Shaving Your Legs Is Not Feminist (But You Can Still Be A Feminist And Shave)

14 May

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I posted this picture (by Natalya Lobanova) on my Facebook page yesterday and received a bunch of varying responses to it. Some people loved it. A bunch of people shared it. But some also found it insulting and judgmental, and took it as a criticism of women who shave their body hair. A few took exception to the word “mutilating,” which, though modified by “slightly,” they thought was going too far. As with anything that sparks a discussion, I was interested in how people were reacting and why. The truth is that I really liked this image, and was surprised that people took offence to it. I think that talking about the fucked up things we do in order to be beautiful is super important, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable.

Full disclosure, you guys: I shave my legs. I also shave my underarms, my bikini line, and this weird trail of dark had that goes from my belly button all the way down to my pubic hair. I had my ears pierced when I was eight years old because I was dying to wear for-real earrings. I wear makeup pretty much whenever I leave the house. And you know what? I like doing all of these things, because they make me feel pretty and more comfortable in my skin. But I also acknowledge that I grew up in a culture that taught me from day one to associate all of these arbitrary little changes that I make to myself with the concept of prettiness.

I’ve heard a few people say that the point of feminism is choice, and that the whole idea is that women should be able to make choices about their lives. For the record, I totally agree with that sentiment. But I also think it’s important to talk about the fact that choices don’t happen in a vacuum, and also that some choices aren’t feminist. Shaving your legs, for example, is not a particularly feminist choice. And I’m not saying that you can’t shave your legs and still be a feminist, but I do think we need to talk about stuff like this without immediately jumping to, “well, feminism is about choice and I made my choice and that’s that.”

For one thing, I’m not sure that a lot of women do actually feel like they have a choice about removing body hair. I mean, yes, technically, they do get to choose what happens to their body, but it’s pretty hard to feel like you’re actually making a fair, unbiased “choice” when your options are a) removing your body hair and enjoying the approval of our society or b) not removing your body hair and being on the receiving end of stupid jokes, insults and even harassment because of this. It’s pretty hard to frame it as a “choice” when society overwhelmingly approves of one option and punishes the other. So let’s not pretend that we’re not playing with loaded dice here.

The truth is that I play into patriarchal beauty standards every day. I wear cute dresses and I smear goop on my face to highlight my “features” and make my skin tone look more “even.” I wear shoes with heels on them because they make me taller and make my legs look longer. I push thin metal rods through holes that have been punched in my earlobes because I think that decorating my ears looks good. I carefully remove any body hair that might be visible when I’m wearing a bra and panties. And all of that is fine and none of it makes me not a feminist, but also those are all objectively anti-feminist choices. Because those choices don’t happen in a vacuum. They don’t happen because I woke up one day and thought, “hmmm, I’d really like to take a razor and remove the hair from some of the most sensitive skin on my body and endure painful, itchy razor burn for the next few days because that sounds like fun.” They don’t happen because just happened to be experimenting with painting interesting colours on my lips and decided that red and pink were my favourites. They happen because I grew up in a toxic culture that taught me that in order to be beautiful I had to alter my body, and every time I play into those ideas of beauty, I am reinforcing and validating that toxic culture. Every time I wear a cute skirt and heels, I am making it harder for women who want to break out of this fucked up ideal we’re forced into. And as much as I don’t want to, I need to own that fact.

It is fucked up that women are expected to change their natural appearance in order to be considered beautiful, or even just acceptable. We have body hair – growing it is a thing that naturally happens during puberty. Literally everyone has it. So why is it considered to be disgusting? Why are mannequins in underwear or bathing suits just fine, but these American Apparel models are thought to be hilariously obscene?

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Like, that is literally what I look like when I don’t shave. Possibly I am even hairier than that. This is what my body looks like. Why is that so gross to so many people?

We all make choices about our appearance, and none of those choices are going to make the feminist police come take our feminist cards away. But sometimes those choices reinforce the status quo and therefore contribute to the difficulty other women experience when their appearance varies from the strict norms that society dictates. And that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t ever wear dresses or makeup or jewellery, but rather that we need to talk about why we do these things. And we need to stop pretending that such-and-such is a feminist choice because feminism is about choice and if I’m a feminist then everything I do is automatically feminist. No. That’s not how it works.

Wear dresses if you want to. Wear cute shoes and earrings and bright red lipstick. Shave off every hair on your body if that’s what feels right. But please recognize that you don’t do any of those things because you just happen to like doing them. Please acknowledge that you made a choice that was heavily informed by the fucked up misogynistic culture we live in. Accept that sometimes your choices are anti-feminist, not because you’re a bad feminist but because that’s the world we live in right now. And once you’ve done all that, let’s try to figure out a way to change things so that girls no longer have to feel like their bodies aren’t good enough just the way they are.

 

 

146 Responses to “Shaving Your Legs Is Not Feminist (But You Can Still Be A Feminist And Shave)”

  1. itscarly May 14, 2014 at 2:56 am #

    Reblogged this on Womanism. .

    • Arthur May 15, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

      You know, I think it can go both ways. I think saying you do something for this reason and this reason alone is unfair to a lot of people. I had a girlfriend once who shaved her public hair. And when I asked her why she said because it felt uncomfortable down there if she didn’t. I even asked her a few times if she would like to let it grow because I want to see that. But she never did because that would make her feel uncomfortable and it was her choice.

