A year ago, I stopped shaving my legs. It wasn’t particularly a big decision for me; it was winter and halfway through my junior year, so I was putting minimal effort into anything that wasn’t school. I realized once it started getting warmer, I didn’t actually have to shave.
It didn’t speak to my hygiene or character to have hair on my legs. I didn’t have to hide away my legs because it would seem weird to other people. It started out as laziness maybe, but the first time I wore shorts without shaving, no one noticed or said anything. I felt more comfortable wearing shorts than I usually did. It made me wonder what was stopping me before.
I dug through some history to find how shaving evolved into a cultural norm. In the Roman Empire, having shaved legs was a display of status. It represented the cleanliness and youth of wealthier women and became the custom throughout the rule of the empire. That wasn’t true everywhere, however. Shaving didn’t become a norm for women in America until sleeveless dresses and skirts above the knee became acceptable in the early 20th century.
From there, it was a matter of the beauty standards set by the fashion and advertising industries. Gillette ads at the turn of the century urged women to remove their “unsightly” hair and buy the company’s women’s razors. History has rooted shaving in traditional hygiene, but it’s not like brushing your teeth. It’s a choice that doesn’t have any health repercussions; shaving is like getting a haircut, not cavities.
I felt the pressure to start shaving when I was 11; my German grandmothers left me with pretty obvious leg hair. I’ve always had an obsession with fashion, and from what I’d seen, I felt like it was a necessary step to becoming an adult. I quickly realized the benefit of having smooth legs only lasted about a day, and the regrowing hair became itchy and noticeable on me, but there was no way sixth grade me was going out of my way to be different from the girls in magazines. I wanted to fit in and be seen as pretty and perfect, so I imitated the celebrities other people praised that way.
By my junior year, I felt much more secure in myself and started branching out with fashion and expression. Once I stopped shaving my legs, it gave me a kind of confidence to do whatever I felt like, because my fear of standing out had been disproven. People didn’t particularly care what I wore. I still struggled to feel confident once it got warmer, to wear shorter skirts and shorts and show my legs, but I always pretended like I didn’t care in a “fake it ‘till you make it” mentality.
Even now that I’m more confident, it’s still harder for me to feel pretty in feminine outfits. The juxtaposition of traditionally masculine leg hair with my love for traditionally feminine skirts makes me feel like a fraud sometimes, but I’m much more comfortable in my own skin. In an ideal world, I’d like everyone to be able to feel comfortable no matter their preferences for their body. For now, all I can do is work to be happy with who I am.