A reader writes:
Thank you thank you! I am so glad to have a Dish conversation about us gals having to shave. Well, we don’t have to, but it’s expected. I haven’t shaved in years, not anywhere; but I have a husband who doesn’t mind. I admit to having red-gold hair rather than dark, and I’m not particularly hirsute, so I can appreciate what dark-haired ladies have to deal with. Still, the feeling of two hairy legs rubbing is quite a lovely thing, especially as opposed to the painful stubble of a shaved leg or rash-riddled armpit (to say nothing of the pubic area).
I can remember the fun I had as a bartender, watching guys react to the sight of my hairy legs. It made me laugh, seeing their disgust and hearing them proclaim how their wives would never be allowed to let it grow free.
I look forward to hearing if there’s a sizable reaction to this thread.
Sizable reaction below:
I remember being pulled aside around age 14 by my uncle. The reason why? I was at his house, swimming in the common pool at his townhouse … and I had never shaved. Mind you, my uncle has barely spoken to me over the years, but on this one occasion he saw fit to tell me how unattractive hair on the legs and underarm were and if my mother was too much of an immigrant to realize, here in the US, women shave to be attractive.
I stopped shaving my legs in my 30s after moving to the Bay Area. I stopped shaving my underarms in solidarity with my wife, who during her cancer years was too weak to shave. Since then I’ve noticed a couple of things. 1) Ever notice that both sets of hair are near lymph nodes? 2) Since I stopped shaving my armpits, I haven’t gotten a cold and 3) my dog, a husky, has fur that acts like armor on him. He never gets fleas because they can’t penetrate his undercoat. All this has led me to believe that shaving is pretty much a foolish act. Your hair can act to block things out.
Anyway, in my “pre-lesbian” days, I only dated men with facial hair. There’s something fun about it and if I could, I’d be totally rocking a beard now.
Here is why I started shaving my legs: Girls in my gym class in the 1960s teased me about how hairy my legs were, and my first boyfriend flopped down beside me at the pool after looking me over and declared, “You have more hair on your legs than I do.” I have no desire to ever be 16 again.
Long after I was married and was living in a liberal academic town, I stopped shaving my legs, though I consistently shaved under my arms. I resumed shaving my legs when I moved to a Southern state, where my hairy legs were obvious, in part because they were exposed for many more weeks of the year. When I moved back north, shaving declined in frequency and now is only an occasional event. I cringed self-consciously at one of my husband’s high school reunions when one of his classmates went on and on about how disgusting it was that the women serving at a natural-foods cafe didn’t shave their legs – thus proving, in the friend’s opinion, that their hygiene was seriously deficient. I was glad he wasn’t looking closely at my legs.
There are maybe five times a year I shave because I want to – first day of the beach, first week of skirt wearing, some date I’m excited about. It can feel festive and fun, like wearing red lipstick. Every other time it’s for men, or square women. It’s unprofessional to have leg hair, so off it goes when the outfit shows it. It’s not like it’s easy, figuring out how to maneuver around your own body with some dumb safety blades. And waxing is so expensive in America! You and your reader are right; it’s oppressive and just more misogynistic bullshit. And you know the shit of it? I would never date a man who demanded I shave, but I don’t think I could physically go on a first date with hairy legs. I’ve internalized the shame about my own body hair to the point that my stubbornness can’t overcome it (which, if you knew me, would be meaningful).
You referred to shaving as “unnatural servitude” and “a woman’s choice – coerced by men.” While men are a big part of it, the coersion is by our cultural beauty standards enforced by both men and women. The fact is, that whatever choice women make, it is shaped by the cultural definitions of beauty, from thoughtlessly following the standards of beauty magazines to rebelling against them.
I am “lucky” in that my leg hair is naturally blonde and not very noticeable (although more so now than ten years ago), so my decision to never yet shave my legs doesn’t really matter. I still shave my armpits relatively often, especially in the warmer months. And more recently, I’ve payed more attention to whether and how much I should pluck my eyebrows. I’m married, and none of these decisions are going to influence my sex life.
There is a cultural stigma against body hair on women. For most women all these body-hair decisions are quickly noticeable and will be judged by strangers on the street. So if it were just a matter of getting laid, as you say, a higher percentage of women would change their behavior when “off the market.”
Thanks as always for the interesting and wide-ranging reading.