We all shave. Or, we all have shaved, or we will shave. Maybe we’re waxing our legs before we go out; maybe we’re shaving our beards in the morning. Maybe twice a week, or twice a month, or once a day.
But we do it.
We shave for ourselves. We might shave for our lovers. And maybe, we might shave to avoid ridicule, judgment, and uncomfortable looks. We shave to showcase our gender presentation. Hair holds our pride, our cultural identity, and signifies our stress level. We shave to fit in, and we shave to bust out. And spoiler: I believe that shaving, or not shaving, can be a great tool for self-expression (both gendered and ungendered). And I wanted to talk about why I shave, why I don’t always shave, and why it’s a choice.
Obviously, because I’m writing this, there’s some explicit language, and I’m gonna talk about nether often-soft-as-a-feather parts. And speaking of, this is going to be a two-part-er.
Here we go.
Visibility: Making Privates (more) Public
I didn’t really look at my vagina until this year.
I mean, I knew it was there, but I didn’t really look at it. In depth. For real.
A month back, I was laying on my bestfriend’s bed, nattering about some blues dance trifle. Leo, the best friend, lingered in the bathroom, but our house has insubstancial sound insulation, so it was easy to be heard while talking through the wall. I could hear her clipping her toenails.
“Let’s look at our pussies!” she announced through the wall.
“Um,” I said. “What?”
Leo walked in, damp and trimmed, and threw her robe against the door. She stood stark naked, posing like a comic book hero, and walked over to the huge mirror leaning against her wall.
“Come on!” she said, “Haven’t you ever looked at it?”
I dithered, pulling on my short shorts.
”Isn’t it cool?” she said, waving her poon around.
Being her best friend, and a profoundly influenceable person, I slipped off my shorts and panties. We stood in a half squat, pussies out. I’d been in a “shaving meticulously” cycle, so when I popped my hips out, I could see all my business, and all of Leo’s business.
“Woah, yours is all pokey-outy,” I said.
“Yours is super-stealthy! Ooooh. Make it move!” Leo said.
“Woah,” I commented, wiggling my hips around. “Woaaah.”
“Can you wiggle yours like this?” Leo said, doing a little mess around with her hips.
“Mine doesn’t wiggle the same way,” I said, and then tried a little more. There was a little wiggling.
“And magic makes it all complete!” Leo announced.
In writing this, I considered why I shaved.
I spoke to many of my friends, asked for their feedback, and received it in plentiful droves. I had long conversations about it, and while shaving, I was as meditative as possible, paying as much attention as I could to why I so ferociously removed all of the indicators of puberty. And I grew my hairs (all of ‘em) out a bit and felt how they changed from harsh and bristly to soft, and growing along a grain.
I agree with many of my friends: I feel more “clean” when I shave. Yet, I don’t feel “unclean” when I don’t shave. For me, that sense of cleanliness is that I feel my body is not something I’m guarding or hiding, but something I’m visibly using and caring for, in an obvious, and non-mysterious way. Whatever the feminine mystique is, I’m not buying it.
The primary reason I shave, and I do shave, is that I like visibility. I really like some parts of my body, chiefly, the parts I shave and trim. I love to see the whole line of my shoulder as it connects to my trunk, and see the strength of my pecs. I have a long streak of vanity, and that streak is my legs. They are miles long, super-strong, and I like to see them all. Every little bit of them. And I feel that way about my genitals, very strongly. I can be, somehow, more naked when I’m already naked.
I like to know what I am.
For me, I see something transgressive about being so profoundly unashamed of my private parts that I’d like to make my sex organs more visible, more apparent, more real to me. Maybe not for other’s perusal, but for my own understanding, like finding the solution to the maze I’ve always been lost in. I’ve always felt a little protective about my snatch, and it’s a part I’d like to feel, um, manly about. Quite manly.
Manly? Well, when I consider the cis-men in my world, I think about how conscious, unashamed, and proud many are of their junk, and the exposure of it, and their abilities with it.
“I may not always think I’m smart,” my best man-friend said, “and I know I’m not always great-looking, but I know, I always know, that I’m great in bed.”
I knew that -at that very second- he was high-fiving his penis. Total high-five. Or whatever dudes do with their meats when they’ve done a good job with them. Pat on the back, as it were.
And for me, I want moments where I truly see my genitals and think, “high-five, labias!”. Go get it, front porch. Be fabulous. You’re lovely, you vulva you.
Sadly, even the most private parts of our bodies are subjected to beauty norms, and often seen as shameful in any viewing, save the most medical of contexts. I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve heard a smart, charming woman say, “But vaginas are just weird.” Are they? Are they weird? Do these women think that their vagina is weird, all vaginas are weird, some vaginas are weird, or porn-vaginas are weird. And what exactly makes a vagina weird? Is it simply a lack of exposure?
How did we internalize distaste with our unadorned self? And how do we break that distaste?
For me, I think about acclimatization: the thing I see most often is most normal and comfortable. I want to get used to myself.
DHazzard wrote about this idea in greater depth in “Racism Hurts White Women Too- Labia Shame and its Racist Roots (NSFW)” , which I’d recommend reading, as well as the Large Labia Project. And look at yourself in the mirror. From there, whatever happens, happens.
Hair is Beautiful: A Contradiction in Curls
That said, I don’t find body hair in any location to be disgusting, unclean, or unfeminine. In a fairly shame-y article for the Daily Mail, Amanda Platell defines the nauseating effects of body hair, and clarifies that you have a duty to obey your Gender Role.
