I want to talk about hair. In particular, I want to talk about leg hair. I want to talk about leg hair and women and how it was decided that the two went so poorly together.
The other day, I was at the beach and I noticed a young woman with hair in all of the places that made me shiver. Not just a little hair, but a lot. Enough that I noticed from a fair distance away. At first, I rubbed my eyes. When the image didn't change, my first reaction was judgement. "Why hasn't someone guided her? Has she ever shaved? Does she not know to?" The questions came in rapidly, as did the second-hand embarrassment.
Then, I stopped. Why was something as simple and natural as leg hair making me squeamish? I let myself be curious in a different way. "What if she was fully aware of all of society's beliefs about hair and women, and still chose to let herself stay au naturel?" I thought. Maybe it was I that was living in the dark.
The thoughts somewhat passed, but as the day went on they kept crawling back in, as did the vision of this woman's bikini line, legs, and armpits. When it came time to skype with a friend that night, I couldn't resist bouncing the information off of her.
I rattled off a brief description of the event, getting to the more pressing matter. "Why is shaving our legs right?"
She listened, knowing I never have just one question. "I mean, who decided that women should take a razor to their legs every day and remove the same hair that's entirely acceptable for men to keep?"
Of course, my friend didn't have an answer. Yet, as our feminist qualities took the reigns of our conversation and we began to hype each other up with our interest and slight outrage, I started to feel fooled. I couldn't believe I had never questioned it before. I had had the frequently asked questions of why men were allowed to roam free without the burden of keeping their bodies hairless, but it had never crossed my mind to ask why women still did.
Throughout the next few days, I spread the word like wildfire. I brought my list of reasons for the absurdity: women were far more covered than men to begin with, so it couldn't be for appearance, it couldn't be for practical reasons (to keep smell or dirt from lingering) since men didn't, etc. Everyone I talked to, I ran my thoughts by, mostly for the validation that the phenomenon was, indeed, ridiculous, but also to make sure my friend and I weren't the only ones who'd forgotten to question the beliefs laid out for us and the resulting judgment at those who strayed from the norm. I felt guilty at my initial reaction of the woman on the beach. That I had assumed she was living in ignorance made me sad. I realized I was far more trapped than she.
One person to whom I brought my thoughts urged me to find a real answer. If I wanted to know, maybe I could. I started to research. As I browsed the web, words popped out at me. "Disease," "barbaric," "trendy," "Betty Grable," "marketing," and a variety of other no longer known excuses bounced along my screen. It turned out that the shaved-legs-sensation had waxed and waned for different reasons, the most recent being, in large, due to a trend set by magazines and fashion icons. The desire to fit in -- the desire to be desired -- had swept up half the population, and left the remaining half with standards without a basis.
I was left with answers and a new set of questions. The reasons for why originally did not apply to the current why. We are keeping the standard out of mere familiarity. There's no longer purpose other than the fear of the judgement that no longer has purpose. Yet, as history has shown, culture is changeable, as are standards.
As a woman, I like the feeling of smooth legs. I've been shaving for over 10 years and I've always been fascinated by the idea, begging my mother to let me start shaving earlier than was necessary. However, in large, I'm certain this fascination and positive association was laid out by the preconceived notion that shaved legs were inevitable, feminine, and appealing. To a certain extent, I have pity for my child self, for the children of our era, and for the women of today. I even have pity for myself, because since this realization, I have still shaved my legs. I still like the feeling and I still know the judgement. I'm quite sure I won't be the one to radically petition and start a movement. But, I'd like to start a discussion. What if we decided not to follow the crowd? What if it became an option to never shave or only shave if we wanted to? What if we freed ourselves from the judgement of ourselves and others? What if it stopped being radical? What if there was no standard?
There doesn't have to be.