Working at a summer camp over the summer taught me a lot about people. For seven hours every day I was surrounded by young people, ages 5-12, and I was constantly observing and processing their behavior. It was an anthropological study. One experiment I did, unintentionally, is to have unshaven legs. Children as young as six are conscious of this difference, and one had even taken to calling me “Mr. Man” (all in good fun). A nine-year-old camper teased me with the nickname Bigfoot. Almost every day a camper commented on my hairy legs. “Why don’t you shave?” They’d ask. “Why are your legs hairy?” They’d wonder. It is disconcerting that young people are socialized so early. We are hardly given the chance to decide what is beautiful and right before the age of six. But I did begin to wonder: “Why don’t I shave? Why are my legs hairy?”
The explanation that first enters my head is one concerned with time. It is laziness. My leg hair is thick and dark and shaving takes close to half an hour. I don’t like to spend long periods of time in the shower or sitting on the edge of the tub. If I’m not working or doing school work, I like to have some free time, some time not spent removing the hair off my body. I spent an embarrassing amount of time in junior high and high school trying to make myself look like the young models in Seventeen and Teen Vogue magazines. I even taped a collage of these models to the wall beside my bed. I was obsessed with being tan, blonde and hairless. In turn, I surrendered to the wants of the young men in my life. I was “boy crazy,” but when I think back on my teenage years and try to understand my behavior, I realize that I thought I would get the most male attention if I looked the way I thought they wanted me to look. Now, I want to get attention for the way that I am, naturally.
See it is not just my legs that I want to remain “unshaven.” I want my personality, my politics, my sense of humor, my intelligence, my tastes, and my ideas to be “unshaven.” I want them to proceed naturally, to grow unencumbered, uncut, outward. I want them to exist because they are there. I don’t want to remove any part of my inward or outward self to be more attractive to the masses. Furthermore, I do not believe I should let my outer appearance be governed by the desire to have a partner.
I’m getting used to my hairy legs, too. That’s not to say that I don’t shave every once in awhile, because I do. But I try to not shave my legs to impress or attract a partner. Like anything that I do, I don’t want my motivation to be shallow. I want my motivation for my actions to be rooted in authenticity and goodness to myself and the world. A hairy leg doesn’t hurt anyone–but an indirectly forced shave is damaging to the self.
Women’s Center Staff