So, before I get too far into this stream-of-consciousness rambling, I want to make something clear – I don’t know that I really have an opinion on this topic beyond the questions/commentary I’m about to type. I don’t know if I have answers. I’m not trying to advocate one way or another; I’m just thinking via my keyboard. So before you start texting or tweeting or commenting with “You’re not really considering…” or “Wow, so you’re going to/not going to…” just know that this is a brain dump and hopefully a conversation starter and not a manifesto or whatever.
Today, I want to talk about LEGS.
I wasn’t planning to write about this. It’s not like it’s even “leg day” on my workout calendar. (It’s actually back/shoulder/abs day). But while I was in bed, wasting time and avoiding responsibility, this morning I saw this post from Teen Vogue: Why This Fitness Blogger Will Not Shave Her Legs. I read it, thought “that’s really interesting,” and finally hauled my butt out of bed to start my day. I thought it would be no more than a curious, passing thought.
But things are never curious passing thoughts around here, are they? No, of course not.
By the time my workout was done, my shake was drank, and I’d checked in on all the appropriate social media channels, I headed to take my shower. Now, a few weeks ago while wearing shorts at the local blueberry farm, I scraped up my legs a bit (blueberry picking can be dangerous!). The last time I shaved my legs, I nicked a few parts of those scrapes, and they’re still healing. I didn’t want to shave over the nicks because I knew it would open up the scabs again.
So, dripping wet, hair freshly washed, water pouring down my back, the following thoughts ran through my head:
I guess I could try to just shave AROUND the scabs.
Ugh, maybe I should just wear pants or leggings today.
No, wait, all of my jeans are in the laundry right now. And I really don’t want to wear leggings.
But if I wear a dress, I have to shave my legs.
Wait, why the F*** do I “HAVE TO” shave my legs?
I mean, yes, there’s some visible hair, but this is kind of bullsh*t, right? Who is really paying that much attention to my legs? If they ARE looking that closely, WHY are they looking so closely at my legs?
You know what? F*** it. I’m wearing a dress and I’m not shaving.
This should not, by any means, feel like a crazy empowering decision to make, and yet, it kinda did. Why? Because women are constantly told to remove their body hair. Why? Usually for the appeal of someone else. We are bombarded with these messages from a very young age, and there’s very, very little presented on the counter-side.
Now, sure, a lot of this extends through a historical litany of patriarchal oppression. I do not blame my mom/aunts/grandmothers for being susceptible to the same social constraints that I fight against daily. Do I wish it were different? Maybe. Do I wish that two of my most powerfully clear childhood/adolescent memories did not involve body hair removal (one was riding in the passenger seat on a hot summer day, my feet up on the dash, and being told “you know, it’s probably time you start shaving your legs.”; the other was getting ready for a high school dance and being told “maybe you should think about starting to pluck or wax your eyebrows”)? Well, I don’t really think about those moments…other than today…but they’re clearly there and part of my shaped identity.
Outside the personal realm, popular culture does serious damage in this area. I don’t think it’s intentional — it’s just “the way things are.” Take for example these three bits from shows I really love.
#1 – How I Met Your Mother: “The Third Wheel”
Robin tells Lily that she’s invoked a strict “no shave” policy on dates, because “If I don’t shave, I must behave.” Because apparently there is nothing worse in the world than a woman with leg hair, despite the fact that Barney replies, “Dudes just care about getting on the green; we don’t mind putting through the rough.”
(Seriously, I love this show, but writing this blog is highlighting how insanely problematic and downright disgusting it can be… Anyway, that’s for a longer internal monologue on another day…)
Robin’s date ends up going so well that she decides she must shave her legs so she can sleep with this guy. She asks the waitress to buy her a razor, but the waitress doesn’t bring back shaving cream (side note – I do not use, nor understand, shaving cream. It seems like such an unnecessary waste…soap works just fine! Anyway, again, off topic…). The waitress then scorns Robin, telling her “Next time, shave your legs at home, Sasquatch.”
Robin steals butter from a neighboring table, attempts to shave her legs in the bathroom at the restaurant, slips and falls, hits her head, and the waitress steals the guy.
What the hell, HIMYM? What sort of twisted moral message is that?
#2 – Sex and the City: “The Monogamists”
A common Season 1 tactic on SATC was to intersperse the regular plot of each episode with little “interview clips,” as though Carrie was having conversations with people all over New York about her column. Truth: I always hated this tactic, because I’m fairly certain no one believed that Carrie was doing that much research. Maybe I just wanted to believe that because I find research exhausting. But whatever.
In Season 1, there’s an episode when Carrie finds out Mr. Big is dating other people, and there’s a sequence of these “Monogamy” interview clips. They’re mostly of women extolling its virtues and men bemoaning it or assuming they’ve been caught cheating. (Damn, I watch a lot of TOXIC television, don’t I?). In the interviews, as one woman is smiling cheerfully and explaining why she loves monogamy, she drops this line:
And you don’t have to shave your legs as much.
Consider this in both the context of the show and in comparison to the Robin scene from before. So, women feel the must remove leg hair in order to get a relationship, but once you lock ’em down, you can stop? How…why…but… I don’t get it.
#3 – Scrubs
I don’t remember which episode this happens in (look, I watch a lot of TV, and I have a lot of it memorized, okay?), but there’s one when Carla is subbing in as a surgical nurse and she’s by Turk’s side in the OR. She looks at the guy they’re about to perform surgery on and tells Turk he “looks kinda like your waxer.”
The other men in the room are appalled. Turk quickly responds with “Uh, she’s means her waxer. Her waxer.”
Carla then reveals she “makes Turk get his chest waxed so he doesn’t give me a rash.”
The Todd replies, “Oh. Does she also make you wax your vagina?”
Seriously, WTF is wrong with TV?!?!
That brings me back to today and my shower session freak out. These scenes were playing on loop in my brain. The long list of questions – why do we do this, why do we “have to” do this, do I actually enjoy doing this or not, why is it just women, why is it “weird” when women don’t and men do…
And I realized I needed to write this all down.
And I realized that writing it all down meant I definitely didn’t have time to shave. But I also didn’t have pants to wear.
And you know what? I decided to just be okay with that: