Another Dish thread is born:
I stopped shaving in my mid-20s. Back then, I would joke to people that I am a Grateful Deadhead lesbian with a German mother, making it a triple threat for not being allowed to shave my legs and arms. Though I’m nearly 50 now I still, after 25 years, sometimes worry about people judging me for my unshaven legs and armpits. Not enough to actually shave them, mind you, but that thought is always there. Part of me revels in the rebellion of it and that I get to say an internal “Fuck you and your rules, man,” like any good hippy should. But part of me knows I’m being judged and I cringe a bit. How many ways can I create to get stared at and judged as a 6’2″ butch lesbian in a Grateful Dead t-shirt?
But here’s the thing I notice about not shaving. Deadheads and hippies mock women who don’t shave. Other hippy women mock not shaving. Many lesbians shave, to be attractive for other lesbians, though at least they don’t care or even blink when a women with hairy legs walks past them at Pride. And even my female German cousins now shave their legs and armpits (they didn’t up until we were about 30). If it’s just straight men asking for this, they have even more power than even the wildest of far-left radical hippies and feminists could ever imagine.
Another female reader:
I shave my legs only because I’m straight and hairy legs signify otherwise. I don’t feel shame about having hair on my legs (or armpits), nor do I feel that appearing lesbian is objectively bad. It’s just factually incorrect in my case. The haircuts, clothes shopping, hair products, makeup, hairdrying, face tweezing, jewelry, “accessories” (ugh) and on and on are just so fucking time-consuming, and it’s not fair. And I say this as someone who lives in Seattle, where my no-makeup, no-manicure, minimal jewelry, sensible-shoe, perpetual-bad-hair-day look makes me a pretty normal-looking straight woman. I don’t think it matters how girly you look otherwise; sporting hairy legs immediately labels you as gay – such is the ridiculously strong cultural expectation of bare-leggedness for straight women. (Considering how few of my lesbian friends/acquaintances currently have hairy legs – that’d be zero of them – it’s even more nuts that hairy legs remain a signifier of lesbiantasticness, but a signifier they remain.)
Another sends the above Youtube:
This song by Keb’ Mo evokes a strong positive reaction from his female fans whenever he plays it. It’s my favorite song of his (and I’m a big fan).
I have four reasons why women enjoy shaving their pubic hair:
1. Oral sex, the runaway winner. Both giving and receiving. I give you a pass on knowing this, Andrew, but this is probably the #1 reason why women in relationships go bare.
There is no comparison in the amount of enjoyment for the giving party. No comparison. It also feels better and more sensitive receiving (at least with a clean-shaven man or a soft-skinned woman as the giver; I can’t speak to receiving from a bearded man as that’s the one experience I haven’t had). If the giving partner is happier to give, the receiving partner is happier – full stop. What percentage of women cannot achieve orgasm through intercourse alone? More enjoyable foreplay makes for more orgasms, which makes for stronger relationships.
2. More comfortable during hot humid weather. Hair sweats. Sweat chafes.
3. Lochia! I’ve given birth five times. Lochia is a comparative BREEZE without hair (especially during the first few weeks when you’re not physically able to shower very often).
4. Less hygiene maintenance during the gloppy, mucousy week around ovulation, less annoyance during that slow 24-hour trickle after sex, and obviously less odor and cleanup during menstruation. The normal gooey hassle of femininity is hugely reduced when you don’t have individual curly strands of hair to keep clean.
Maybe you read all that and went, “ew, I don’t want to hear about this.” Well, I don’t want to live it! Female bodies are full of icky-feeling liquid messes, and shaming me into accepting a life without modern, unnatural conveniences like tampons and razor blades isn’t un-repressing me.
I’m a female ginger, and I have hairy arms and hair on my chest. The latter is quite fine and downy, and when I was younger, it really bothered me. I was relieved whenever I ran across another female whose arms were also noticeably hairy and I shied away from two-piece bathing suits because of the hair on my torso, which probably only I noticed according to my husband whose attention I had to direct to the issue, and being quite the bear, he laughed.
I don’t worry about the hair anymore. Mostly because I am older and I long ago stopped caring about culture and its norms, but this conversation reminded me that as a female, there are a lot of inane “rules” we are expected to adhere to in terms of our bodies that are largely dictated by men. Men are free to be apes, which happens to suit me (except for the ear and nose hair – pluck that, seriously).
I have dark hair, and lots of it. Dealing with upper lip and even underarms is no big deal; it only takes a few seconds. But shaving my legs takes 5-10 minutes every time. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it essentially doubles my shower time on days when I do it. On the other days, my legs don’t show, period. I recently wore jeans on a 90-degree afternoon because I was rushed that morning. I cringe at my arm hair, too, but I learned in middle school that shaving your arms is somehow even more shameful than leaving them hairy.
Given the extent to which leg hair affects my life, I’ve considered laser. But the dilemma is my daughter. She’s 5, and a carbon copy of me. Her hair will get darker, and she’ll probably have the same issues that I do. Maybe she’ll want to laser it off, too. What would I say? Half of me would want to challenge the notion that a significant portion of her body hair should be removed permanently – no need to adopt my hangups. But the other half thinks back on my own experience and would love to save her the trouble of shaving through all those years before she can afford to pay for removal herself, if that’s what she’s going to do anyway. So I keep shaving, and hope to find her some better role models in the meantime.
There’s another element to this, which is what many women do to keep hair off other parts of their body – like their faces. I have dark, curly, thick hair; I’m Ashkenazi Jewish on my mother’s side. Since I was a teenager I’ve grown facial hair, and as I aged, it got worse. I had highly-visible hair on and under my chin; on my cheeks; on my upper lip; and I grew a pair of thick sideburns that would be the envy of many men.
As an adult I finally felt I had to confront this – I’d started going everywhere with my eyes down, unable to look people in the eye – and so I had it lasered off. This is a painful, slow, and expensive method to permanent hair removal; basically you are burning out the melanin in your hair follicles with a laser. It hurts like hell, like being snapped repeatedly with an electric rubber band (though the degree of pain varies by person and treatment). Some of the hair grows back, but less of it each time, and it’s thinner, lighter, and weaker. After an intensive initial treatment period lasting about a year, I now go back for a treatment about every eight months or so.
It’s been unpleasant, but I can honestly say that it has changed my life. I feel good; I look good; I walk with my eyes up, meeting people’s gaze.
But I did leave the sideburns. They were so thick I frankly didn’t see how they could be unobtrusively lasered away, since between treatments they would grow back and be obvious to anyone who saw me over time. It was too embarrassing. Now they are the only remnant of my prior hirsute self, and I don’t actually mind them (and I’ve had partners who found them downright hot.) So I trim them down and forget they’re there, and that mostly goes okay except for the occasional incident where I hear a whisper, or catch a stare on the street or on a train.
Still, I imagine my experience isn’t that unusual. For women, facial hair is common, and what we go through to get rid of it – and the judgment we suffer for it, much of it from other women – would surprise you. Behind many a perfectly smooth female face lie thousands of dollars and hours of pain in treatments.
Thanks, as always, for hosting such a fascinating discussion.