      Sometimes people make the same choice we make but for different reasons. And assuming they make them for the same reason as us isn’t fair to them.

      (Please read this in a none attack sounding tone. Sometimes when you are just reading something you can feel the tone behind it is one way. I want to assure whoever reads this I mean this in a ‘nice friendly reminder’ tone then a ‘you are wrong here is why’ tone.
      Thank you

      • bellejarblog May 15, 2014 at 4:38 pm #

        I didn’t read it in an attacking tone at all!

        I do think that people are legitimately made uncomfortable by their own body hair, but I also feel like that feeling is almost always informed by how society views body hair. Like when all you ever see are hairless women, it’s hard to feel ok about hair on your own body, if that makes sense? And it’s not always a conscious thing. Anyway obviously I can’t say for sure why your girlfriend felt that way, just that this has been my own experience with myself and other women I’ve talked to.

  2. yeahhslim May 14, 2014 at 3:04 am #

    You know, I came across this exact picture about a month or two ago and was completely taken back by how true it is. I am so glad you posted this because I too thought about how fucked up it is that we as women do this. I also shave and do such things, but sometimes we as females forget why. Well said bellejar ~

  3. TC May 14, 2014 at 3:39 am #

    I distinctly remember how appalled my Dad was when he realized that I was shaving my legs. “Why? What for? And if everybody else decides to jump off a cliff…?” I can remember his disappointment. But he left me to choose and of course in my teenage mind I already stuck out in so many ways there was NO WAY I would be caught adding to the ridicule. Joke was on me though: 10 years later I had to stop shaving thanks to ever-increasing skin problems. Funny enough though other than wearing swim shorts instead of a bikini bottom I can testify that IT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE to my day to day life. (Like I care that some stranger might find my leg hair unattractive? Should I? Why do we fall victim so willingly it seems to this idea that someone is watching, checking, keeping score?) Not participating in certain cultural feminine beauty rituals doesn’t make me more or less of a feminist, but the actions we take (or don’t) sure speak volumes on how things are really.

  4. estyree May 14, 2014 at 4:24 am #

    One year when I was in college the boys challenged the girls for their habitual no-shave November (have you heard of that?). Anyway, the boys usually bet a steak dinner…winner gets free food and his truck cleaned I think. The year they challenged the girls…let’s just say they had no idea what they were in for but we got free dinners for a week. No one died, no one threw up, and no one broke up. But when I tell that story to other people the reaction borders on the hilarious. Even my grandmother shaves, plucks, and waxes, especially her beard.

  5. Francesca May 14, 2014 at 4:52 am #

    I absolutely agree and it’s something I’ve struggled with since I was a teenager, it’s hard to see that what you’re “choosing” to do, how you are “choosing” to present yourself, is contributing to the misogynistic fucked up parts of society and weighing that with the fact that you just really really want to! Funnily enough I wrote about my legs and their hair or absence there of a while ago, http://withashakingvoice.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/i-have-two-legs/ but I’m definately still confused and conflicted by my feminism and beauty.

  6. andreablythe May 14, 2014 at 5:32 am #

    Excellent post. I had a reaction to the first picture, too, but you’ve make a good point. I shave my legs (unless it’s winter and I’m wearing pants), because it’s almost visceral the way I feel about someone noticing my unshared legs if I wear a skirt. I know that that’s because of years of shaming from men and women alike, but it’s hard to break away from that. Don’t know that I’ll stop shaving, but I sure as hell won’t ever shame a woman for choosing not to.

  7. Marisa May 14, 2014 at 6:16 am #

    I am proud and happy to call myself a feminist. I shave my legs and underarms not to conform to patriarchal beauty standards (which I agree are oppressive and ridiculous), but because my legs and armpits get itchy if I don’t. Plus, sometimes I fee the hair itself is oppressive, if that makes any sense. It makes me itchy and uncomfortable, and I hate that. So I abolish it. Natural does not necessarily equal better or more highly evolved in every instance. As the old saying goes – my body, my choice. Excellent and thought-provoking article, as always! Thanks for the brain fodder.

    • emarie24 May 15, 2014 at 3:55 am #

      Do you think that if you had never shaved, you would even know the difference? I doubt your leg hair would bother you if you hadn’t started shaving because of society. I shaved every day for YEARS because leg hair drove me insane, especially when falling asleep. I thought I’d shave every day till it stopped growing in old age. But because of a skin condition, I shave every 3-4 days. I’ve learned not to go crazy…

      • zazaglen May 15, 2014 at 5:36 pm #

        I shaved my legs once when I was 16 because every girl did it. I’m now 28 and I can still say that I’ve only shaved my legs once. My legs have stayed smooth and certainly not itchy as s result. I’ve recently stopped shaving my armpits but several times, I’ve been tempted to shave them when wearing a sleeveless dress. I haven’t caved in yet. I’ve stopped wearing makeup and have decided only to do it for fancy dress parties. Girls – it feels good!

