To shave or not to shave? That is the question...
"Why don’t you shave your legs?" It’s a question I began being asked around when I started secondary school, when we’d just about learnt that yes, we did have to wear deodorant every day and yes that also includes the days you are not doing sport. I was not the first to hit puberty and I spent my pre-teens blissfully unaware of my own appearance, much more worried about my grades than my face. But as everyone’s bodies began to change, and the conversations about bra sizes and periods seeped into my friendship group, so came the rush of insecurity about how I looked.
I started shaving my legs at thirteen, later than most of the other girls at my school and only after my hairy legs had attracted enough attention that people would point-blank ask me why I hadn’t shaved them. The answer to that question was actually quite simple: I didn’t want to. Up until other people started to care, I hadn’t given a second thought to the hairs on my legs but suddenly it seemed everyone felt they were entitled to an opinion on it. I was anxious to shave my legs at first, scared I was going to cut myself, but this quickly changed from an anxiety about shaving to anxiety about forgetting to shave and, god forbid, having to go swimming with ugly, hairy legs.
When I was about fifteen, I remember arguing with my philosophy teacher about shaving, filled with this righteous anger. The topic was gender inequality and I made a comment about the pressure on women to look a certain way, to shave their bodies. It was an off-hand comment, part of a wider point we were discussing but my middle-aged male teacher came back immediately with ‘but men have to shave their faces.’ And as much as I tried to argue with him, I just couldn’t seem to convince him of what seemed so important to me, the fact that men shave their faces, but women have to shave their legs. He could grow a beard (in fact, he had one), whereas I could not grow out my leg hair or I’d clearly be shunned from society.
In all honesty, spending a few minutes shaving your legs every week, or even every day, isn’t a huge chore. Compared to the wage gap and the sexual double standard, it doesn’t seem like a huge feminist issue. But what makes this different is that it’s not men telling us to shave, it’s women enforcing these ideas on each other. It was women who told me to shave in the first place. It’s women who I think will notice or comment on my leg hair now. Of course, advertising and the media have a role to play in this, but at the end of the day it was friends and family members who made me feel ashamed of my natural body hair.
That’s not to say we should all throw our razors in the bin and enact revenge on anyone who’s made comments about our leg hair. But we can all take a moment to think about what we do for ourselves and what we do for society. In the first lockdown last summer, as people were giving themselves questionable haircuts and the emphasis on fashion was quickly replaced with comfort, I changed out my smooth hairless calves for a forest of dark hairs. At first, I itched to shave. When the weather got warmer, I felt embarrassed to be wearing skirts without shaving. And yet, every time I thought about picking up my razor, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Without even realising, I’d set myself a mental challenge to get over my disgust at my own body and embrace my natural hair. And I am so glad I did. Growing out my leg hair was never really about wanting to have hairy legs; it was about proving to myself that I could and that it would be okay. I was showing myself that I didn’t need to shave and if and when I did, it wasn’t for anyone apart from myself. It’s a step on the way to loving my body – all of it, just the way it is.
Whilst I’d love to tell everyone to grow out all your body hair and never touch a razor again, the entire point of this article is to tell you to stop caring what other people think and do makes you feel good, not what you think you should do. So, shave everyday if that makes you happy, or throw your razor in a bin and set it on fire if you want. Life’s too short to be worrying about whether the hairs on your legs are going to offend anyone. It’s been a journey for me, but I love my leg hair. It used to crush my confidence, now it builds on it. In fact, I love all leg hair and if I had one piece of advice it would be to stop shaving – not forever if you don’t want, but enough to let your hairs grow out proudly and fully and even just for a little while let yourself challenge the idea that you have to change your body for other people. Know that you’re doing it for you and that’s all that matters.