We’re used to the commercials. They feature beautiful women with glowing skin, paid to brandish pink razors in our faces. A suave voice will ask, “What does beauty feel like?” The answer? A montage of women with impossibly shaven legs. “Don’t you want to feel like a goddess?” Of course we do! It seems like the only way we can feel beautiful about ourselves is if our legs are absolutely hairless and cocoa butter smooth.
This is a myth.
What does a woman gain from shaving her legs? Confidence? Praise? Utility? According to Glamour magazine’s studies, a woman will shave more than 7,000 times in her lifetime and spend over $10,000 on shaving products. Do people really believe that spending so much time and money on shaving is worth it? Perhaps, but ultimately many women do it because it is what’s expected by society. Women go through the arduous process of razor burn, cuts, and way-too-long showers for little-to-no gain. There is no practical reason. Shaving your legs does not make your everyday life any better.
Women’s Studies Professor Alyssa Zucker believes that a possible reason for the shaved legs standard is the fact that “shaved bodies are more similar to pre-pubescent bodies and society often wants women to be childlike.” She cited Joan Jacobs Brumberg’s book, “The Body Project,” which, according to Zucker, “argues that girls today grow up believing that ‘good looks’ are the route to success and thus turn their bodies into a ‘project’ that must be maintained. To the extent that this is true, women may feel they have to conform to the standard to succeed.”
Does this mean commercialized beauty standards are to blame? If you throw enough stereotype and glamour in the face of a generation, they begin to associate it with normality. Every magazine model has glistening legs and that is the normality we are taught. And this isn’t just a phenomenon of the 21st century. The onslaught of advertisements began in 1915 when razor companies began targeting underarm hair. Even the most vintage shaving ads portray scantily clad women who express embarrassment at the thought of leg hair. The models are adamant in their statements that using such products “makes the job easier” because keeping your body up to a social standard is a woman’s job.
The media continued putting out ads and soon shaving became a female norm. Our mothers hand us razors in middle school because their mothers handed them razors.
Fortunately, we aren’t forced to shave our legs. It’s an option, not a necessity. In fact, many girls choose to shave their legs simply because they enjoy that feeling of silky smoothness. Shaving our legs is a personal choice and females shouldn’t judge one another for having different preferences. But what happens to the girls who decide not to shave their legs?
Backlash. But why?
Professor Zucker mentions that there is a lot of policing of women’s bodies. “From a feminist perspective, if women are preoccupied with their looks, there is less room in our heads for thinking about big issues or engaging in social change. So the backlash may be part of a sexist system that wants to keep women spending lots of money and time on our bodies. If a woman doesn’t shave her legs, she is likely to be targeted as being a lesbian, so there’s a mix of sexism and heterosexist pressures there.”
Sexism is right. Ask some of the boys on campus. What do you think when a girl doesn’t shave her legs? You’ll get a wide range of answers, many of them demeaning. She’s weird, she’s lazy, she’s “one of those empowered women” (and if the word feminist comes up, it’s usually with bad connotations), or my personal favorite: “It’s gross.” However, the boys who will state their opinions in private are not so willing to be quoted on the record. More and more females will not tolerate such a sexist view. If leg hair is so gross, why don’t men shave their leg hair? If they find it so repulsive on women, how can they bear to have it on themselves? Their answer is: because shaved legs are feminine. What is so inherently feminine about removing body hair? And why do we insist on doing it?
Livia Ledbetter is a freshman who shaves her legs about once every two weeks.
“I hate shaving my legs. I always end up with cuts and it’s so difficult.”
Q: Why do you bother shaving your legs then?
A: I feel like I have to. Once they start getting hairy, I feel awkward.
Q: But where does this feeling of awkwardness come from?
A: I’ve had people look at my legs before when they weren’t shaven and I immediately become self-conscious. I’ve never experienced verbal criticism, but I feel like there’s always judgment there.
