of adulthood.  I knew a good thing when I was living it.

Unfortunately, my mother had different concerns.  She told me at one point that I needed to start wearing a bra.  I was mortified.  I'd already been feeling embarassed in gym class because other girls had bras and I didn't, but my mortification about maturing trumped that embarrassment by a long shot.

Oh God, the horrors of the gym locker room!  That takes me back - the stench of unwashed gym uniforms (I think I managed to go 4 months without washing mine.  That felt like an achievement at the time, but in retrospect, ewwww!  I do remember how it felt sliding on as the mildew wiped against my skin.  Always slightly moist, always stinking.  How did it not disintigrate over the course of the semester?) I remember the misery of having to undress in front of all the popular girls who were chatting animatedly with their best friends about parties they'd been to while they stripped off their gym suits and put on the school uniforms that fit them pertly and made them look cute.   I remember trying to slide by unnoticed to the showers where I would stand miserably in the dinky spray for as brief a moment as possible until I could slither back to my locker at the opposite side of the locker room where I would throw on my clothes as fast as possible before anyone could catch a glimpse  of my body with the belly I just knew everyone would be staring at.  Usually I'd try to get away without taking a shower.  It was just too painful.   I remember the hatred I felt for my body - there was no way I could prance around proudly, feeling great in my body.  After all, I was the girl who got chosen last for any and every team in gym class.  I was as uncoordinated as it got.  I winced when the ball came at me in dodge ball - but not well enough so I got hit almost every time.  No way would I catch it.  My best friend Kathy Walls was a big-boned girl with lots of body confidence.  She went skating all the time.  When the ball would come at her, she would stand firmly in its path and take it with a big Umph! as it resounded into her arms.  I was in awe.

So the bra question was mortifying.

Then there was the time when I was in the car going somewhere with my mom and younger brother and sister.  Mom chose that time to tell me I needed to start shaving my underarms because it was embarrassing to have hair under them.  I didn't even know I had hair there.  I certainly didn't look.  As an adult, friends of mine have described to me how they, as burgeoning teens, examined their bodies in  minute detail to see each and every sign of maturation, proud of each hair growing in a new place, excited about zits that meant their hormones were starting to rage, thrilled when bumps began to grow on their formerly flat chests.  I, on the other hand, had no clue.  I didn't know what was supposed to be happening, and I had virtually  no awareness that anything was happening except for those excruciating times when my mother pointed it out to me.

When she said I had to start shaving, I asked her why.  She said I had to because only the whores in Italy didn't shave.  It was just what a woman had to do.  I didn't know what a whore was, but I got the point - if I didn't shave, I'd be a whore, and that must be really bad based on the way Mom said it.

Actually, in Europe, no one shaved - they still don't in general - it was really only the whores who did shave, but my mom was doing her best.  She was trying to help me acculturate so I wouldn't be such a misfit in the teenage society I was growing up in.  She just wanted me to fit in.  I got the message.  But I still didn't start shaving.

That didn't begin until after Christmas that year.  Each Christmas I would wake up earlier than my younger siblings and rush downstairs to examine the loot.  Up until that year, Santa Claus hadn't wrapped our gifts.  Instead they were arranged artfully in front of the fireplace.  They always looked so beautiful, I almost didn't want to disturb them.  This year when I came down, I was disappointed to see that they were all wrapped, and, worst of all, they were the same presents that had been under the tree for weeks - and which, of course, I'd already opened most of!  So I waited impatiently for the rest of the family to come down.  We took the presents into the living room to open in front of everyone.  I was glad to see there were at least 2 or 3 presents I hadn't opened before so I'd have something I didn't already know about!  I chose an enticing-looking medium-sized gift to open.  It was a lime green razor.  Oh my god.  I flushed with embarrassment to receive such a personal item.  It was like opening up a present with maxipads in it.  That just wasn't something we did in our family. We did not talk about or acknowledge bodily functions.  And now I had just gotten a RAZOR.  I mumbled my thanks and shoved it under the pile of wrapping paper as quickly as I could before my brother or sister - or even worse, my dad - saw it. 

When I got it upstairs to the bedroom my sister and I shared, I hid it in the bottom of my drawer where I hoped she would never see it.  It took me months to take it out and even look at it.  I think I finally unwrapped it when I was going to boarding school without my family.  Once there, I believe I began shaving, though I admit I don't really remember.  The rest of that black hole of embarrassment has thankfully faded into oblivion, leaving only the tortuous tines of the initial forked comments impaled in my tender sensitive psyche.

So reading the New York Times article yesterday made me cheer for Mo'Nique and her boldness to do what she chooses.  I would have been well-served by a society where I had a choice to do what I wanted to and didn't feel pressured to do something just so I wouldn't be considered a whore.  Growing up is so damned confusing!!

When my daugher was 12 or 13, she asked me about shaving her legs.  Apparently her friends were starting to so she was feeling some pressure to do so.  I asked her what she thought.  She is blond so the hair on her legs doesn't particularly show.  It's just a lovely soft fuzz.  I explained that once she began shaving it, it would grow back pricklier and darker so she might thereafter feel more pressure to continue shaving.  We talked about it for a while and I think she decided not to shave yet.  A few months later she decided it was time, and I think she felt OK about her decision.  She is now a student at a college where I would guess more of the students do NOT shave than do.  I'm glad they feel they have a choice.  It's not that I think women shaving their legs and underarms and pubic hair is a bad thing - but I DO think that feeling like you have no choice IS a bad thing.  I don't like the pressure to conform or to do something just because others do. 

And I'll fight for my and my daughter's and other women's right to choose for themselves!


  1. I remember when my younger sister's first long-term boyfriend used to harass her about not shaving her legs above the knees. He railed at her for for being so "BOHEMIAN!" I'm not sure she even knew what that meant, but it surely wasn't a good thing. It used to piss me off to no end that he did that to her.

    Luckily, our mom never pushed us to shave above the knees because we really didn't need to. It actually shocked me that the dork even noticed, much less ridiculed my sister for it. I wish I knew what she did back then, but I can't swear that she didn't cave to his abuse.

  2. i'm a lucky one . . . never really had to shave my legs at all . . . but the pit hair is another matter . . . my mother was mortified when in my 20's i decided to go all liberal on her and not shave . . . we would sit together around the pool at my apartment complex and she would stare at my armpits while we tried to converse . . . now my daughter has picked up that mantle . . . she has begged me to PLEASE shave the pits this summer, please, please, please . . . must be a generational thing, eh?

  3. i'm a lucky one . . . never really had to shave my legs at all . . . but the pit hair is another matter . . . my mother was mortified when in my 20's i decided to go all liberal on her and not shave . . . we would sit together around the pool at my apartment complex and she would stare at my armpits while we tried to converse . . . now my daughter has picked up that mantle . . . she has begged me to PLEASE shave the pits this summer, please, please, please . . . must be a generational thing, eh?

  4. Again I am not a typical American Male.
    I figure there's little to no pressure for men to shave, why should women?
    I like my women healthy and natural and that includes the hair they were born to grow.
    I do make ONE exception, which applies to ME as well. Those odd stray cheek hairs that are not properly clumped into anything resembling a beard or whatever ... just lone little black hairs sticking out like a spindly tree on the Sahara. Those get shaved. But I don't feel that's wrong or sexist because that applies equally to men OR women!

    So armpit hair is there for a reason, so is the leg hair. Why is that disgusting on women but not men?

    Sigh ... maybe I should just move to a civilized country where women can put that time and money into something useful for themselves , the planet and humanity.

  5. Christopher,
    Thanks for your comments! I like how you think!