Dry shaving- the sound of it makes my roommate cringe because she’s afraid I’ll give myself razor burn.
But if I want to wear a sleeveless dress and I notice that my underarms are looking a little prickly, I dry shave anyway regardless of potential consequences.
I have been conditioned to feel like I can’t leave the house in a tank top with unshaven underarms. There are times where I’ve caught myself with one foot out the door, on my way to work or to meet friends, when suddenly I’m hit with the realization that I hadn’t shaved the night before. What comes next is a scene straight out of a movie: the lightbulb of realization fades as I dart back upstairs to take care of the issue, wetting my armpits with a damp cloth and a little shaving cream so that I can quickly remove the “excess” hair.
If I’m certain that my underarms won’t be seen by anyone, I’m fine going a few days without shaving, especially in the winter. But after years of wearing little more than leotards and tights to dances classes, I’m still very aware how much body hair is on display at all times, no matter the time of year.
I find myself wanting to blame my “need to shave” mentality on that little boy who sat next to me in my sixth grade English class, who asked when I was finally going to shave my “hairy legs,” all the while smirking and looking to the other boys sitting nearby for their approval of his weak insult. I sighed and turned my back to him, acting like his comment didn’t affect me. But on the inside, I felt vulnerable and self-conscious, wondering how many other people had looked at my legs and wondered why I hadn’t started shaving yet. That night, I discretely snuck the pink razor from my mom’s medicine cabinet into the shower with me and decided to try shaving my legs for the first time.
I was scared. None of my friends at the time ever talked about their own experiences with shaving. The only “first-hand” accounts on shaving that I had been exposed to were from the beauty advice sections of teen magazines, where girls anonymously sent in their shaving horror stories and asked “shaving experts” to tell them what they were doing wrong. There was nothing personal about these stories of girls slicing open their knees and ruining their bath towels with their bloody ankles. No one warned you that your anxiety about dragging razor blades across you skin to remove hair might cause your hands to be shaky, resulting in you cutting up your legs. The “shaving experts” didn’t offer any advice on how much pressure to apply when shaving or to check you razor frequently for dull blades. The best advice they could offer was essentially to “just lather up and go for it.”
After I got over my initial pre-teen fear of shaving, I became slightly obsessed with getting rid of all of the “extra hair” on my body. I closely examined my face in the mirror a few times a week to make sure that the barely visible peach fuzz above my lip didn’t grow into a mustache. Any little hairs that tried to grow below my eyebrow were plucked immediately. I got extremely self-conscious if I went longer than two days without shaving my armpits or my legs, afraid that someone might notice the stubble.
As much as I would like to trace this whole saga all the way back to that one comment that some little boy made about my legs in sixth grade, I know that the roots of my insecurities with body hair reach far beyond him. All of the TV commercials and advertisements trying to convince women to buy an array of hair removal products, all of the photoshopped images of cover girls on magazines who never have a single stray hair or any semblance of stubble anywhere on their body – these are just a couple of ways in which the media perpetuates this idea that a hairless woman is a beautiful woman. As a society, we shun women with body hair, acting as though they are dirty and uncleanly. We hand young girls razors and teach them how to “take care of a problem” instead of presenting shaving, plucking and waxing as part of a personal decision as to whether an individual wants to remove any or all of her body hair.
My personal worries about body hair began to fade when I got more involved in activities throughout high school and into college. I didn’t have time to waste thinking so critically about my appearance anymore. But, it wasn’t until this past year or so, when I began seeing social media posts from other women talking about the natural beauty of body hair, that I truly began to understand how empowering body hair can be for some individuals.
I’m still not comfortable with growing out my underarm or leg hair – and that’s okay. Because now when I shave, I know that I’m shaving because I choose to, not because I care what other people might think. I’ve taken back my body. It’s about time.