It Came Down to Shaving

We recognized each other by the hair on our legs.  Noticeable stubble was just hygiene laziness.  Fully grown out leg hair that lay in waves and maybe curls, that extended down the leg to an abrubt line at the ankle like a pair of footless tights, that was a political statement. We were feminists.  We were sisters in the struggle.

Today is the 40th anniversary of Ms. Magazine and it brought to mind this precious memory.  It’s 1977. A new graduate student, I am sitting in a professor’s office, pleading for a job as a research assistant so I could support myself and my four-year old daughter, looking down at my nervously swinging leg and seeing the blond fur visible through my pantyhose.  And wondering, no, knowing, that the distinguished professor looking at the same thing had pegged me for one of those hairy, bra-less feminists.

Would it work for me, I wondered, or would he just be disgusted?  I was so torn about it myself.  Always on the ok-looking side of pretty, I shaved my legs practically every day until the movement convinced me that shaving was buying into the male paradigm of what women should look like.  In this thinking, it was not possible to be a feminist and shorn simultaneously.

So I didn’t shave for months on end.  Then driven to complete revulsion by the temptation to pet my own leg, I’d grab the razor, soap up, and shave a path.  The razor’s edge would be thick with hair so I’d have to wipe it off with a washcloth before aiming for row #2.  Don’t get me started on the underarms.

Then shorn, I’d hide my legs from my feminist colleagues. Jeans and boots, no skirts. I had to find other ways to represent besides not shaving my legs.  And I did, of course.

It was so important to the movement.  I see that now.  We had to throw off men’s determination of what made us beautiful and refigure ourselves. So the bras came off and the girdles got tossed and we spent a long time eschewing anything that was overtly feminine or frilly or shaved or plucked. We were a hairy, rough looking bunch for a while.  And we looked down on women who stuck with the old paradigm of physical beauty.

It was a transition to a place where we could have other symbols of freedom — like equal opportunity and pay, respect and power.  We’re not there yet but we’re a lot closer than we were 40 years ago.  Thank you Ms. Magazine, Gloria Steinem, Eleanor Smeal, Betty Friedan, and all the myriad women, hairy or not, who got us here.  Much done, more to be done.

7 Comments on “It Came Down to Shaving

  1. I’ve always thought this topic was interesting. Leg hair ended my friendship with my best friend in my teens. In addition to being disgusted by her new pelt of blonde fur, I was tired of her making everything into a political commentary. I just didn’t like the feel, look or smell of an abundance of non-head hair. It had nothing to do with male and female relationships to me – I didn’t like a lot of hair on a guy either. And the boob thing…as a DD, not wearing a bra was downright painful so I resented her with her A cups acting like wearing a bra meant you were brainwashed. Looking back at all that anger, it strikes me that these supposed symbols of feminism and freedom were just another set of rules to me. And in that case, I’d rather be ruled by men than women, who are far more vicious in my experience. Hmm, I feel a post coming on…thank you for a great, thought-provoking post!

    • You’re welcome! I love your comments. It was tyranny wasn’t it? Always having to prove something – either to your female comrades or guys. So much better now that I really don’t give a ….

  2. I really enjoyed your writing – clear and evocative! And such a great topic. Well done!
    I’m visiting from Write On Edge and am happy I clicked on your link!

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