  8. jodiethalegend May 14, 2014 at 6:24 am #

    Thought-provoking and very true. This whole shaving thing makes me 😦 I wish I had the guts to leave all my hair on. I don’t know where my hair removal for me ends and where hair removal for society begins. I have always refused to shave my arms and I don’t shave my legs through winter even though I swim laps at the pool occasionally. But I don’t wear shorts in public with hairy legs. I was 34yo before I altered my pubic hair in any way, and I have progressed from scissors and comb, to razor and now planning an actual waxing adventure. Not really sure how I feel about that or why exactly I am doing it. I like to think it is free choice…
    As for clothing… I came to the stunning realisation that I tone down my clothing for the general public. I dress to make myself less noticeable. The other night I looked at my clothes drying on the airer and all my underwear is bright and sexy and cheerful, while my outer clothes, the things that other people see, are drab and plain. I have made a conscious decision to wear clothes that make me feel good, rather than edit what I wear so as not to offend anyone. But that might be a discussion for another day 🙂

  9. Jayn Hobba May 14, 2014 at 9:18 am #

    I dont look like the models. I dont have that much pubic hair and being a redhead well it’s more of a neat little bushfire…. but I do have hair on my lower legs which I shave off occasionally when I want to bare my legs in a pretty summer dress. I dont bare my tummy or my breasts because they are so scarred by scars and stretch marks that I feel quite insecure, but I have a reputedly amazing toned body which is because I work physically hard, not because I got it at a gym as a exercise fad victim. I am strongly feminist but dont object to women removing their hair. That’s just a personal choice. I had a 6 yo boy tell me recently that my breasts were too small and that most women had big breasts and that the hair in my armpits wasnt very nice. I told him what was on the outside of me didnt matter as much as what I wanted the inside of me to be like. He said with the absolute certainty of all innocent children ” Well, you dont have to worry, your breasts will get bigger eventually.”

    • Seeker May 17, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

      That’s pretty telling that a 6-year-old boy feels perfectly free to monitor the body of a grown woman and freely tell her what he finds wrong with it. That’s the privilege built into society–that anybody with a Y chromosome can criticize any woman or girl at any time.

  10. HH May 14, 2014 at 9:23 am #

    Agree with the general sentiment etc. – choices will always be affected by culture etc.
    HOWEVER, we get into a particularly, what I would describe as frustrating, state of affairs when it is by the argument you use IMPOSSIBLE to make a decision that conforms with cultural norms and for this decision to be feminist.

    You say choices aren’t feminist “Because those choices don’t happen in a vacuum.” This is certainly a reason for them POSSIBLY (actual degree of probability not being discussed here) not being “feminist”. But to rule out all decisions that conform with cultural norms as non-feminist is just too much of a spurious blanket statement. It’s perfectly conceivable of women making the choices they do in a world without this cultural background (I’m not saying they definitely would, wouldn’t, etc. just that it’s possible and would probably happen to some degree).

    So while I agree that choices are affected by society etc. etc. I think it’s wrong to blame a patriarchal society for our ENTIRE conception of beauty (various concepts of beauty, each with their own nuances (some totally different to our own) exist in societies in which women dominate (I’m talking ancient societies and some modern tribes), and it’s also wrong to rule out ALL choices that conform to the norm as anti-feminist choices, because it’s not for certain that they, or an equivalent choice depending on how a society identifies beauty – if it does at all – that those choices wouldn’t have been made.

    I’m not at all trying to defend a patriarchal society, and I accept that what you say has a lot of truth in it, but I think it’s unfair to right of ALL decisions as anti-feminist if they conform to the societal norm. Each decision really has to be analysed with extreme detail on an individual basis and in fact most are probably impossible to reach a verdict on – it’s impossible to know to what extent our beliefs are created by society.

    Each woman has to really ask herself, “am I doing this because it makes me happy or because I feel I ought to?”. Of course even if they feel it makes them happy that COULD be the result of a bad society, but it is just impossible to know, and it’s not fair to write off all such decisions. Unfortunately, due to the difficulties of the situation, much individual soul searching over time is probably the best way to come to any answer on any individual choice – balancing between one’s own intrinsic understanding/concept of beauty/asthetic pleasure, one’s desire to conform, and the influence of society on one’s subjective values and conceptions is extremely difficult. Accordingly it is best to avoid generic blanket statements for what are deeply personal and difficult truths.

    • HH May 14, 2014 at 9:26 am #

      Just to clarify, I agree with your general sentiment that we must be aware that out choices are influenced by societal conditioning and we may be less free than we believe.

      Also, at the end of the second paragraph I come across as if saying women probably would shave their legs in an entirely equal society. What it’s meant to say is that even in a different, equal society, it’s likely that some form of grooming would occur in some form.

  11. Margo May 14, 2014 at 9:37 am #

    Interesting piece. I’m not sure I agree on the ‘wearing dresses’ front though. I’ve gone through phases where I’ve worn nothing but trousers and phases where I’ve worn nothing but skirts and dresses and phases where I’ve worn both. I do understand, and agree with, the point that I don’t make those choices in a vacuum but really? I just really really like wearing dresses and skirts. I like my legs, I want to show them off. I have a terrible problem finding trousers to fit because I am tall and fat. I like them because they are cooler in the summer and tights are warmer in the winter. I’m really unsure, however much I examine the subconscious pressure of the patriarchy on my choices, that I don’t just wear them because I prefer them. This is obviously different from the body hair issue – that IS about patriarchy whichever way you look about it. But me choosing to put on a dress in the morning is, selfishly, all about me and wanting to wear what suits me better (they do) and therefore make me feel confident about myself. If anything that’s vanity rather than patriarchy!

  12. girlseule May 14, 2014 at 9:39 am #

    I hate shaving but I do it because I feel like I have to. I often wonder when and why this idea to remove body hair started?

