On Shaving: It's MY Body
I hate shaving. But society tells me that I am repulsive to the visual senses of humanity if my female body is strewn with naturally grown hair. I was treated with repulsion as early as twelve from a group of girls in a New Jersey sleep over camp run by strict Catholic nuns. Diving into the pool in my modest and second-hand one-piece suit, a bunch of girls started laughing at me. They came up to me, jeering, and pointing to the hair that had just begun to grow under my arms. I felt ashamed, and I blamed (yes, you guessed it) my mother for refusing to teach me how to shave my arm pits and legs.
Furious, I ran to my cabin and grabbed my best friend’s razor. She ran behind me, screaming at me not to do it. I locked myself inside one of the toilet stalls, raised one arm above my head, and scraped the razor hard against my flesh. It was a dry shave -- no water, no shaving cream -- no preparation whatsoever. Just fury, condemnation, and a sharp razor. Since then, I shaved and shaved and shaved the thick, fast-growing Greek hair off my body -- which often leaves me with nicks and cuts and itchy bumps as the hair grows back even thicker and faster the next day. Because I’m Greek, I have to shave every day to have the appearance of a lithe, shiny, hair-free body. And it’s a pain in the butt. I hate it! But mostly, I hate the fact that I am forced to shave because of some primitive notion that I have to be the softer, gentler sex.
I hate that society forces women to shave what is supposed to be a natural blanket of security and is seen as sexy on men. Why is the presence of hair on their faces, legs, arm pits, and groin areas considered sexy -- but on our body parts it is considered unfeminine? Especially since women have only been forced to shave (and now wax or laser off) their body parts since the onslaught of consumerist advertisements geared to take our money and redefine femininity.
According to Christine Hope’s 1982 article called "Caucasian Female Body Hair and American Culture," American women did not concern themselves with removing body hair until after WWI. It was in 1915 ads prevalent in middle-class women’s magazines like Harper’sand McCall’s that women were told for the first time that their body hair was objectionable. Hope argues that hair removal is an attempt to redefine the female body as that of anewborn, “to consider women as less than adults… (This desire is) reflected in and reinforced by the custom of female hair removal and the advertising which accompanied its introduction” (98).
This (above) was one of the first ads that let women know it was time to shave. Body hair on women, it seemed, was now unfashionable, offensive, unfeminine, and a flaw upon the frail female flesh.
What bothers me even more about shaving, waxing, or what have you, is that it is not done for us, but for the men to whom we “belong.” The first time I ever made it public that I rarely shaved my arm pits or legs was to a girl friend of mine -- a girl in her twenties with whom I taught at a high School in Queens. I was living with my boyfriend -- now husband. Her response forced me to cast a sincere -- yet disgusted look at her. She said, “poor Joe.” Poor Joe? Because I don’t want to shave my legs? Because I don’t want to be scratching the constant itching of this barbarous act of hair removal from MY body? After all, what does Joe have to do with MY body and how I maintain or don’t maintain it? How about poor me that I possess a body forced to conform to prescribed notions of what it means to be feminine -- social rules that tell IT -- MY body -- that it needs to be hair-free to be attractive -- and that it ultimately belongs to the man I share my life with.
It doesn’t end there. I recently had another conversation with another twenty-something girl about shaving. And when I told her that I shaved maybe once a month -- and only when I had to -- for instance, when I would be hanging out by the pool and I knew people would be coming over -- she said, “How does Joe feel about it? Doesn’t he mind?”
Since when did my body cease to be my own? When did my choices regarding my body begin to belong to my husband’s? It makes me think about how many other similar rituals women participate in -- not for ourselves -- but for men? Saving our legs and arm pits, waxing/shaping our pubic hair, covering our faces with make-up, wearing dresses and high-heeled shoes, dressing up in negligees and fragrances, and so on. We have to do all this to please our men -- but what do they have to shave off and wax and tweeze and dress up in order to please us? And when did it come to this -- that female bodies are vessels of desire for men? That rules -- social, political, and emotional -- are forced upon us with subtle messages telling us we are unnatural, unfeminine, unwomanly, and unwanted if we don’t comply? And why do we do it? Why do we allow ourselves to be canvases and empty vessels filling ourselves to the rim with other people’s expectations, desires, and prescriptions?
This is my body. It belongs solely to me. Not to my children, my husband, or society. I possess myself and my body and my thoughts, and I will continue NOT to shave my legs and arm pits unless I want to -- whenever I want to.
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