“Hairy Legs and All”

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From Skirt:

Last year on a trip to New York, during which I forgot my trusty Venus Divine triple-blade lady razor with the smooth strip and had to choose whether or not to use the hotel-provided single blade disposable (which in my case not only ensured hair removal, but also the removal of strips of skin), I didn’t shave for a week. I wore skirts and sleeveless tops anyway; it’s not like I’d run into anyone I knew in New York City. And a week’s stubble wasn’t all that bad. But it did get me thinking: Why was I shaving in the first place?

The only answer I could come up with is because it was a rite of womanhood, like my first period. My older sisters, both teenagers by the time I was eight, possessed pretty pink Lady Bic razors. But I didn’t know why I was actually shaving or, more to the point, why women were supposed to shave. If the hair grows, why work so hard to remove it? I decided to do a little research and, until I could resolve the issue, also decided to stop shaving.

End of Week One: According to a 1982 article from the Journal of American Culture by Christine Hope entitled “Caucasian Female Body Hair and American Culture,” we were originally enticed into shaving our underarm hair by a marketing onslaught that began in 1915 with an ad in Harper’s Bazaar for a depilatory product that informed the reader, “Summer Dress and Modern Dancing combine to make necessary the removal of objectionable hair.” Women’s razors didn’t show up in the Sears Roebuck catalog until 1922, the same year the company began offering sleeveless dresses. In the 1960s, as the Sexual Revolution progressed and it became acceptable to venture outdoors in less clothing, we had to remove more hair. The birth of the bikini also meant the birth of the bikini wax, and today’s thongs require a more severe version called “The Brazilian.” Advertising campaigns have been promoting hair removal products to make us “sexy” and “silky smooth” for nearly a century now. How could we possibly resist?

Week Three: It’s freeing not spending 15 minutes every other day shaving in the shower. I think about all of the other things I can do with that time, adding it up in my head while I soap my stubble (15 minutes three times a week, 52 weeks in the year, adds up to…what? I didn’t have a calculator in the shower, but it works out to 39 hours a year). …

Read the rest of this essay by Kelly Love Johnson here.

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