  13. Pelelotus May 14, 2014 at 9:53 am #

    A thought provoking article!
    Maybe part of the reason why there is feminist/non feminist dispute is that why are women expected to shave yet men are not? Personally I would love to see more men shaving their legs, arm pits etc. I do shave (my right to choose of course) however, I have no qualms letting my leg hair grow a bit long (again a woman has the right to choose her own standards of beauty).

  14. Siwan May 14, 2014 at 11:22 am #

    Great article! This is what I was trying to get at with a song I wrote which I thought you might like https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGV80FePwRU Think it is worth acknowledging as well that it is much harder for some people (i.e people who deviate more from the standard of beauty) to resist these things and so resistance is privileged. Someone commented on the video that the song was obviously written by a white woman and to try being born with a fur coat (there’s a line about arm shaving) and I felt really bad and put a disclaimer in the lyrics – hardly a massive gesture but, hopefully they saw it. It’s a difficult balance to strike between encouraging people who want to resist and not shaming those who don’t, but I hope that it’s one that can be struck.

  15. wearemorethan May 14, 2014 at 11:24 am #

    Great post. I have often contemplated the shave or be hairy conundrum. For me what it comes down to is the moderate discomfort I feel from shaving is outweighed by the emotional distress I would experience if I exposed my hairy legs. the other side to this issue is: why is it considered atractive? Women are not naturally hairless, but children are.

  16. Cianaodh (Key-Ah-Knee) - a.k.a. Troy May 14, 2014 at 11:26 am #

    I never have fully understood the societal peer pressure to shave. If it is someone’s choice, fine. But if society makes others feel like they _have_ to do it then I sometimes wonder if it doesn’t come from some underlying pedophilic tendencies. Sick, I know, but my mind sometimes wanders that way in the throws of trying to make sense of the things people feel have value. Of course, perhaps for some it’s a perceived hygienic thing too.

  17. AmazingSusan May 14, 2014 at 11:42 am #

    Hmmmm. Women and men worldwide have decorated, adorned and altered their bodies for the sake of beauty and art for centuries, maybe even since the dawn of humankind.

    “Forms of hair removal have been practised in almost all human cultures since at least the Neolithic Era.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hair_removal)

    Fads and fashions in all things from (body) art to architecture to well, you name it, come and go.

    Some days I choose to wear makeup, some days I don’t. I started getting “Brazilians” about 8 years ago and continue to almost fully shave my pubic area monthly. I’m a single woman and I do it totally for myself; I simply feel more comfortable and clean without the hair there. Others may feel differently. Up to them. I sometimes shave my legs, I sometimes don’t. I regularly shave my armpits.

    I am a feminist, have been for decades. End of story.

    • Mau Palantír May 14, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

      well, „since neolithic era” is not the same as “almost all human cultures”. 😛

      as I see, there are many different types of hair removal fashion: ritual, hygienic (eg. against parasites), fashion alternative (for example, men of our culture), subcultural (eg. skinheads or transvestite men).
      these are pragmatic or positive, chosen behaviors. and it was never the norm for an entire society.

      but the current _norm_ of hairless woman is not any of these, but a standard that has little or no positive effect (or sometimes even causes damage or pain), but if you dont do it, you become socially unacceptable.

      other feminine gender implementation accessories arent in this exclusive status, so thus the hype against shaving.

    • navyblue April 6, 2015 at 10:24 pm #

      Completely agree.

  18. Michelle at The Green Study May 14, 2014 at 11:59 am #

    I don’t think Cianaodh is that far off the mark regarding body hair removal. Body hair is one indicator that children are becoming adults. We live not only in a culture that defines beauty rather stringently for women, but that also values youth to the point of fetishism.

  19. mhairi May 14, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

    The problem is this narrative of “choice” People make *decisions* not “choices”. They weigh up lots of different factors and decide what to do on the basis of it.

    Without knowing those factors you can never tell whether anyone’s decision is feminist or not, however there are influences which are anti-feminist (eg in this case the sexualisation of pre-pubesent girls has a lot to do with the fashion for body hair removal) which comes to bear on those decisions. Identifyin these influences is the key, not analysing individual’s individual decisons.

    We need to both stop policing other women and also stop pretending that all “choices” are equal, but recognise that action is informed by a whole variety of social factors and concentrate on these.

  20. makeupandmirtazapine May 14, 2014 at 12:56 pm #

    I don’t usually remove the hair on my legs unless my terrible eczema is being particularly terrible, then it helps to get rid of it, along with the hair on my arms. I don’t know why exactly it helps, but it does, and that’s good enough for me.

    I had the idea when I was younger that there was no way I was going to modify my pubic hair for anyone, I thought it was grotesque of anyone to expect me to, and that if I did it I’d be a bad feminist. Until one day I grew up and realised it’s more hygienic to get rid of it, just like the hair under my arms. It’s also more comfortable. And there’s nothing anti feminist about wanting to be clean and comfortable.

  21. bluestgirl May 14, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

    I agree with everything you’re saying, except about the image that started this conversation– I have a hard time seeing how “mutilating” can be anything but a criticism. It’s not a word that I’ve *ever* seen used except as a negative term- something to avoid, something to criticize. When people feel positively about tattoos, for example, they use words like “change,” “alteration,” etc. “Mutilation” is what people say when they feel negatively about them. The word may be value-neutral according to the dictionary, but in my experience, its use in dialog is never neutral.

