I stopped shaving my legs for a few months, and while I didn't originally intend it as a feminist statement, I realized that whether I liked it or not, it was one. So what did I do about it?
That fateful season is upon us once again. Winter has finally subsided to the warm-weather calls of spring and summer. Leaves are budding, plants are sprouting, everything that went into hiding when the temperature dropped below freezing is coming back out again. And, of course, this includes our skin. Specifically, our legs. “Begone,” we yell to our favorite jeans! See you next year!” we call to those leggings. And fatefully, this leaves not only the skin on our legs exposed, but whatever else might be visible on that skin. And for myself and many of my friends, this includes leg hair. Yep. Whether or not it has made an appearance all year, it is back onstage, front and center, showing itself to the world along with those beautiful flowers and buds. So… what do we do with it?
I live in Vermont. This means, in general, that not only does it get colder in the winter, but it stays cold for longer. So now, June, is really the first chance all year I’ve had the opportunity to wear shorts or skirts without the possibility of freezing my legs off. And, for me, it begs the question: What should I do with my leg hair? I used to be a dancer, so it was never a question until recently. My legs were always hairless (it’s more comfortable under most costumes). But this year is different. I haven’t shaved my legs in months. And it shows. It didn’t start as any type of feminist statement; I was just bored of shaving. It saves time in the shower. But when I thought about it more, I realized something important: It was a feminist statement - whether I liked it or not.
Female bodies in most societies around the world face constant scrutiny. In America, where I’ve lived my whole life, this includes the suppression of natural characteristics of our bodies - like shaving the leg hair that grows naturally - in order to meet traditional standards of “beauty.” However, if shaving your legs is a choice that makes you feel empowered and comfortable with your body, and I cannot stress this enough, DO IT! But my question, mainly for myself, is: Why am I so uncomfortable with the idea of going out of doors with my legs bare and my hair visible? What is so wrong with that?
There is an extensivea very long history of censorship of the female body. So, whether we like it or not, we don’t start shaving of our own volition. Society tells us we must. We are marketed razors that are more expensive than razors marketed towards men (Is pink plastic just more expensive?) and we face ridicule when we neglect to fall in line to the standards for female bodies that happen to be set by men. So, even though I didn’t intend to when I stopped shaving, I attracted attention and was inherently making a statement about what kind of ownership I take over my body.
I like having hairy legs. Despite the comments I’ve gotten: “That’s disgusting!” “Ew, you look like a man.” “When are you gonna trim that fur coat?” It makes me feel control over my body, because I’m no longer subscribing to this particular aspect of the definition of femininity. That said, I’m not advocating throwing out the razor if you don’t have the kind of community that will allow you to do such without significant, sometimes scary backlash. Women everywhere are told we must subscribe to physical feminine ideals, and when we don’t, it can mean some scary things. Overall, bodily autonomy is a really important goal of my feminism. But this can be achieved in many different ways. You don’t have to stop presenting femininely to be a good feminist. Sometimes, all you can do is take control of your body in any manifestation possible. For trans women, as Hari Nef talks about here, this sometimes means subscribing to ideals of femininity. For women of color, specifically black women, femininity is a standard that has been made unreachable because of stereotypes surrounding the black female body. The most important thing as a feminist, a woman, or just as a person, is to do your best to make yourself feel like you have control over your body. This does not need to look any particular way. For me, part of it means not shaving my legs. For Beyoncé, this means wearing designer leotards and makeup. But whatever way you choose, just remember: your body is yours, no matter how you present it physically.