Saturday, May 11, 2013

All Women Have Leg Hair (or, Reconsidering Conventions of Beauty)

(Men probably won’t have much interest in this post: it’s about female leg hair, which is an odd thing to blog about when half a person’s intended audience are male. So guys, do not feel obligated to read further. You gone now? Okay. That makes me feel a little less weird about posting this.)

On highway 70, I see a billboard for laser hair removal that shows a woman’s legs, girlishly skinny and smooth, with the tag-line, “Be Ideal.” This sums up a convention that almost every woman I know adheres to: smooth legs are sexy, and hairy legs are embarrassing and gross. However, all women have hairy legs (and armpits). It’s as natural as the hair on our heads. So why do we feel the need to shave ourselves in order to be attractive?

Like every girl I know, I started shaving my legs when I hit puberty. It was annoying at first and it took me weeks to get down the technique without cutting myself, but I was intent on ridding my limbs of the scraggly hair that grew afresh every day. I never questioned this compulsive action, because what self-respecting girl would go out in shorts with hairy legs? This wasn’t, and never has been, based on a fear of guys considering me unattractive— I just assumed people in general would think I was gross and masculine.

As a teen I wasn’t too concerned about my appearance, so I never stewed over the issue. I did, however, feel embarrassed when faced with the prospect of leaving the house with my stubbly legs in view. Whenever I wanted to wear a skirt, I felt obligated to give my legs a once-over. When I didn’t have time for that, I wore a longer skirt and kept my feet tucked under me, hoping that no one would see.

When I was 21, I left for my first farm volunteer trip in Washington state. On the first farm, I worked four hours a day with some hardcore hippies. These girls did not shave anything, and I was both shocked by the sight of how hairy women’s legs can get, and jealous of their self-confidence. On the second farm, I didn’t shower for two weeks straight, and so of course the thought of shaving never occurred to me. On one of my last evenings there, a new volunteer came to visit. I was sitting at the kitchen table, wearing shorts, and my legs were hairier than they had ever been in my life. And for a second, I felt honestly embarrassed to be meeting this new girl when my legs were so hairy. Then I laughed at myself. Here I was, greasy-haired, smelling like compost, callused and sunburned, and I was worried about my stupid leg hair? That was my first clue that I cared about the cultural conventions way too much.

Over the next couple years, I began loosening up. I shaved when I wanted to, and strolled out hairy-legged when I wanted to. I gained the confidence that I had envied in my hippie farm friends.

Do I still shave my legs? Yes, sometimes. I shaved them yesterday and I like that they feel smooth and shiny. Like a guy shaving his face, it’s a nice way to feel cleaner. But before that, I hadn’t shaved in months. I just didn’t feel the need to. I’m a woman, and I have hairy legs just like any other woman. As with anything, it’s important not to let the fleeting conventions of beauty make a decision for you.



  1. This is excellent. I think the menfolk should read it too!

    I've spent some time with people at the Catholic Worker house, and many of the women who help out there don't shave their legs when they don't want to. It really makes me admire their confidence and sense of self.

  2. Attention world: No one calls guys with hairy legs "gross" so girls with hairy legs are not "gross"