    Saying that hair removal is mutilation is, I think, criticizing, not just the reasons for it (like toxic cultural values about women and beauty), but the act itself. It seems to be saying “we are doing a bad thing to our bodies” as opposed to “we are doing a thing with our bodies because of bad things.” I think there’s a big difference.

  22. staceylanier7 May 14, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

    Great post. You would probably enjoy reading Horace Miner’s “Body Ritual among the Nacirima” if you haven’t yet. Without spoiling the paper, it ties into your post quite nicely.

  23. Andrea May 14, 2014 at 2:39 pm #

    I am hereditarily hirsuite. My mom shaved her chin most of my life, and so do I.( Part of it is messed up hormones). I am quite uncomfortable if there are hairs. Sometimes they even hurt. However, other places haven’t seen a razor in decades. And I do wear skirts and dresses. I wear rather conservative styles because I like being covered up. I’m ” large and in charge” AND disabled and a crone. Never have let society dictate what I do.als

  24. Meg May 14, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

    Wow! Thank you for an amazing post. Just amazing. Exactly my thoughts in raising my daughter in this society. We start making changes by how we raise our children. I tell my daughter how much I love my body, how I love that I can run, and can dance. We talk about our strong legs, and powerful minds. My mother never told me that she loved her body.

  25. syrbal-labrys May 14, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

    I am a feminist…and OLD one. Frankly, I am sick and tired of people telling me how I should look based ON feminism. I find antiperspirant works better on shaved armpits, I don’t like to stink even tho’ I am usually not in company. I LIKE adorning myself with jewelry and hair cuts that amuse me FOR ME. I like shaving my legs in summer when they are exposed — also for ME.

    So, yeah, I get pretty sick of the presumption that I only do all these things for social acceptance. Believe me, I get plenty of non-accepting glares from women my age, older or younger than me for how I dress, how I wear my hair, or for my tattoos. And oddly, it is always women who glare — frumpy ones concerned with being accepted, apparently.

    I actually think it is bullshit that we hold every woman back every time we dress to please ourselves, our mood, or whomever. I do agree that at the salon yesterday, seeing an 80+ woman get a bikini wax unnerved me, but I heard what she said: “I don’t like that hair getting caught in my pants.” I DO NOT accept that every personal choice I make is kissing misogynistic culture’s ass, thanks. If we only dress, shave, make-up/or not according to feminist ideology — how is that any less constraining anyway? How is that FREE? Frankly, I’ve never liked ANYone of either gender telling me how to dress, etc.

    My 60 year old body will never likely again be ‘good enough’ for me — not because I don’t look (now or ever, lol) like Twiggy; but because years of work and injury make it not move as I like any more. America has this pre-occupation with an either/or ideation pattern. It is both an over-simplification and an insult to everyone involved.

    • AmazingSusan May 14, 2014 at 4:15 pm #

      Well said. With you on every single point.

      • syrbal-labrys May 14, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

        Thanks! 😉

    • navyblue April 6, 2015 at 10:29 pm #

      Here here! Some of the sfuff I am reading form this new generation of feminists is frightening and actually doing more harm than good.

  26. Glenn May 14, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    I love shaving my legs, the smoothness feels sexy. Is it immoral for feminists to feel sexy?

  27. Rachel Creager Ireland May 14, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

    Good post.
    I quit shaving in college because I was a radical feminist. hahaha Took a while to get used to having hair on my legs and armpits, but 25 years later it’s just how I look. I don’t think about it, and I wear whatever I want. In fact, letting go of trying to fulfill some vague societal expectation freed me to divert a lot of energy from worrying that someone would see stubble under my arms, to getting on with living. I wear lipstick maybe once a month, full make-up maybe 2-3 times a year, mostly for fun.

    One of the amazing things about living in this time in history is that we women have more freedom than possibly ever before, even as millions of women are still required in every sense of the word to hide their bodies and even faces. Western women can define our sexuality, can express ourselves, can develop our intellect, can present ourselves to the world in practically any way we choose. Let those of us who are free take advantage, and respect and celebrate the many ways we choose to live our lives.

  28. survivingtillsunday May 14, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

    Great post. The defensiveness in the comments (which I also felt) is a testament to how un-sorted out this particular issue is. Thanks!

    • AmazingSusan May 14, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

      Dear Belle Jar,

      Please share with your readers that the removal of body hair is NOT a modern phenomenon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hair_removal

      Neither is hair colouring: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hair_coloring

      Thank you.

      • Emily P (@emilyrowan) May 15, 2014 at 4:15 pm #

        As an anthropologist and academic, although I agree with your point that body modification is not a new phenomena, I have to point out that Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information, no matter how many citations it claims to have.

      • AmazingSusan May 15, 2014 at 5:04 pm #

        In my experience there are NO reliable sources of information. Even eye-witness accounts of events are known to be notoriously unreliable. I don’t think Wikipedia is any better or worse as a reference than anything/anybody else.

        Furthermore, I observe that there is no absolute right or wrong in anything. Our world and ourselves are fluid.

        The “fact” remains, as you have agreed, body “modification” is not new. Men and women have been doing it for a variety of reasons since…. probably forever! And also, many have not 🙂

        I like the feeling of having some of my body parts epilated. Do I do it to be more accepted by society? No. Do other people? I don’t know. I can only speak for myself.