Q: Do you believe shaving is necessary in order to feel beautiful?
A: I feel beautiful when I shave, but I recognize that it’s an artificial feeling. I believe society expects me to and when I meet that standard, I feel good about myself. But the actual result of removal of leg hair doesn’t strike me as beautiful
Q: Why do you think shaving is so mainstream in today’s society?
A: I honestly think it has to do with hyper-sexuality of women in media. People want us to look young, perfect, smooth, and innocent. There’s all this pressure to appear more feminine and yet we’re getting rid of natural things about our body. People think having more body hair puts you in a masculine light, but we ALL have body hair.
Livia is one of thousands who dislike shaving but will do it anyway. It’s clear that not many girls would choose to put themselves through shaving their legs if it wasn’t such a widespread societal expectation. However, there are those of us who actually love shaving! Everyone is different.
Sarah Emond is an Honors freshman who actually enjoys shaving her legs and does it about three times a week.
“I love shaving my legs if I have good shaving cream! It makes me feel smooth and clean.”
Q: Do you shave for yourself or because you were taught to?
A: My mom didn’t teach me. I actually asked my mom if I could start shaving when I was in fourth grade.
Q: Why did you want to start shaving?
A: I actually started shaving because guys would make fun of me for having hairy legs, so that’s why I started. I always wanted to because I didn’t like the hair on my legs and that experience just reinforced it.
Q: Why do you think mainly women shave their legs?
A: I think it’s because women have more clothing pieces that show their legs (dresses, skirts, shorts) and because it’s popular. Guys don’t because they like to keep hair on their legs to be “masculine.”
Q: So does that mean having hair on your body is masculine?
A: No, but to be honest, biologically more hair has to do with more testosterone. Everyone has it, but guys just have more of it. I think girls get rid of it just to feel clean and more feminine.
Q: Do you think all women should shave their legs?
A: No, but I also don’t think they all shouldn’t shave their legs. I think everyone is entitled to her own choice. Some people just like to go with the social norm and others do it for themselves.
Sarah demonstrates that there’s a difference between following the social norm of shaving to feel better about yourself and actually enjoying the process. Women who enjoy shaving find more positives in it that you wouldn’t expect. After all, he act itself isn’t entirely evil.
Shelby Buchanan is a freshman who shaves her legs twice a week.
“Sometimes I also shave when there’s a special occasion happening that night.”
Q: Why do you shave your legs?
A: It’s more comfortable for me personally, especially considering the fact that I wear a lot of dresses. It also gets really hot in Florida, and shaving has always made me feel more comfortable in the heat.
Q: So you mainly do it to feel comfortable instead of socially acceptable.
A: Exactly. Leg hair makes me feel sticky and sweaty.
Q: Have you ever faced any sort of criticism for your choice?
A: No, never, but I know others have.
Q: Why do you think generally only females shave their legs? Why don’t guys?
A: Generally speaking, shaving is seen as a more feminine action in society and males are often trained to avoid anything “feminine,” and they’re ridiculed if they embrace it.
Q: Why do you think women shaving their legs is so mainstream in our society today?
A: I think women are expected to put forth more effort to generate an aesthetic appeal for those around them than men are. As shaving has become a part of our culture, it’s become more mainstream, and therefore is one of the things that is expected of a conventionally attractive woman to do to be considered beautiful. There’s the perception that shaving is just one of the boxes you have to check before you’re considered beautiful, so it’s a thing that a lot of women automatically make part of their routine.
Q: But you don’t think shaving is necessary in order to feel beautiful?
A: Not at all. I think being confident about your choices is way more important than shaving or not shaving. Any one who cares if you shave your legs cares what more about what other people think than how you feel.
Shelby makes it clear that shaving your legs is a crafted beauty standard that you have no obligation to uphold. If you want to feel beautiful, don’t shave, just be confident in your decision whether or not to shave. Be confident in the decisions you make and you will feel beautiful no matter what they are.