I first learned the art of leg-shaving in the sixth grade, after having noticed during P.E. that I was the only girl in the class whose legs caught the light with luster and shine. If only the hair had been on my head, this would not have been a problem. It wasn’t, though, and it quickly became routine for me to shave. Mostly because it was routine for the girls around me to shave, really. You would think that living in Phoenix, where you can wear at least capris almost year-round, would have contributed to this wonderful hygienic monotony, but the fact is that I shaved out of herd instinct. This being an era when butt cheeks were considered a tasteful fashion statement by my peers, it was nigh impossible to find shorts that met my modesty standards. So I wore pants, even when it was 120 degrees out. And still shaved.
The habit stuck, and continued to stick even after my family and I moved to the land of Missouri sometime during high school, a land where a change in seasons meant more than “monsoon” or “no monsoon.” It was in this place that my peers (aren’t they helpful?) first introduced me to the idea that when a girl wears pants, as I always did, there is no reason whatever to shave the legs. No one sees them, no one touches them, and hey! the hair might actually keep you a little warmer if you let it go long enough.
I was appalled, to say the least.
I think I tried it once, but couldn’t make it past that hair-is-just-long-enough-to-brush-the-inside-of-my-pants-and-irritate-my-skin stage. So it was about 48 hours before razor hit skin again.
It was about this time that my best friend, amused at my obsession, shook her head bemusedly and sighed, “Carolynn, if we got stranded in the middle of the woods, in peril of our lives, with no civilization for miles and miles, you would STILL find a way to shave your legs, wouldn’t you?”
Yes, yes I would.
From there came college, where I was certain that keeping my legs shaved was one key (of many) to catching dates. Apparently not, since I only went out a couple dozen times my entire college career. Nothing daunted, I continued religious in leg-shaving observance.
It seemed to me that I was vindicated, however, when (happy day) I met Dear Boy and married him. What that had to do with shaving my legs I don’t know, but I do know that I was happy in the knowledge that my husband would, at least, never need complain about my hairy legs.
Even I wasn’t perfect, however, and I found myself one day apologizing for slightly hairy legs. His reply was something of a shock: “Oh, I don’t care.”
He really didn’t. It took a couple years before I believed him but he was, in fact, being sincere and not just polite. I was a little shaken. After all, didn’t girls learn most of their beautifying habits as teenagers in order to please some nebulous, would-be dream boat of the future? Well, my dream boat had arrived—and well-shaven legs were not a requirement to sail out of the harbor.
You would think that this story would end with me realizing I was liberated and declaring my freedom by swearing off razors forever. However, it doesn’t. You’ll be glad to know that even when I have an infant that keeps me up all night, I still make the effort to have nicely shaven legs. And why?
Because I want to.
So I guess it is a liberation story. No matter how many moms tell me I’m nuts for worrying about it, or how many women’s lib movements say it’s a sign of bondage, or even how many beauty ads tell me I should… I do it for me. So when I lotion my legs, I don’t feel as though I’m petting a cactus. So tiny leg hairs don’t get trapped in my pantyhose (and yes, I do insist on wearing those to church). And because, despite it all, it’s become part of who I am. Carolynn-the-compulsive-leg-shaver.
And yes, Amy. Even if we were stranded in the forest and about to die I would still find a way to shave. And maybe the sharp rock I used would be just what we needed to build a fire and save our lives–but only after the leg hairs are gone.