to shave or not to shave

I just read this really, really cool article called Hair! (Not the Musical). This chick stopped shaving/ waxing etc. for about 18 months, and it’s fascinating to read her reasoning and experiences. She seems very down to earth, funny, and cool.

Source: Vagenda
I have a weird relationship with shaving. On the one hand, like Emer, I know that shaving is social gender construct. I know my disgust toward unshaven legs/ arms is completely indoctrinated by a thousand million different societal messages, both subtle and blatant. I know that, but every time I contemplate intentionally letting it all grow out, I feel a shuddering sense of revulsion. It’s very weird. Sometimes when I’m shaving in the shower, I’ll get this odd urge to just complete strip my body of hair — remove my arm hair and eyebrows and shave my head, too. I know perfectly well I’d look like a freak, but it’s also the logical conclusion to the association that body hair is gross/ unfeminine — if underarm, leg, and pubic hair are considered “gross” and “unfeminine,” why do the forearms, eyebrows, and head escape this judgment?
The first time I shaved, I was 13 or 14. I had fine, soft, pale blonde body hair when I was younger, and often wore shorts or cap sleeve shirts to school. One day a classmate realized my armpits/ legs had fuzz, and started screeching in disbelief in the middle of class, pointing at me and yelling, “You don’t shave?!? Ew!” I felt so embarrassed and confused — up until that point, I didn’t realize I was expected to shave. Everyone knew guys generally shaved their faces (at least, during puberty/ school years), but who shaves their body? That’s ridiculous!

She was so clearly shocked and disgusted, though, that it really impacted me. She wasn’t normally humiliatingly cruel at all– she was outspoken and kind of a badass (in my eyes). One of the popular girls. But she was cool, and usually nice to me. Her name was Dion, and she wore her hair in cornrow braids, had definite eyebrows that were plucked into a surprised arc, and wore bright lipsticks. In other words, she obviously had quite the beauty regime, even in 8th grade. I admired her attitude, how in-your-face she was to teachers and others students. I admired how brave she was, but how she was also normally thoughtful and kind to the less popular kids. So her shocked reaction the day she realized I didn’t shave was all the more devastating, because it wasn’t from one of the cliques or kids I normally tried to avoid because of their cruelty; it was from someone I considered an almost-friend.

I went home and found a razor in the shower– it may have been my sister’s, may have been my brother’s, I don’t know– and I tried to shave. I was so embarrassed that I hadn’t known about this thing that apparently everyone knew about that I didn’t ask anyone for advice on how to do it. I just used soap and cut myself a few times. Over time, I discovered shaving cream, then shaving gels, then after-shaving lotions and so on and so forth.

Source: Fashion Me Fabulous

The first time I was introduced to the concept of women growing body hair to subvert gender expectations was when I was 17 or 18. I really didn’t like my family ward, so I had started attending the Young Single Adults ward with my older sister. There was a young woman in that ward — we’ll call her Daphne, because I can’t remember her name — who was attending the local liberal arts college. I’d never met someone like her at church before, so clearly hippy and counter culture, but so devout at the same time. She wore long, loose maxi dresses in tye-died patterns and chunky leather sandals. She didn’t shave at all or wear nylons, so her armpit hair curled out from the edges of her short-sleeved dresses, while her bare legs flashed fuzz whenever her dress pulled up as she crossed her legs. I asked her why she didn’t shave, and she told me that she had fallen to the temptations of the flesh before, and decided to grow her hair out to signify her second virginity. She would not shave until her wedding night.

It was really an interesting idea to me, because it both reclaimed her personal ownership of her body (nominally for god, but she was the one who chose this unique method of re-virgination), but also because she was subverting socially-constructed gender norms to repel men. Another interesting thing about a woman choosing to grow out body hair in order to repel men is that this is something that could only happen in this place and time in history.

I don’t know how the tactic worked, ultimately. I stopped going to church for a bit (a year and a half), and when I returned she was gone.

Anyway, that’s just some of my own personal experiences with body hair and culture. I’d like to grow out my hair, but I don’t feel brave enough to. I like to wear skirts and tank tops and camisoles, and I don’t like the idea of drawing attention with hairy pits. Emer addresses this:

Q5. Do you actually go out in string tops and shorts with the unsightly keratin-based proof that you have gone through puberty on show for all humanity to see?This is a tricky one. Short answer – no. Cause it’s hard, y’know? It’s not so much the pointing and the laughing. It’s the fact that I’ve been socialised since birth to think that my body hair is unclean and unfeminine and, even though I believe in what I’m doing, when I go out in public something else takes over and I think ‘oh my God look at your legs woman, what is wrong with you?’ I AM THE CAGE.. . .  One of the first lessons the hair taught me is that my clothing puts me on display: bare arms and shoulders, fitted busts and waists, and short skirts with sheer tights – even in winter. I seriously re-examined my wardrobe. Not only did most of my habitual attire display a significant amount of skin, but the body parts on show needed to be ‘feminized’ before they were acceptable for display in women’s clothing at all. There’s a critique of the objectification and commercialisation of the female body under capitalism to be made here, probably, but the editors of Vagenda have asked me not to write like a total dryballs, so if you want to hear it, you’ll have to take me for a pint.

I think that pretty much sums it up. All the pretty clothes show my legs and underarms, and I am supposed to wax, shave, or pluck to be acceptable. Now there’s a trend of wearing skirts sans tights or nylons, so the shaving thing is amped up in importance — no more ignoring a bit of light stumble and throwing on nylons/ tights when you’re feeling lazy; you must be always perfectly hairless and smooth. I still wear nylons and tights, because I like them and if I’m all dressed up in a skirt, I want to look put-together all over. I personally feel bare legs make an otherwise nice outfit look weirdly casual and poorly assembled. Emer addresses the wearing of dresses and make-up, too, and I think she says it best:

Q6. But I have seen you wearing make-up! Are you not a big hairy hypocrite?I like a smidge o’ mascara on a night out, me. I choose to wear make-up. I know this, because I choose not to wear make-up the vast majority of the time. When I leave the house without make-up people don’t point and laugh at me. No-one handed me a Mac lippy the second I hit puberty and told me I had to wear it or everyone would think I was disgusting. I can choose to wear make-up or not wear it. I’m comfortable with that.I’m not waging a war against all things normatively feminine in our society. I like dresses, but I wouldn’t like it if dress-wearing were tacitly compulsory for all vagina-bearers. I would like dresses even better if the men who wanted to wear them could do so in public without fear of ridicule or violence. Fuck body policing! Smash the stupid arbitrary gendered bullshit! Do it wearing whatever the hell you want! Yeah!

Yeah! Fuck the body police! Fuck gender policing! I wear make-up because I choose to — I often don’t wear make-up, and I wear varying amounts of make-up when I do. I sometimes wear dresses because I choose to — I often lounge around the house in skirts because know what? They’re comfy. I do feel bad that guys face so much social prejudice for things like wearing make-up, skirts, or pretty colors. My husband would look amazing if he wore some eyeliner and mascara to highlight his gorgeous eyes and long lashes.

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2 thoughts on “to shave or not to shave

  1. Ha, middle school. Fun times, right? /sarcasm/ I wish I knew what had happened to some of the kids I had classes with. There were more than a few who I really liked, but they went off to the new high school instead of ours.

  2. Enjoyed this post! And it was the first time I've thought of Dion in decades but as soon as I read about her all these middle school memories came rushing back.

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