This past winter, I made the executive decision to forgo shaving for two months. Putting that into writing feels repulsive –– which is precisely why I’m writing about it in the first place. It begs the question: Why is feminine body hair considered distasteful?
The act of shaving is regarded as a rite of passage in American society. I remember my first time: I was around 11 or 12 when my mother took me into her bathroom and showed me a bright pink razor and shaving cream. My leg hair wasn’t thick by any means, but it was dark and present, and that enough was reason to remove it. After I finished, I remember running my hands down my legs and being startled. My skin was bumpy, yet smooth like the skin of an alien.
In high school, shaving was a norm and something I’d do frequently before interacting with boys I had romantic interest in. But when I wasn’t interested in relationships and didn’t feel like shaving, I’d frequently hear the voice of my mother exclaim, “JoAnna Faith, your legs!”
Even my mother’s boyfriend at the time criticized my legs, telling me they were “disgusting” –– an opinion that I took with a grain of salt and a roll of my eyes, since his legs were much hairier and whiter than my own. In fact, I have never understood why men are so disgusted with female body hair.
According to the book “Plucked: A History of Hair Removal,” by Rebecca Herzig, the beginning of women’s war on body hair was instigated due to the book “Descent of Man” by Charles Darwin. In the evolutionary framework proposed by the former book, men were hairy and women were not.
Scientists at the time hypothesized that a clear distinction between the masculine and feminine was indicative of “higher anthropological development” in a race and set out to prove it so. In 1893, a study of 271 cases of insanity in white women found that insane women more frequently had facial hair than sane women, and that this hair growth was linked to “criminal violence, strong sexual instincts and exceptional animal vigor.” According to Herzig, by the 1900s, the damage was done: Body hair was disgusting to middle-class women, and its subsequent removal a way of separating themselves from the crude, lower class and immigrants.
The history of female shaving is a cringe-worthy one. One of the first items used to accomplish this was sandpaper and pumice stones. Although we no longer have to use sandpaper to achieve smoothness, the cosmetics industry is widely unregulated and causes a great deal of harm to its target market.
I myself can attest to this fact, since I have frequently nicked my shins and ankles and have scars from shaving mishaps. However, after investigating why women shave, I feel less terrible about my decision to temporarily opt out of this feminine social ritual. I’d say that I learned a great deal during that time. For instance, I only really have leg hair below my shin, and that feeling a breeze through said hair is a little disconcerting.
Despite the history of women’s war on body hair, my opting out is not something that I intend to do year-round. However, the decision to remove, or keep, body hair is a deeply individual choice based on preference and what works for you.
And if anyone tries to tell you otherwise, just show them this article; at least then I’ll feel less weird about my decision to write about not shaving my legs for two months.
JoAnna Brooker is a junior in journalism and can be reached at email@example.com.