In order for the realization I had this morning to make sense, I think some backstory is required.
I haven’t shaved my legs for at least the past couple years, and only did it off and on before then. From the time I was 12 or 13 and my mother first told me I needed to shave my legs, all I could think was “why?” I did it begrudgingly now and again in middle school to keep from being teased and in high school to keep my mother (and eventually my father when she complained to him) off my back about it. But as soon as I was on my own in college, I realized just how much I hated to shave and soon only did it if my costume in a play required it. (Truth be told, there was a bad relationship mixed up in there where I was made to shave because it fit my partner’s preferences, but that only made me feel as if my body was unattractive and undesirable as-is and probably only made it more likely I would give up shaving altogether after that).
Over the years I have asked dozens of women why they shave, wondering if eventually I’d stumble upon a reason which would make it worthwhile. I haven’t. Their answers were always about them – they didn’t like the feel or the look of the hair, they felt the hair was unhygenic, it poked them in their sleep, etc. But none of those apply to me. My hair is soft and I don’t mind how it looks and I figure it grows there for a reason anyhow.
It seems like somewhere along the way what should be a personal preference got turned into a cultural norm. I suppose that happens sometimes. But once I got over caring whether or not others cared about whether I shaved I feel much better. I get to save a lot of time and energy I was wasting on doing something purely to fit in. Because let’s face it: shaving takes time. And I hated the way my legs felt after – all dry and in need of lotion. And I always ended up cutting myself and bleeding or missing a spot or 3 and having to go back and get those places later in the day.
And honestly it seems no one really notices that much that I don’t shave – or else no one cares enough to say anything (to me at least) if they do.
All that said, for a long time I have shaved my armpits. I did that one out of my own personal preference. I tend to sweat a lot as it is and it seemed that shaving cut down on the sweating for me – at least a bit. Which made it seem worth it for a while.
But I don’t know. Over the past few months I’ve just stopped shaving anything. I threw away my last razor when I moved out of my apartment complex in May and a part of me just said, “F#ck it. I’m not buying another one.” So I didn’t. And it’s so bloody hot in Texas in summer that I’m going to sweat a lot every day no matter what I do, so my initial reasons for shaving anything at all kind of fell flat.
Add to all of this the fact that a friend of mine recently gave me some natural deodorant they tried and didn’t like. It seems to work better with my body chemistry, however, and when I woke up this morning I noticed that I have a scent. Not in the negative body odor connotation that we usually talk about in the West. But in more of a pheromonal context. Moreover, I realized that I really *liked* that scent.
And that got me thinking about what we mean when we tell people they smell good – or what I mean, anyway. I’ve never been a huge fan of perfumes or colognes on myself or others, and while some fruity shampoos can be nice, when I go to hug someone I think it’s the subtle scent of soap or laundry detergent mixed with *them* that I respond to.
I think we’re afraid of bodies in the West, as much as our culture is obsessed with them. But really, when you think about it, we’re actually obsessed with this idea of some perfect body that doesn’t actually exist on the ground. A body that has to be tanned and waxed and plucked and toned and shaved and scrubbed and surgically enhanced and even photoshopped after all that.
And I tend to be more cerebral than physical myself. It takes a lot for me to get into my body and stay there. But even as imperfect as my body is, I’d rather be able to learn to love it and really live in it as-is, rather than always trying to shape some future body that will be good enough someday. I’d rather learn to love my grey hairs and stretch marks and body hair and pale skin and hangnails. I think I’d rather learn to embrace my scent rather than shaving and scrubbing and spraying it away with a bunch of chemicals.
A friend of mine doesn’t even use shampoo anymore and washes his hair with baking soda instead. I think once I get through the shampoo I’ve already paid for I’m going to try that, too. I realize that “going green” is popular right now for a variety of reasons. But aside from being good to the environment, the one that really speaks to me right now is that it can be healthier, too. Making conscious decisions to do good things for myself and my body is something that I think I really need right now. If I eat less processed food and clean my new apartment with non-toxic cleansers like vinegar it also makes sense to me to not put a lot of chemicals *on* my body, either.
That isn’t to say I won’t enjoy nail polish or make-up on occasion, but just like not shaving sends a message to my brain that says my body is beautiful just the way it is, I think making an effort to be more aware of other hygienic norms which might be purely culturally informed and not inherently logical will be beneficial.
I suppose if graduate school has given me anything (if not a job), it’s that newfound desire to question *everything.* Rhetoric and hegemonic forces are powerful. I don’t want to do anything only because “that’s what everyone does” or “that’s what I *should* do” or any of those reasons that seem fine but only on the surface. I want, to the best of my ability, to make educated decisions and decisions which make sense to me, even if they’re not for everyone. Autopilot can be dangerous. That doesn’t mean be paranoid, but question if you *really* have a reason beyond “that’s what I’ve always done” for how you’re living your life.
The answer may surprise you.