I frowned at my bleeding legs and mumbled to myself, “This can’t continue.” I wasn’t pressing that hard and wasn’t scratching any scabs. I guessed only so many layers of skin could be shaved off before things got gory. With a sigh, I put down my razor and remembered when shaving was a rite of passage into womanhood. Now, it was more a last-ditch effort to not look like a woodland creature.
As I dried off and put bandaids on my battle wounds, I cursed the entire male population–save my father who, as the lone male in an estrogen-driven household, had grown immune to such things–for their insistence on clean-shaven women. Next I cursed the entire female population for submitting. Would it be all that bad if we didn’t shave? Leg hair really isn’t all that revolting, I reasoned as I donned shorts. I resolved as I checked myself in the mirror that I wasn’t going to cut my legs to ribbons just because everyone else does.
Three days later in dance class, I wanted to stretch my shorts down to my knees. Yet to my surprise, the boys were completely oblivious. It was the girls who were judging me with sideways glances and snickers. The male population doesn’t insist on clean-shaven women: the female population insists on clean-shaven women. I was baffled. But until I muddled the whole thing out, I would continue to shave.
Later that year at a summer program, a new group of friends and I were lounging around someone’s dorm room. I was suddenly exhausted, so awkwardly stretched out my legs over the lap of a male friend. At that moment, my legs were prickly cacti so I blushingly said to him, “Don’t mind the tarantula legs.”
“I don’t,” he said.
A girl sitting next to him smiled. “Oh, mine are the same way. Don’t worry, we’re all friends here.”
He looked from her to my legs and then to my immense surprise, he drew his hand up my calf and said, “Oh, they’re not even that bad.”
I smiled confusedly.
As the rest of our friends talked, he absent-mindedly made circles on my shin with his fingertips, smoothing the short hairs on the way down and dragging them back up on the way up.
He didn’t care. She didn’t care. I didn’t care.
So, why does practically every woman shave her legs? I thought about men shaving their beards. They do it every day, just like women. But it’s different: they do it to look professional, or to look younger.
They shave off what makes them men, while we shave so that we can be women.
That day in dance class, the girls made me feel like a grizzly bear because I had not proved that I was a woman. I used to think that women shave their legs to conform to a male-dominant society, but I was wrong. Women can be as successful as men, yet the simple act of shaving her legs augments a woman’s success because she achieved it even despite not being a man. A woman shaves to enhance her femininity before her society has the chance to punish her for it. Women shave their legs to laugh in the face of a male-dominated society.
The next day, I glared at a rivulet of blood running down my leg, but continued my cleansing ritual to rid myself of every masculine hair on my legs. I looked at myself in the mirror and traced my smooth jaw line with my eyes. I turned out the bathroom light and thanked my lucky stars.