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Sunday, February 5, 2023

What I Didn’t Learn From Shaving My Legs About Physical Autonomy?

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Shreya has been with londonbusinessblog.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider londonbusinessblog.com team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

Earlier this summer I stopped shaving my legs.

It started because of stress: I had had a hard week at work and I forgot to shave. Then the tough week turned into two. By this time, the stubble on my shins was half an inch long. I had no idea how much longer it would grow.

In the harsh bathroom light, looking down at my fuzzy legs, I felt like I was missing an important piece of information about my body. In the two decades since I hit puberty, I hadn’t grown my leg hair once, even during the pandemic.

It was time to change that.

What I didn’t expect was the question I actually got, “What does your boyfriend think?”

Like most cisgender women, I was expected to shave ever since my leg hair started growing. For me it started around 12 noon. In the nearly 18 years since, shaving had become a fortnightly ritual.

Although I never really liked shaving, I did like the way my legs looked without hair. Especially as a teenager, bare legs made me pretend I had control over my changing body – they made me feel like a kid again. At that time, I suppressed my bisexuality. The last thing I wanted was to grow up: I knew that as I got older, I would have to process my sexuality. Smooth legs make me act differently. They made me feel safe.

By this summer, at age 29, my feelings about growing up had understandably changed. And maybe that meant it was also time to change how I looked at my body. The night I noticed my stubble in my leg, I decided to experiment with not shaving.

My plan: I wouldn’t remove my leg hair until it stops growing. I would measure it, maybe take a picture as proof and then live normal again, know a little more about my anatomy.

In the role of an amateur scientist, I even came up with hypotheses: I predicted that people would laugh if I told them what I was doing. They had done that for my previous experiments, which ranged from How long can I go without upgrading to a smartphone until what is the best gas mileage i can get with a 20 year old car? Once they had a chuckle, I thought everyone would ask, “So… how long?” did does it grow?”

What I didn’t expect was the question I actually got, “What does your boyfriend think?”

The first time someone asked, I wrote it off as a fluke. I didn’t need my boyfriend’s permission to grow my leg hair. It was my body, and therefore my choice. But then everyone asked the same question. The data clearly showed that this was a pattern.

The truth was, I didn’t know what my friend thought about my hair experiment. He had been traveling when I stopped shaving, and then he wasn’t feeling well, so I hadn’t seen him since I started growing.

When I told people that, the conversation ended. No one asked about me – how long it had been; why I did this; how I felt about having fuzzy legs and breaking a cultural norm.

In her 2015 book “Picked’, Rebecca Herzig noted that hair removal as we know it has been around for about a century. This observation was also made in an investigation of the same year from the Netherlands, who argued that body hair “has become a taboo for women” in those 100 years. A 2005 study from the UK noted that removing body hair in women is “part of … producing an ‘acceptable’ femininity.”

Having leg hair certainly seemed unacceptable to those around me. Friends and family pushed harder against not shaving than against my sexuality when I first came out. The message? I didn’t need anyone’s blessing to be bi, but apparently I should have accepted my boyfriend that he had hairy legs. The pushback made me feel like I had done something wrong. It meant that I wasn’t allowed to make decisions about my body on my own, that I even needed my friend’s approval to experiment.

The growth stopped around day 21. The final length of my leg hair, after 27 days, was one centimeter. Although I got the answer to my first question, the experiment left me with so much more.

Who needs permission to trade – and from whom is it obtained?

In what ways is body hair a microcosm of these other more serious injustices?

From there, I wondered how the idea of ​​needing permission to change my shaving practices compares to other patriarchal issues. No one dies because of leg hair, but there are racist beauty standards to contend with, not to mention the gender pay gap, a lack of queer and trans rights, and a lack of access to abortion, all of which minimize different groups and their authority over their bodies. and life.

In what ways is body hair a microcosm of these other more serious injustices?

My experiment was small and somewhat silly, but its implications are far-reaching. Even in the 21st century, the cultural expectation was that my body hair choices would be dictated by the men in my life.

Which leaves me with one last question: how can we empower the groups that routinely denied this? The sooner we answer this, the better.

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