Taking down patriarchy one unshaven leg at a time

This brave columnist grows out quarter inch hair for feminism



Women shaved their legs as an alternative to stockings but the practice is outdated and sexist.

CHLOE GRUNDMEIER, Evergreen reporter

Ladies, you haven’t lived until you’ve felt the warm summer breeze through your luscious leg hair. Men won’t tell you how great it is but I will: it’s fantastic.

“I don’t even know when I shaved my legs the last time, but I have that type of mentality,” said Carol Salusso, a professor in WSU’s Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles department. “I’m not trying to change myself into something I’m not. It’s my standards I’m ascribing to, not somebody else’s judgement.”

Women have been expected to shave their legs throughout most of history. In ancient Roman and Egyptian times, body hair removal showed cleanliness and therefore status, but only for women, according to an article on Mic.com. Women would remove all the hair from their bodies except their eyebrows to show they didn’t have hair-related issues like lice and were wealthy enough to afford these practices.

Shaving was associated strongly with masculinity until the 1900s, according to Owlcation.com. Armpit hair removal started the trend when Gillette released its first razor marketed toward women in 1915, according to Mic. Women were encouraged to remove this “objectionable hair” as their underarms became visible due to the popularization of sleeveless dresses.

Women started to shave their legs out of necessity when traditional stockings were in short supply during World War II. “Liquid stockings,” makeup that replicated the look, replaced them, according to Owlcation. These products, however, only worked on hairless legs. Men were no longer expected to be hairless after the wars as body hair itself became associated with masculinity.

In the 80s and 90s, celebrities began talking about beauty habits and insisted more on women being completely hairless. TV shows like “Sex and the City” featured characters getting Brazilian waxes and magazines showed bikini-clad women. Still, this expectation fell only on women and men didn’t have to face the stigma that came with body hair.

“You’re always trying to make yourself to the cultural model of beauty to the culture you ascribe,” Salusso said. “It goes with the whole idea of trying to make yourself enough, so you’re groomed to a standard.”

With the rise of the internet and social media came an even easier way for women to be targeted for any unsightliness on their bodies, especially body hair.

In 2014, YouTube and Vine star Nash Grier posted a video to his YouTube channel entitled “What guys look for in girls.”

This video was sexist in several ways but ultimately blew up due to Grier’s comment, “Shave! Peach fuzz when we’re making out! Arm hair! Wax! That’s the worst, when there’s hair! It’s terrible! The natural look is great but take the hair off!”

This stigma around body hair affected me greatly as a child. Throughout middle school and high school, I shaved my legs every other day, along with the majority of women, according to a study released by American Laser Centers in 2009. Excessive shaving gave me countless ingrown hairs and severely dried out skin, so I gave up.

I didn’t decide to stop shaving my legs to protest the patriarchy. Honestly, I stopped caring several weeks ago and just let my leg hair exist. Having perfectly smooth legs wasn’t important to me, so I let my legs get stubbly and eventually soft. I’ve reached a length of over a quarter of an inch and it is the most freeing experience I’ve had.

My Sasquatch-legs have not prevented me from wearing shorts to class in this heat and I’ve received some questioning looks. These looks have been from both men and women. My hair is fairly dark and refuses to lay flat, so it’s very easy to see I haven’t shaved in a while.

“I think women’s greatest critics are other women,” Salusso said. “Women try to manipulate themselves for men even if men don’t care. Women are taught that their job is to be beautiful. Women are getting cosmetic surgery to fit a standard, so shaving your hair is mild compared to some of that.”

If you’ve noticed, much of the stigma surrounding body hair comes from women trying to appear one way for men. We were seen as unclean in ancient times, unfeminine in the 1900s and not sexy enough in the 80s and 90s. Men won’t want to “make out” with us if we’re not hairless.

We’re expected to do something to our bodies that is expensive, causes skin problems and can be downright painful so men will approve of the way we look. We’re told we’re not good enough if we don’t remove something we’re born with — that only half the population is expected to remove.

“You are not your legs, there’s all kinds of things going on about you,” Salusso said. “Most people would look at you as a whole rather than a girl who didn’t shave.”

Well I’m done. I’m fighting back in a miniscule way — I’m not shaving my legs. If men can live freely with inch long leg hair, so can I. I’m proud of my body and all aspects of it, including my luscious leg hair.