One summer, I decided to stop shaving. It may have been the same summer that I decided to move to New Hampshire and be a waitress. I was….fifteen? Sounds right. My waitressing plans fell through, but no amount of frustratingly attached parents was going to prevent me from having hairy legs. I got the idea from something someone said.
I was over the house of a boy I was sort of dating, and his dad was talking about this girl who worked at the organic farm down the road. She was a very pretty girl, apparently, except that her legs were covered in hair. He did a little fake shudder and his sons laughed appreciatively. His wife said, “I’d never not shave.”
Which reminded me of another woman I knew, who had said those same words when her husband was discussing a camping trip, and why she wouldn’t come. And how she couldn’t be far from her feminine toiletries (I really doubt that he used that terminology). This was when I was ten, and makeup impressed me, especially since my mother didn’t wear it, and it was a mystery. The woman who would never not shave wore lots of makeup, and clearly held the key to all of the secrets of womanhood in her delicate, manicured hand. So one day, I figured, when I grew hair in inappropriate places, I would proudly shave it right off again.
And I did. (Except for pubic hair. That itches way, way too much afterward.)
But at fifteen, I suddenly stopped. The way my almost-boyfriend’s father described that girl at the farm sounded like a challenge. Like a false premise I was morally obligated to disprove. Like fun. I was pretty, I thought (this was back when I was still homeschooled, and thought I was pretty all the time), and I would definitely be pretty with hairy legs. And everyone would agree. And plus, I wouldn’t have to get all those tiny cuts on my legs when I shaved. The pale pink, sweetly curved razors seemed designed to punish my skin. Men’s flat, sturdy razors were more efficient, but I wasn’t willing to feel like a boy when I shaved.
(Such a problem. Source)
At first, it was prickly and spiky and stupid. It surprised me how long it took to grow out fully. It had always seemed like it grew so quickly that it would be two inches long in about four days. I realized I had no idea what length the hair on my legs was, in its natural state. I also didn’t know what the texture was. As it turns out, it was soft. Soft and pale brown and tufty. I ran my hands down my legs constantly, relishing the feel. It was like being covered in silk threads. I lay in bed and stuck my legs in the air so that I could admire them.
And then off I went to summer camp, where no one even seemed to notice the hair until I kissed a boy and he started following me around and checking me out at very close range. He said, “You don’t shave your legs.” Just a statement, without any judgment.
I said, “Nope.”
He said, “I like it.”
Actually, it turned out that every boy I spent time with that summer liked it. I kept waiting for someone to be offended or disgusted. I kept waiting for people to point and stare. No one did. Girls cared more than boys, but they were also more impressed. Grownups cared more than kids, but they didn’t matter. One of my friends stopped shaving, too.
I wondered why I’d shaved in the first place. And why it was so important to shave all the time, when boys didn’t care if your legs were hairy, and your friends thought it was cool that you were doing something so brave. And I don’t even have homeschooling as an excuse. I mean, it was summer. I was hanging out with school kids. Maybe it would’ve been a problem in the fall if I’d walked into a high school. I don’t know.
I went to the farm to pick up some vegetables, and I saw the girl. She was beautiful, and her leg hair was black. It was much more obvious than mine, and it looked pretty good. We smiled at each other.
And then it was fall, and I was going to stand up in front of the congregation at my synagogue for the first time and lead high holiday services with the rabbi. Mom said that I had to wear stockings. And to wear stockings, I had to shave my legs. I argued that I didn’t really have to wear stockings, but she was positive that I did, and I was too nervous about the event to protest very much. It’s funny. Mom didn’t really care much about stockings herself, but she wanted everything to go well for me, since it was my first big job. She didn’t care about fashion, or know what young women wore in their fancy, professional lives. So she dressed me in this frumpy, modest suit with a bulky skirt, a shoulder-padded jacket, and blocky patent leather heels. And stockings. It was time to grow up and stop being a little hippie.
I performed on the bima with the rabbi, and I started teaching lessons at the synagogue. And then I was performing more services that required stockings. And I never let the hair on my legs grow again. And years later, I wondered how I could’ve ever done it in the first place. I began to think that it would immediately identify me with a certain movement, a specific group of people. It would seem too political, somehow. I didn’t want to make a statement. That sort of thing.
I was reading some internet magazine the other day, and I saw an article about a scandal. A model or an actress or a very wealthy socialite had come to a red carpet type event with a little leg hair visible. As though she’d missed places when she’d shaved. And everyone in that glitzy, frantic, dull world had attacked her for it. The magazine was saying, “Is it really such a big deal? Sheesh, guys…” And for once I agreed with a magazine. But I didn’t really feel that impulse to stop shaving. Not very much, at least. Maybe later. Even though I think my dream to be a waitress in New Hampshire might be lost forever.
(farm stands rock, though. source)
* * * *
Un-roast: Today I love the way I (at least) don’t care if I haven’t shaved in a few days. When I’m wearing a short skirt and I’m already out and I look down and see a huge spot I missed, or remember that today was the day I wasn’t supposed to wear a short skirt, I remind myself that people don’t notice or care nearly as much as razor commercials hope they do. And I know it’s true.
P.S. I also stopped shaving my armpits for a while, during that summer. My dad thought that was a lot grosser. I thought he was a terrible feminist, but I’ve since gotten over it. Mostly. I’m kidding. Dad– I love you!