  29. Kristen Chapman Gibbons May 14, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

    Reblogged this on Big Blue Dot Y'all and commented:
    I shave in the Spring and Summer and not so much in when it is cold.

  30. madeleine14 May 14, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

    This was a really well written piece, and I can’t disagree with any of it. It is important to think about the choices we make. That doesn’t mean changing them, just acknowledging what influenced them. When I think about why I shave, there’s a mix of answers. Part of it is certainly wanting to fit in socially, and overlapping with that is how it makes me feel more attractive (largely the influence of societal norms). Part of it is knowing what my partner finds attractive, but I want to be clear I don’t feel manipulated by them to do so. They accept my body however it appears, but I acknowledge what their preferences are and make choices that reflect that. And part of it for me is that I personally really find body hair unattractive, on both men and women. Ultimately it’s not the choices we make on a daily basis that make us feminists or not, but rather simply our thoughts and beliefs.

  31. madeleine14 May 14, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

    This was a really well written piece, and I can’t disagree with any of it. It is important to think about the choices we make. That doesn’t mean changing them, just acknowledging what influenced them. When I think about why I shave, there’s a mix of answers. Part of it is certainly wanting to fit in socially, and overlapping with that is how it makes me feel more attractive (largely the influence of societal norms). Part of it is knowing what my partner finds attractive, but I want to be clear I don’t feel manipulated by them to do so. They accept my body however it appears, but I acknowledge what their preferences are and make choices that reflect that. And part of it for me is that I personally really find body hair unattractive, on both men and women. Ultimately it’s not the choices we make on a daily basis that make us feminists or not, but rather simply our thoughts and beliefs.

  32. makeupandmirtazapine May 14, 2014 at 5:48 pm #

    Sorry if this shows up twice, I tried to comment but then wordpress seemed to eat it.

    I rarely remove the hair on my legs unless my terrible eczema is being particularly terrible. In which case I get rid of it along with the hair on my arms but it seems to make it more bearable, I don’t know why it does, but it does, and that’s good enough for me.

    I used to think that I would never alter my pubic hair, I thought it was disgusting of anyone to suggest that it wasn’t perfect just the way it was naturally, and that I’d be a bad feminist if I, as I saw it, bowed to societal pressure and removed it. But then I grew up and realised that it’s actually just more hygienic to get rid of it, in the same way as it is with the hair under my arms – which I’d never considered leaving alone. I’m also more comfortable without it. And that’s nothing anti feminist about wanting to be clean and comfortable.

  33. Christin May 14, 2014 at 6:13 pm #

    I think the reason people are responding strongly to the term ‘mutilating’ here is because shaving your legs, by definition, is not mutilation. Mutilation involves permanent damage – shaving your legs, no matter how annoying, painful, irritating and shameful it may be, is not permanently damaging anyone (unless you’re a total clutz, in which case maybe you shouldn’t be shaving yourself in the first place). Altering your body? Damaging your body? Modifying your own self? Sure. Mutilating? Yeah, no, i’ll still have natural, hairy legs a week from now if I choose.

  34. Heather May 14, 2014 at 7:10 pm #

    I agree that mutilating to describe shaving is a strong word, but, word choice aside, for most woman shaving is societal more than personal preference. As she says in the article, we don’t live in a vacuum and our choices and even our preferences and perceptions are definitely shaped by societal expectations.

    Also most of the comments I see about “well not me” ring far to close to the “not all men” mantra heard too often. Cool if this isn’t you, but no one said EVERY WOMAN EVAR ALWAYS, and this applies to a common majority of women who shave.

  35. marchear May 14, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

    Hey, great post. I think you express very well what I feel is a very important notion : it is not our failure to adhere in the strictest sense to our ideals that matters, but rather our self-awareness. Even having the strongest will to change our way of doing things, to challenge those aspects of our society which we feel are wrong, we reproduce these same actions over and over.

    I feel it is important to develop that awareness without judging ourselves for not being able to keep up with our ideals. Simply being able to realize that we are trapped in a mental prison will allow us to slowly break free from those chains and to be able to make “true” choices, rather than pre-programmed reactions to defined stimuli. The other main ingredient is time.

  36. Anabell May 14, 2014 at 7:53 pm #

    Reblogged this on A Vintage Imagination.

  37. Please Return to Owner May 14, 2014 at 8:09 pm #

    I never understood why, even if the reason one chose to in any way conform to the norm appearance-wise, that it should be considered anything more than a personal choice. Why is it feminist? Or not feminist? Or anything at all? Do lesbians for example prefer hairy legs? Or are lesbians a part of the patriarchal conspiracy to keep women down by demanding they look sexy too? I don’t get it. I trim my pubes and most of my body hair. I shave those random horse hairs that pop up on my shoulders on occasion, I’ve even had to start taking care of these annoying ear hairs that started popping up after my early 30s. Am I conforming to a feminine plot to make me less of a person via trying to become more acceptable to look at (I won’t say attractive) to the opposite sex? Just seems like a lot of time thinking about stupid shit that doesn’t really matter. If anything I’d think that looking sexier = more power not less, but whatever. I’ve tried to learn not to bring up points like this on feminist-ish blogs, but wordpress keeps feeding them to me in my reader and I think I have a disease so screw it.

    And anyway everything is influenced by society, not just looks. We’re a social animal and as such an evolutionary slave to social norms. Try to change it if there is real harm within a society, and there often is, but making all choices based on some idea that if you do this or that you might be conforming and so it’s bad, it just seems a bit futile.

