I can still remember the first time I slathered my skin in shaving cream and used a razor to remove hair from my body. I had been watching an older cousin shave her legs while sitting on the bathtub’s edge in my parent’s master bath. I was mesmerized. She asked if I’d like to shave, and I was so eager to be just as cool as she was I immediately agreed. For some reason that I don’t recall, we decided against shaving my legs and instead shaved my arms.
I was awed at how my now smooth arms felt, and even though she told me to keep the secret between us, I spilled the beans at dinner. I’m still not sure if she’s forgiven me for that. But what did I care if she got reprimanded? I was now a ‘true woman.’
Shaving has been seen as a rite of passage for so many of us, but the conversation around body hair and whether or not we should feel required to remove it has been shifting. Many women are choosing not to shave any part of their body, and this is a choice that should be respected and normalized.
The idea that women should be required to shave their legs, arms, and any other part of their body deemed ‘too hairy’ is relatively recent. In the early 20th century, shorter hemlines and sleeveless dresses were introduced alongside marketing campaigns that informed women having underarm hair or hair on their legs was now undesirable. Funnily enough, the ads seemed to only appear during the Spring and Summer months, making it ‘okay’ for a woman not to shave if they were going to be covered up during the winter months.
The timing of those ads changed in the 1950s and 60s. Marketing campaigns began running the ads throughout the entire year, now implying that a woman should be expected to be hairless at all times. There were so many options to ‘help’ women become hairless: shaving, waxing, hair removal creams, and laser technologies. I can recall seeing shows where men or other women would act disgusted if they saw body hair on a woman. I can vividly remember comments such as ‘Is she European?’ or ‘Did someone skip their wax this month?’ being made as the crowd laughed.
But now we’re seeing more and more women speaking openly about their choice to not shave and showcasing their natural body hair with pride. I’ve seen more shows bring up the topic of what ‘normal’ means to each individual person and whether they decide to shave, trim, wax, or let their body hair grow naturally, their decision should be respected.
So what changed? Why are we seeing more and more women now refusing to shave? I’d like to think it is because we now recognize that shaving is a personal choice and should challenge societal beauty standards. We have the right to shave if we’d like and not shave if we’d like. Body hair is natural, and one could argue that it serves a purpose like protection, warmth, and aiding in sweat evaporation. Removing body hair sometimes comes with a slew of issues like skin irritation, ingrown hairs, or infection; by not shaving, we can avoid them. Products that remove hair can be costly and time-consuming. The conversation has shifted from obligation and pressure to allowing each individual the right to make their own choice from a place of empowerment and personal preference.
Personally I have finally become comfortable enough with myself to no longer feel the need to shave. I had been toying with the idea of no longer shaving for a few years now, and I would only shave if I felt some sort of strange obligation to do so. For example, if I was meeting a new client at work or attending an important family event. I’d love to say that now I’m always super confident and don’t panic about what others will think of me, but just a few weeks ago, I messaged a mom friend asking if she felt like my daughter would be embarrassed by me if I showed up with my hair legs to volunteer for her school event. Being the amazing friend that she is, she reminded me that my daughter was going to be excited that I was there to help, and there was a 99% chance that the other parents were going to be so caught up in their own activities or concerns that they wouldn’t even bother judging my appearance. Shaving just isn’t something that I care to do any longer. I don’t feel as though I’m ‘less’ than any other person, and I respect those who wish to continue removing their body hair. I don’t need to know their reasons or try to change their minds because I recognize that we all do things that make us feel empowered.
Whether you choose to shave or not, I hope we can continue to shift society’s attitude towards body hair and break down the stigma around the presence of body hair on women. Let’s continue to remind one another that we should celebrate choice and respect women’s individual decisions about their bodies.