A social experiment:
I was riding a rental car shuttle a few weeks ago when I noticed the woman sitting across from me did not shave her legs. She had dark skin and dark black hair, and I remember being completely repulsed by her “manly” legs (though I hadn’t shaved in a couple days myself, but at least I was wearing a long skirt to disguise the fact). It soon became apparent that the woman was a kind of girlfriend of the shuttle bus driver, which made me wonder: How can he be attracted to a woman with so much hair on her legs?
It dawned on me that I had never, since adolescence, NOT shaved my legs. Only one girl I knew from high school had been brave enough not to shave her legs for an extended period. She was the governor’s niece; the beautiful & popular senior girl who decided one day to go the whole indoor volleyball season without shaving her legs. I don’t exactly remember her justification, something like it was wintertime and she didn’t feel like shaving every day. I do remember that all her teammates and close friends teased her incessantly whenever we were sitting around in the gym with our shorts on, and we noticed her hairy legs. She thought it was amusing that everyone else was so disgusted.
So I thought to myself, what is this weird social pressure women feel (and project onto each other) to shave their legs? We have hair on our arms, and true, some women shave that as well, but I don’t, so why am I so repulsed looking at hair on my lower legs, while looking at hair on my lower arms doesn’t bother me a bit? So I decided to stop shaving my legs to try to answer that question.
I discovered the following: (1) My boyfriend (who is African-American) doesn’t really care that much about whether or not a woman has shaved legs, which was shocking – as the white men I had dated in the past were pretty particular about me having nicely shaved legs all the time. (2) I also learned that there are loads of marketing stimuli that encourage smooth, shaven legs (Nair, Caress, lotions, Gillette, for example, not to mention waxing and electrolysis commercials). The legs in those commercials looked so nice to touch and stroke, whereas mine looked hideous!
At first, I thought that maybe there was some shorn-legged conservative agenda out there that we were being tricked into buying into–that maybe we would appear less animal-like if we were all clean-shaven. But I ultimately settled for the hypothesis that some women are simply being held to an ultra-feminine standard of beauty. That is, if you were to stand a woman and a man side-by-side, the woman would be less hairier overall, so we as women exaggerate that difference to appear more feminine, thus more attractive to the males of the species.
If you want to know how the story ends, it ended with me being so repulsed last night, before heading to the gym in shorts with my 1/4-inch-long blondish-brown hair on my legs, that I shaved it all off (and spared you the picture). So much for bucking that social norm. I would have made a terrible hippie.