  38. lruthnum May 14, 2014 at 8:14 pm #

    This is such a great post – I am actually speechless. I am just like you, always conform to looking how society expects me to, trapped in the cycle!

  39. Eugenia Van Bremen May 14, 2014 at 8:18 pm #

    I think one of the biggest problems is that we can look at any person on the street and have no idea why they’re making the choices that they do. If you saw me outside, in my flowing, full-skirted dress that is so full & long that I have to do that gather-it-up-in-one-hand-to-walk-up-steps move, you (or anybody else) might assume that I’m wearing that to catch the attention of a guy (or for attention in general). Really, I do just think those dresses are gorgeous and I love how I feel, for myself, wearing them. Now, do I love them because society has fostered in my a love of them that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been groomed by commercialism to want to be that Gold-Standard Feminine Woman? I honestly have no idea. But I do know that I’ll change out of that dress in a heart-beat to go white-water rafting or climbing, or just engage in a good ol’ fashioned mud fight, so I have a hard time believing that I wouldn’t also love huge, frilly dresses, even if that love weren’t encouraged.

    (as a side note, living in NYC, wearing giant frilly dresses is definitely a labor of love, because other subway riders are freaked out by them, and risking their lovely hems in puddles of unidentified goo that sometimes gather in low places on the streets can cause some anxiety. also, the attention they can sometimes garner from other people is annoying. I did actually wear this dress for me. I don’t really give a shit if anybody notices it at all. in fact, I’d just as soon it have some cool holographic design that makes it look like “normal” clothes to other people, so that my engagement in doing something unusual doesn’t make every Tom, Dick, & Harry think he’s entitled to quiz me about my dress & other aspects of my life)

    All that said, the most important thing that I got from what you wrote, belljar, is this idea that it’s not a “choice” when society heavily leans in one direction or the other. Oh, do I remember my high school days of wearing black or blue lipstick. Society (comprised mostly of Mom, Dad, Teachers, and Church-Goers) did NOT like that choice. What does it say from a feminist perspective when I wear blue lipstick, even in the face of society strongly disapproving? Does that make my choice somehow more worthy of being feminist? I surely hope not, because the only thing going on in my head was that I thought blue lips looked totally cool and I wondered if they could be temporarily dyed, so that I’d have blue lips without covering them in wax (and I wasn’t ready to commit to a life of blue lips, so I didn’t even consider tattooing).

    I think the most valuable thing that we can do, as women, is accept all of the different ways that other women (and men) want to present themselves to the world. It should be just as acceptable for a woman to wear jean shorts over her unshaved legs paired with a oversized tank top that shows her unshaved armpits as it is for me to wear my frilly dresses. And it should be just as acceptable for a man to wear a skirt or kilt as it is a woman (I pity anybody who wears long pants in the summer because society says they have to)!

    Hopefully, as time goes on, more and more people accept all the different ways that we can present ourselves as being equal, with no one way of looking considered “more desirable to society at large” than the others (it’d be nice of marketing/advertising would get in on this, since those visuals do so much influencing). Then the only reason we’ll wear or decorate ourselves the way that we do is because we want to.

  40. Jennie Saia May 14, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

    i am so very much on your wavelength. They’re our choices to make, but we do have to own them. Can’t have it both ways! Also, I think it’s simply pathetic that we as a culture have forgotten what women actually look like in our natural state.

  41. Shalmali May 15, 2014 at 12:27 am #

    Good read. being born in country like India i have seen enough of patriarchal crap. That some how made me a feminist in the first place. But looking at the problems women face here go way beyond just shaving their legs (problems of patriarchal social restrictions go deeper in interiors of India where most of the women dont even know that urban women shave their legs!)
    Just wondering, if we have to cry ‘feminism’ only based on shaving bodily hair, what would i call my cosmopolitan male counterpart? the hugely available and ever increasing breed of men who not only shave their pubic hair but their entire body hair (including armpits) just so they wont be criticized while in a bed with well mentained women?
    I am one of the first one to scream ekkks after seeing the unpleasant hair on man, and metrosexual man really cares about those details. dose that make them ‘matriarchally dominated’ or just a bunch of presentable ppl around who dont have chest hair sticking out of their open shirt buttons?

  42. Scott.D.Brodersen May 15, 2014 at 2:43 am #

    That line of hair that starts at your belly button and travels downward is called a happy trail for very good reasons.

  43. notnowbreezy May 15, 2014 at 6:17 am #

    Reblogged this on Not Now, Breezy and commented:
    I love feminism and I love ripping apart the patriarchy. Shall I get my pitchforks ready?

  44. foxman May 15, 2014 at 6:28 am #

    don’t see the big deal, women expect men to shave and otherwise change their natural looks (cut hair etc) to fit in with their idea of what men should look like, so why do women have a problem with this.

  45. geetakshiarora May 15, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    Reblogged this on Wispy Nothings.

