It was 2003 and I was in the middle of puberty, one of the most awkward times of a human life. I had my own deodorant, which I didn’t actually ever need, and applied it every day, staining all of the translucent white button-down shirts I owned for school. I was prepared for my period with a box of pads and tampons and I was already used to my aching nipples, which I would stare at in the bathroom mirror after showering every day, hoping my body would gift me with decent-sized boobs.
In addition to the size of my boobs, I was also concerned about how to groom my new pubic hair (should I? But how? Where do I stop? What do I use?) and *finally* shaving my legs.
My mom was not into it. Shaving was dangerous. I would cut myself, most definitely, and my endlessly bleeding leg would haunt her nightmares as I pass out in the bathroom, leg perched perfectly on the tub’s edge. After endless begging and explaining my frustration, she finally caved and bought me a chemical cream
for my legs.
Unlike classic razors, this chemical cream couldn’t hurt me, she believed. According to the instructions, you would apply the cream, leave it on for 15 minutes or so, and then “shave” it off with this strange rubber handle that looked like a mini squeegee. Like magic, the hair would come right off and your legs would be super smooth. The cream smelled like flowers, too!
As a female pubescent pre-teen, I had another new responsibility: tweezing my eyebrows. All the tweezing and the shaving and the deodorant application took a lot of time out of my day that I would have rather spent sleeping or reading or playing video games. One day I decided to kill two birds with one stone and use the chemical cream for my legs on my eyebrows. The instructions specifically stated not to put the cream anywhere but on your legs. I figured I could test the waters.
I placed the cream right in between my eyebrows and slightly underneath. In the 90’s and 00’s, everyone favored thin eyebrows, so I had to match. After waiting 10 minutes, I could feel my face start to burn. At the time, I wasn’t aware that different parts of your body had different types of skin with different sensitivities. Although I felt like I should wipe the cream off, ironically this is the time I decided to follow instructions, so I waited the full 15, wincing in pain, stomping my feet every now and then, pacing as the chemical cream burned my face.
I wiped the cream off to reveal a patch of red, flakey skin. My face felt so hot that I was touching it, expecting it to burn my finger, too. I looked like a clown, like I had gotten sunburn on just my eyebrows and nowhere else. I ran my face under cold water, freaking out, with thoughts about what my classmates would think of my blotchy red face running through my mind. I tried covering the red spots with make-up, but nothing worked. I ran to my mom and showed her what happened. That was the end of the chemical cream. As it turns out, razors were not as harmful as she thought they would be.
With the razor, I continued to remove my own leg hair all through high school, to my mother’s distress. She asked why I “shaved so much” and repeated questions to make sure I was doing it correctly, as if you could accidentally bust an artery nicking your leg with a razor. I would obsess over whether I was going on a date or wearing a dress – would I need to shave my legs?
Once college hit, I met a girl who never shaved her legs at all. I would think about her as I propped my leg on the dorm shower wall, cheap Old Navy flip flop continuously slipping on the wet tiles, shaving from the bottom up, wasting a solid fifteen minutes of my time, at least, when I could be studying or drinking or flirting with the guy down the hall or doing drugs (kidding…).
One day, I decided to skip the leg shaving. “Screw it,” I thought, skipping my daily balancing routine in the shower.
In short shorts necessary to brave the humid Arkansan climate, I walked to class in stride. Sure, my leg hair was growing back, but I had a secret power: I was blonde. Who would care if my translucent leg hairs would shine in the sun as I walked to Contemporary Buddhist thought? What would anyone really think were I to bare my unshaven leg in the Calculus class I took for the second time?
Nothing. They thought nothing. No one noticed and no one gave a flying shit this entire time!!!
A few years later, I had completely forgotten about the concept of shaving one’s legs. My leg hair did not grow thicker than they were pre-puberty, like my Catholic school teachers had promised. My leg looked totally normal, with the hair nearly invisible. The razor companies didn’t go out of business when I didn’t give them my money. With years of no comments from anyone, I revealed my secret to my mom when I was visiting her on break.
“Wow, your legs are so shiny and smooth,” she exclaimed from afar. I moved in closer.
“Oh yeah? Look again.”
My mother, baffled and possibly jealous, erupted in an expression of horror. “Meeshell! You didn’t shave your legs!!!!”
I told my mother that I hadn’t shaved my legs in years with both relief and elation. If my own mother did not notice and no one had ever made a comment about my legs, it seems like I was home free. Even if my leg hair was noticeable or anyone cared, would I start shaving again? Possibly. Maybe. Sometimes getting shit from people for so long forces you to change your behavior to suit how others want you to act instead of how you want to act.
When I felt the freedom of not shaving my legs, I opened a gateway for doing other stuff I had always wanted to do. I learned how to weld, started my first beehive, moved across the country, majored in something that didn’t promise an immediate job after college, wore dark gray lipstick, and dated women (sometimes).
If you’re doing something (or not doing something) just because others don’t want you to, maybe second-guess that decision. How many stupid, boring things do you partake in for the sake of others? And for fuck’s sake, if you have blonde hair, don’t shave your legs. It literally doesn’t make a difference.