A series of letters to girls about beauty culture.
To the fresh faces who are curious about the colorful palettes, delicate scents, and shiny facades that when mixed create beauty culture.
Dear Sweet Girls,
It is great that you want to start shaving! It’s an exciting moment. Before you do, could I share some thoughts with you?
I was living in England when I first noticed my leg hair. It was an “all of a sudden” moment for me. I had never noticed it until one day while I was sitting in 6th grade PE and pulled up one of my pant legs. Underneath that pant leg, was a shocking mass of confused, blonde leg hair. It stuck out every which way. There was no rhyme or reason to the way it was sticking out. Some hair was pointing up. Some were smashed down. Some were just sticking straight out from my leg as if standing at attention, paying their respects to puberty.
I have no idea why I had never noticed it before. We were living in a cold, wet climate. I rarely wore shorts, and if I was in a dress, I had stockings on under it. I quickly pulled my pant leg down and looked around. I was relieved to see that the girls in shorts had hairy legs as well. No one said anything to me about my crazy, attention standing leg hair. After all, we were living in England, and shaving wasn’t an expectation for girls. A few days later, I noticed my friend had hair under her arm. That evening I checked my own and discovered I, too, had the pit hair.
The sudden growth of hair made me uncomfortable. I asked my mom if I could “shave it off” and she said yes. I found her razor and listened carefully as she told me to lather my legs with soap (we didn’t have shaving cream) and to shave down my leg (Girls, I love my mother. She is simply the best, but you don’t shave down, you shave up, UP). I immediately jumped in the shower, lathered on the soap, and shaved down. The hair didn’t go away, I just managed to smoosh it a bit. So, I shaved (down) again with a bit more pressure and got a lot of the hair (and some skin) off. I mean, it was enough to where I was comfortable showing my legs in P.E. with the accompanying bandaids.
In England, in the mid-80s, shaving was never a conversation any of my friends and I had. It wasn’t on our radar as it wasn’t a cultural norm. I shaved once in sixth grade, and then I didn’t shave again until that following summer when moved back to the United States. After watching a couple of shaving cream commercials I learned to shave up.
Back in the United States, I was bombarded with TV and magazine ads that highlighted the beauty of a smooth leg. Although I had spent a big part of my childhood in Europe, I very quickly realized in America, beauty routines were very different. If I wanted to fit in, I had better play the game. But playing the beauty game takes a toll on you. To play the game, you have to give up a little bit of your confidence. However, as I grew into an adult and became more confident in my appearance, I have to admit, my shaving game is rather weak.
Much like makeup, my shaving practices are hit and miss. When I shave, it’s usually because I am going swimming, planning on wearing a skirt or dress, or it has been at least a month since my last shave. I like the feel of air and water on my legs just after a shave. I also like the feeling of smooth skin. There are times when I just don’t want to shave. So I don’t, and I still wear a skirt.
I do shave my underarms. I always sweat under there when I exercise or get nervous. In my head (whether it is true or not), I think that shaving my underarm hair will make the sweat easier to manage. It is my natural preference. But after spending part of my childhood abroad, I would never expect a girl or woman to shave if she doesn’t want to.
Body hair is weird. I mean, really. I understand it is necessary. It’s supposed to protect us from the elements like dirt, the cold, and the sun, but it is still weird. We go through the first decade of life with some leg and arm hair. Not to mention the hair on our heads and our eyebrows and eyelashes. This hair is manageable. We are at peace with this hair. But then, as elementary school ends, our hair starts to get out of hand. Our leg hair gets longer, hair grows in our armpits and in….. other places. The awkwardness is real and so is the want to remove it.
Some countries have shaving expectations, and others do not. In the United States, shaving is a cultural norm. It doesn’t contribute to one’s health, it is simply for aesthetics. It usually starts when we reach puberty, and hair starts to grow in places that didn’t have hair before. Boys grow hair on their faces, perhaps their backs and chests. Everyone grows underarm and pubic hair. This sudden growth of hair can feel really embarrassing. Our first instinct is to get rid of the hair and act like it never happened. But after a while, shaving can start feeling like a chore. Boys get a choice to shave or not. However, girls are not always given this same choice. In the U.S., girls are expected to have smooth skin. This expectation is unfair. If boys can choose to shave or not, why can’t girls?
Things get even more confusing when we stop to think about the fact that leg and underarm hair is acceptable for boys, but it is not acceptable for girls. Feminine hair removal is an expected and accepted practice. When a woman does not adhere to this expectation, people feel like they can judge her for being unshaven. However, men’s shaving choices do not incite as much judgment. Even though body hair is natural, many girls feel embarrassed by it. To have leg or underarm hair feels wrong and unfeminine. In fact, many girls choose to shave simply to avoid embarrassment.
If you are comfortable with body hair, then you shouldn’t feel forced into shaving.
Other reasons to not feel forced into shaving:
- Other girls shave
- So you can wear shorts, skirts, or dresses (you can wear them without shaving)
- Other people’s expectations
- To look older
Sometimes our culture makes us feel pressured into making a choice based on a cultural norm and not what is best for us. We go along with this choice because we worry that someone will make fun of us, judge us, or we will be left out. Shaving can feel like a popular, socially acceptable, and safe choice.
Don’t ever feel pressured to make a choice because it will please someone else. We must be true to ourselves and do what’s best for us. You are so important to this world, and I urge you to take the time to fully understand the culture you live in. These things affect you and the choices you will make with your life. Thinking, talking, asking questions, and reading helps us make the best, most informed decisions. Do what is right for your body, mind, and spirit. Don’t let the world tell you what to do with your body. You are in charge of you. If you choose to shave, great. If you choose to be unshaven, great!
If razor companies were honest they would tell us:
Female shaving is something we dreamed up to make some money. The truth is your legs and underarms are fine with hair on them, after all, that is how you were made. If guys can have underarm and leg hair, so can you. We razor companies saw a money-making opportunity, and we went for it. We told you hair in those places was embarrassing and a problem, but it’s not. We invented a double standard that people followed, and while we don’t mind hair on boys, we want our girls hairless and pretty. You fell into our beauty trap. We fed you advertisements that shamed your body. Then we pretended to create a women’s razor (when really we just made the men’s razor pink and shaped just a bit different,) and women’s shaving cream (which is really just shaving cream in a brightly colored can), and we sold them both to you at a higher price than the men’s products. We hoped you wouldn’t notice …and you didn’t…..until now.
How refreshing would it be if everyone just told the truth?
You entered the world with hair on your body, and no one has the right to tell you to remove it. The only reason people are telling you to shave is that they are more comfortable seeing hairless legs and underarms on a girl. But we girls are not in the business of making other people feel comfortable. Do not feel ashamed about anything on your body. You are enough just the way you are. You are enough. You are enough. You. Are. Enough. And furthermore, you will always be enough. Shaving will not make you a better girl. In fact, as soon as you are done shaving, your hair comes back because our bodies are designed to be covered in hair. The bottom line, you get to decide whether you want to shave or not. It is your body. You decide how, when, where, and what you shave.