I Quit Shaving During The Pandemic (And I'm Not Sure I'll Ever Go Back)
What's wrong with a little hair on your legs and under your arms?
You know that smooth, silky feeling after you’ve shaved your legs? Yeah, me neither. That memory resides in the haze of all things pre-COVID. When we hugged friends with wild abandon. When masks were reserved for Halloween. Lockdown has given me plenty of time to think about the routines and habits I’ve long treated as commandments. Thou shalt wear a bra. Thou shalt keep a neat bikini line at all times.
For 30 years I’ve been shaving various parts of my body, and not once have I asked myself: Who are you doing this for? And is there any good reason to keep on shaving now? After all, I don't have any plans to parade my legs on a beach anytime soon. I’m not alone in ditching the razor during lockdown. Scores of Americans have slacked off in the hygiene department, causing a drop in sales of items such as shampoo, shaving cream, even deodorant.
Women didn’t always shave. Our body hair wasn’t always considered repulsive. Shaving was largely unheard of until a 1917 Gillette razor ad in Harper’s Bazaar declared women’s armpit hair “unsightly” and “objectionable.” Boom! Body-hair shaming was born. In order to be fashionable and feminine — according to Gillette, at least — a woman’s armpits must be as smooth as her face. As hemlines rose throughout the 1920s and ’30s, women showed increasingly more (albeit stockinged) leg. But it was the nylon shortage during WWII that prompted women to begin shaving their legs, too. Then later, enter miniskirts and bikinis. Each passing decade seems to require more aggressive hair removal. From puberty, we are brainwashed into hating our body hair.
Why? Because hair removal is big business, costing us an eye-watering amount of time and money. A survey by American Laser Centers found that the average woman spends over 58 days and more than $10,000 ($23,000 if she waxes) to remove unwanted hair from her body. That’s time and money none of us will ever get back — for something that isn’t essential to our survival.
My grandmother knew this. She never started shaving and as a result, her leg hair remained negligible — mere dander. How I coveted that woman’s legs! When I was in junior high, all the girls rushed to start shaving. Shaving was an exclusive club, and I wanted in. I bought a box of Nair. The hair removal cream smelled awful, yet there was something satisfying about wiping away my baby hairs with a tissue.
I was officially on the hair-removal wagon. Then I couldn’t seem to get off. Many of us continue to shave/thread/wax simply because we aren’t prepared for the fallout. We are worried about how other people will react to our “unsightly” hair. Will our lovers still find us attractive? Will our contemporaries judge or ridicule us? God forbid someone, somewhere pronounces us unfeminine or ugly.
Which raises the question: At what point in our lives do we stop trying to please others and start trying to please ourselves? Here I am in my mid-40s, and I’m still waiting. Social expectations remain a corset, wound so tight they prevent us from breathing and living freely. Some celebrities have bravely bucked the trend, but let’s face it, Miley and Madonna can pretty much do whatever the hell they want and still look amazing. The average woman who grows out her pit hair is not revered; she’s reviled. Mercifully, the man I married does not have firm opinions on what I should or shouldn’t do with my body hair. Or if he does, he has the sense to keep those opinions to himself.
Ultimately, he respects that my body — and hair — are mine. So, when I quit shaving a few months ago, he put on his best poker face. So far, I haven’t missed shaving one bit. I haven’t missed buying razors or sending all that disposable plastic to landfill. Overall, I’m quite happy with how the hair has filled in under my arms and down below. I don’t feel dirty or ugly. Every time I glance at my calves, though, I am taken aback by the manly looking black spikes.
Then I remind myself this is just conditioning. My shaving boycott may not last forever. It may not even outlast the summer. (It's hard to imagine these Chewbacca legs in shorts.) But from now on, whether I shave again or I don’t will be a conscious decision, made on my terms.