I started shaving my full legs when I was thirteen or fourteen. The decision was made after the cast I received from an injury sustained in a car accident was sawed off my foot. I was completely embarrassed by what appeared to me as a forest of dark brown hair covering my once innocent leg. The decision was also influenced by my older cousins, who advised me to wait as long as possible to start shaving as it would a lifelong commitment. The final factor, however, was my inner rebel as my mom did not agree with middle schoolers shaving their legs. Her distaste towards allowing me to shave only pushed me further towards doing it. I believed I was old enough to make these sorts of decisions on my own, so I did it. I was proud of the smooth, hairless legs I created and felt oh so mature and adult. I felt I no longer had to worry about other people’s opinions on my decision to shave or not shave. I was very wrong.
As I grew up and discovered myself to be a feminist, my decision to shave wasn’t met with the triumph I felt after my initial experience. Many of my fellow feminists didn’t see shaving as a personal choice, but more as a place of patriarchal power. They exclaimed that shaving “was for tattoos only!” I started feeling conflicted about my once sure decision. Being a “true feminist” had become an extremely important part of my life and identity. I didn’t want the man to get me down or allow myself to be a mindless robot who followed the crowd (definitely not very Kathleen Hanna of me).
The conflict within myself about whether or not to continue shaving brought me to examine the reasons why I continued to shave, despite claiming to be a feminist. Was I shaving because of the girls dancing to the Bangles on TV? Because of the plastic, hotdog-esque legs of the dolls I played with as a child? Because men and society expected me to? Or because I just enjoyed the way it looked and felt? My self-examination revealed I was shaving because I liked the dolphin-smooth feeling and I felt beautiful whenever I had freshly shaved legs. I felt the motives behind why I shaved aligned with the feminist values I hold and fight for. Personal autonomy was at the core of my decision, not the expectations of others and society. I realized I was shaving for the right reasons.
Questioning my personal reasons for shaving also taught me that the decision to shave or not shave doesn’t make someone a feminist. The ideals and values of the person inside the body determine the truth. There is so much more to being a feminist than removing or not removing body hair. I’m happy I realized why I was shaving, because I no longer feel guilty when I enjoy the feeling of my freshly shaven legs in a pair of jeans, a real feminist’s pair of jeans.