  46. Eci May 15, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

    Thank god, finally a sane voice! I totally get your frustration here. I don`t know how many times I`ve wanted to bang my head against my keyboard when reading a “..but I choose to shave/pluck/use make up/high heels etc. and you therefor have now right to call my CHOICE anti-feminist….” I shave both my legs and my armpits and use make up (and is a feminist!), but I`m painfully aware that the reason I`m uncomfortable with hairy legs and armpits in public has nothing to do with my aesthetic sense, feeling of comfort or hygiene (I shower daily after all), it`s all to do with the fact that I want to fit in with what society has deemed acceptable for a person of my gender. I battle with this daily when it comes to hair removal, clothes, make up and hairstyles. Me vs. societies definition of woman! And I`m not always sure who wins when I walk out the door…

    So I applaud and thank you for having the guts to sit down and write this in the hope that people (and me) might see a bigger part of the picture a little clearer. But sadly I have no doubt that you`ll get many of the same “it is my choice” comments nonetheless….

  47. Nikki May 15, 2014 at 3:13 pm #

    Your piece is well-written and opens up the door for many important arguments. And while I agreed with almost everything you’ve written in this article, I do have one question that keeps coming back to me.

    You say that shaving your legs is not a feminist choice. Absolutely. From the day we’re born, we’re taught that we need to take off the hair on our legs in order to be pretty. We certainly wouldn’t be doing it on our own just because we one day woke up and decided that the hair on our body is ‘gross’. Well-said.

    That said, what about dressing in a traditionally feminine way? Things like skirts and red lipstick and perfume? The article seems to suggest that the only feminist choice (and by that I mean choice that does not perpetuate our patriarchal culture and that we do not have to own up to) is to wear baggy sweatpants in order to make a statement. Clothes in general are a product of our culture and what is or isn’t deemed socially acceptable at a given time, so I don’t think that there’s any one way we would be dressing if the patriarchy didn’t exist. As such, I’m not sure it’s that easy to label one choice (wearing pants, no bra, no heels) as feminist while another (skirts, lipstick, jewelry) as anti-feminist.

    I’d love to know what you think of this.

  48. Kenneth May 15, 2014 at 4:40 pm #

    Shaving your legs or… anything else… isn’t “patriarchal” either.

    *Everyone* — not just women, but men as well — is expected to alter their appearance to be deemed more acceptable to others. Men are expected to have hair on their head, or at least not have lost too much, but not on their face, or at least not too much. And a guy shouldn’t have too much on their head either, and should also be well-kept. In general. If a guy has too much body hair, he’s expected to, at the least, maintain it if not completely shave or wax it off and keep it gone. And men are also expected to not have too much fat weight on their frame — if a guy is bigger, it must be muscle mass.

    Is this part of a “matriarchal view on beauty”? Of course not. It’s about our biological inclination to “be fruitful and multiply”. To do such, you need to be attractive to a prospective sex partner. Sure there have been changes over the centuries in what is deemed “attractive”, but merely insisting things are going the wrong way or insisting things need to be different isn’t going to change things, especially when you’re talking about how people react to something — I cannot change how a vegetarian responds to seeing a well-cooked steak by merely insisting it’s delicious.

    And it’s a bit fallacious to say that society is dictating norms. I don’t recall any rules being dictated anywhere about what is deemed attractive. It all happens quite unconsciously and is entirely bottom-up, not top-down as many seem to insist. But if you insist on laying blame in a particular direction, then point to the entertainment industry — and many already have. Women notice how men respond to the women portrayed through entertainment, and so adapt themselves accordingly, in a bid to be attractive and hopefully attain or keep a sex partner.

    Because the ultimate point of attractiveness is to find a potential sex partner to be fruitful and multiply.

  49. Samantha May 15, 2014 at 4:40 pm #

    I know I am affected by culture, as everyone is, and that some of my choices may have been influenced by my well-meaning mom teaching me what’s expected from society, but I’d like to think that I mostly shave/dress/wear my hair because it’s how I like it, not for anyone else’s viewing. I hardly ever shave my legs, but I can’t deny it feels amazing to have freshly shaved legs rub against each other (so smooth!). Honestly, it’s mostly pretty hard to tell even if I haven’t shaved my legs in months, so that could contribute to it. I doubt if my hair was dark that I’d leave it there and wear shorts in public, but I do because it’s really not noticeable at all.

    I shave my armpits because they get super itchy and it’s a relief to just shave it off and it’s gone. I cut my hair short a few months ago because it’s super curly and I thought it’d look nice, and I love it, even though I’ve gotten the “why would you do that” and “is your boyfriend okay with it?” (p.s., he LOVES it) comments, which shows a bit of that “society expects this vs. what you want.” I’ve always dressed how I want in situations where I can.

    I’ve always resigned myself to being the loner, the introverted person who only has a few close friends and has never worried about “fitting in”. Anyway, I will close this rambling comment and just say that if I’d seen that, I wouldn’t have freaked out about it, it just would have made me stop and think. I enjoyed your post, well-written and thoughtful as always 🙂

  50. lilylapoom May 15, 2014 at 5:29 pm #

    I just don’t really like this. Isnt one of the whole points of femenism to allow women to present their body in any way they want? I understand a lot of women feel uncomfortable showing body hair in public, and that should be changed. But this is basically saying that you HAVE to let your leg hair grow or youre not a femenist. You have to LOOK a certain way to think we are all equal. Just think about how backwards that sounds. This is reactionary and really excludng a lot of people from femenism’s cause because youre making a small personal grooming choice into a war. Dont shave your legs because of “societies pressures” don’t not shave your legs cause its “more femenist”. Do whatever the hell you want. Some people are more comfortable (in a physical, non emotional way) when they have shaved. Let people act and groom themselves how they want. Is that so much to ask?

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