The incredibly pretty Emer O’Toole proudly raised her slim arms on “This Morning” last week to reveal that she doesn’t shave, or wax, or pluck. And we’re not talking a bit of fluff here: she revealed underarm beards that would have made Osama bin Laden proud.
Yikes, it was horrible. As were her hairy legs to match. Watching her, I nearly parted company with my breakfast.
Apparently, women and men should always be well-groomed. It is essential to manhood and womanhood to tame the hair-forests. Men, shave your faces and groom your bodies. Back hair and unkept neck hair are disgusting, hair on one’s hands is apish (and signals masturbatory tendencies!)
While men can have great chest sweaters, body hair on women is repulsive. Body hair signals lacking femininity, poor hygene and disinterest in sex. Shame, shame, shame on you wolf-women: get those pits, clear-cut those legs, clean out that snatch!
So, Ms. Platell voices some problematic, body-shaming words. Words you’ve probably heard before, maybe words you’ve internalized.
So, her awful words seem incredibly normal. Maybe, we’ve all felt a little sick when we see our own body not acting in the way we’d like. I bet Ms. Platell feels genuine seasickness when she considers a proud Map of Tasmania, and wishes she could just buy the unkempt lady a Gilette 3-speed. I believe those little curls cause her some sad-belly-feels. And I want her to feel more of that sickness. I want hairy pits – and hairy everythings — to be normal. Totally normal. I want Ms. Platell to be surrounded by terrific, longhaired legs, and magnificent pom-poms of pits. I want her to be my buddy at regional burns, at Phish concerts, and my college reunion.
From there, the aesthetic can change. I see that as effective in my male friends’ reclaiming of the beard as a high-fashion aesthetic. I’d like to see more beautiful hairiness. Get on it, Vogue. Style those pits.
Because, honestly, “the expectation for women to always have perfectly shaved legs and underarms is sexist as fuck.” Or, erm, well:
The expectation for women to always have perfectly shaved legs and underarms is sexist as fuck.
Putting the female on the body on a pedestal does not allow us our humanity, our flaws. Our whole gender becomes airbrushed.
I don’t think shaving itself is the problem here, rather the expectation that women have their legs and under arms perfectly smooth at all times. I know many women who become greatly insecure when they don’t have time to shave their legs every morning, to the point where showing their skin is completely not an option. When I was shaving, that insecurity made me feel dehumanized, like my body was there to be visually pleasing to other people rather than to serve me in whatever endeavors got me too busy to shave in the first place.
Nadia Morris tells it like it is (for her, and her sweet unshaven legs) here at Disrupting Dinner Parties.
Shaving is unnatural, uncomfortable, and cements a woman’s identity as resting in her sexual availability and her demonstrated pleasability to the male gaze. It creates a disconnect between the natural female body, and the presented female body, and it creates yet another oft-unreachable standard, to perform “female-ness.” It is perverse to train one’s genitals resemble a 12 year old, or a porn star. Deepening the conenction between those two groups leads to more fetishization and sexualizing of the young. It creates shame and ingrown hairs, and honestly, some leg hair really doesn’t hurt anypony.
That said, I reject the idea that shaving is *primarily* about infantalization, when I believe shaving is much more about conformity. You do it because everyone does it, and it is expected. When I polled my friends, that idea came up over and over. Everyone does it. Everyone. Right?
In public, and in the media’s eye, all women shave.
I remember in middle school and high school that after gym, every gal would shave in our horrendous locker rooms, hovering over the drains. Being an ambitious, overthinking young thing, already late to every class, I thought that shaving was superflous, a thing that got in the way of better pursuits, like overdue homework, Magic the Gathering, and fanfiction. I also felt, and still currently feel, a tremendous loathing for the type of primping that constant “presentable-ness” for women requires. Those hours often seem wasted. There are books unread, there are tasks undone, there is fun to be had. And looking like the other girls has never, never been an effective lure for me.
And yet, still I do it.
Day after day, I’m clear-cutting the new growth forests along my shins and painstakingly obliterating any trace of hairs from my armpits. Even though my friends and peers will aren’t likely to giggle over me, even thought society’s dull complaints are muted, I’m still airbrushing myself.
Have I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid? In mimicking the act, have I become the monster?
Possibly. But, I do have a plan.
Besides the allure of seeing myself, I’m also a bit of a body modification monster — I haven’t done too many things to my body that are out of the norm, but the act of transformation is incredibly exciting to me. I’m on a fitness kick right now, and feeling my body change shape, feeling tone develop in my back, chest, and arms is really, really cool for me. Every three years, I dramatically change my life, and I’m in a constant process of creating a personal aesthetic that challenges me. The act of reshaping, of contorting, of building myself in a new pattern is immensely exciting. One component of that is shaving, as a piece that gives me more control, more order over my own body.
Further, I want to share something with other women, even some small, shitty grooming task. I want to understand it. So, when I throw it away (and I often do), I know all the reasons.
And the fact is, you can be a feminist and still shave… and it’s cool to change your mind. Nicky Clark on “The F Word” breaks down her thoughts regarding expectations for feminists, and defends her choices to be a homemaker, a caretaker, and a lady with smooth armpits.
I am sick to fucking death of the bullshit of absolute adherance to latest notion of what makes a feminist and what doesn’t. To me, the only real value lies in the realisation and grasping of choice.
Be untouched by beauty therapists hands, great! Be a salon frequenter, fab! But do it because it’s what you want to do, not because some zeitgeist has you reeling from the fear of failing to be on message. Because the message changes.
And she’s right, the message does change. The answer, I think, is having confidence in your form, no matter what state it’s in.
Part 2 on the way– I’d love to hear your thoughts, as that helps me shape what I write. Thanks!