At first it was unintentional, because I couldn’t reach my legs during the third trimester of pregnancy. Then it was just impossible because I had a newborn and couldn’t take 30-minute primping showers. Now not shaving is a choice.
As the hair on my legs grew, I thought about the women I knew who didn’t shave. My reaction to their hairy legs was admiration. I’ve passed many stylish women in our neighborhood sporting their natural summer legs. I’d smile and think they were so brave. Every time I reached for my razor, the ghost of Frida Kahlo would emerge from the shower steam and raise one side of her uni-brow at me, encouraging me to answer the question implicit in those reactions: why couldn’t I be one of those women?
Okay, Frida, I’ll try.
I put the razor down for months, but I set it down with a promise to give myself grace. I was just going to explore. There was no ultimatum, no deadlines, no audience I was doing this for but myself. I could shave anytime.
I haven’t had the highest self-esteem about my body since birthing two babies. I try to be body positive because I believe in it and I want to model that for my daughters, but my husband knows some times are harder than others for me. My husband was supportive of my exploration, but worried that not shaving would add another layer to my body struggles. Part of being graceful to myself was watching out for that effect.
I went online to cancel my razor subscription and scrolled through the checklist of reasons for leaving. Since “I quit shaving” and “I’m breaking free of the chains of patriarchy!” weren’t listed, I just had to check “other."
The layers of deeper motivation came along the way. Claiming my own sexuality is something I’ve been working on; this was another way to explore an aspect of my body that had never been encouraged before. My feminist brain totally agrees that body hair is acceptable for any gender, but do I want that for myself? Plus, I am raising daughters who will someday have their own thoughts on their body hair, and I want to be equipped for those conversations. The most surprising thing was that the darker my legs became, the more I felt…could it be?....sexy. I thought maybe I’d feel disgust, but not this.
I’ve tried the dominant message of sexy before: painted nails, high heels, lipstick, etc. And I only felt annoyed or inauthentic. But when I looked down at the hair on my legs, and felt sexy, I had to re-think that adjective. Maybe sexy is less of a look and more of a feeling? Is sexy in the eye of the beholder or the individual? Or maybe they play off each other and that’s the point.
My partner has shared that one of the things he finds most sexy is confidence in myself. My natural legs made me feel more confident. They made me feel brave and feisty. In most ways, they also made me feel more relaxed. Stress I didn’t realize I carried was lifted; I no longer worried whether I had time to shave my legs before wearing a certain outfit or whether anyone would notice that they weren’t. I never realized how much time I spent in the shower…and moisturizing to prevent razor burn….and standing in front of the closet…until it was gone. It made me wonder how much more time women would have if they didn’t have to worry how their legs looked?
The exploration wasn’t completely smooth sailing, though. There were a few areas where things got a bit hairy (sorry! I couldn’t help myself. The pun was right there).
Even though my decision not to shave had me feeling sexier, I didn’t always feel attractive when my husband rubbed his hands across my legs. Maybe because I could tell he wasn’t as fond of the process as I was. When I asked about it, he admitted that even if it is based on social construction, he prefers my legs shaved. Three years ago, that comment is what would have undone me. It would have made me feel insecure and stopped my exploration. But this time I heard the comment for what it was: a personal preference. Marriage and sexuality are full of mismatched preferences and taking turns. If it’s consensual and safe, meeting your partner’s preferences doesn’t have to mean being inauthentic to yourself; it can just be fun. An act of love.
That’s why for our anniversary I gave my husband a card that said “I’d shave my legs for you.” And then I did.
Frida smiled at the shave that was different than any before. It was my choice. It wasn’t an obligation set by a narrow set of societal standards. It was no longer a mindless part of my routine I couldn’t explain other than “because I’ve been doing it since 6th grade.” And it wasn’t motivated by fear of shame or a need to be accepted. It was an act of love made by a woman confident in her own body and partnership.
That’s what I hope for other women (and all people really). This isn’t my manifesto for why women should stop shaving. (I don’t even know if I’ve stopped for good). It’s my encouragement to discover your own sexy. Quiet or loud. Kinky or traditional. Hairy or not.