Sustainability, razors, and a “body’s forest”

Since it’s “No-Shave November,” I think it’s the perfect month to discuss body hair. Do you think shaving and body positivity can coexist?

Shaving is one of those contentious topics. Who decided that women should be hairless, anyway? In the US, many women shave or wax their legs and armpits. It feels like a part of our culture. So I conform. But I resent feeling the need to conform. What I’ve learned is to be conscious of the decisions I make, and question cultural norms.

Yes, culture can help you define your place in a community. It can help a group of people understand what is morally acceptable for the group. But, when culture is based on materialistic principles or moneymaking schemes (shaving, guns, engagement rings, gifts for holidays), you must question its appropriateness. Moreover, when a community is not homogenous, it is dangerous to expect everyone to conform to these rather arbitrary rules. Educating yourself through reading and travel can help you understand how there are myriad ways to consider these cultural norms.

Body hair just got real contentious

When eighteen-year-old Texan Suraiya uploaded a selfie entitled, “Walmart Underwear Vibes” to Twitter, she didn’t expect to garner as much attention as she did. The picture showed her stomach and upper thighs, replete with body hair. A smattering of women, but overwhelmingly more men, made vitriolic comments about her body hair. Isn’t this yet another patriarchal attempt to control women through shaming? ‘Ladies’ are put on earth only to be alluring to men, after all, right?

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Suraiya’s selfie

Suraiya mentions (in this interview with i-D, that the ideal of a smooth, hairless body is a Western concept. She says brown women may not be hairless or have blond barely-there body hair. And what’s more, they shouldn’t have to conform to Western ideals of beauty.

Are you a man?

Body hair fascinates my students in South Korea. They ask me questions, touch my arms (out of curiosity) and ask impolite questions about my gender. Despite their young age, they’ve learned that women don’t have body hair, but men do. It may have to do with South Koreans not having much body hair, to begin with. It’s also a pretty homogenous place. It could also be that women here manage the hair, much like American women.

My personal history with shaving

In my teens and twenties, I tried using a ‘women’s razor’ and a ‘men’s razor’ and they both had replaceable blades. I also bought shaving cream. This allowed me to shave my legs. However, the replaceable razor blades were expensive and rusted easily. I only got a few uses out of each one. Spending all my money on hair removal didn’t really appeal to me. Also, it was less than ideal to use shaving cream out of an aerosol can. I didn’t want to deplete our ozone, so I switched over to soap. Using soap to shave resulted in cuts, though. So, that wasn’t an acceptable option either.

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My old “women’s razor”

At a writing camp in my teens, the other young women and I decided to grow out our leg hair. It was more convenient and we were on top of a quiet mountain. We were busy writing every day and no one was looking at our legs. When we were ready to leave the camp, we shaved our legs together. One of the girls shaved plaid designs into her leg hair. We laughed, but part of me was sad to return to civilization, where I had to remove a naturally occurring part of myself to be civilized.

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Too bad you can’t see my hairy legs in this photo

Shaving today

Currently, I am not a daily shaver. I have other interests apart from hair removal. But I recently thought about my current razor and discovered it has lasted much longer than I ever thought it would! I started using it in approximately February and I am writing this in October. I even used it through the summer, the season of swimming suits and shorts. I’ve been using the same Schick disposable razor for 8 months. That is astronomically more use than I got out of what I thought was a “more sustainable” option, the removable-blade razors.

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My current shaving regime (sidenote: must remember to dust my conditioner more often)

I think the other key to good shaving has been using conditioner as shaving cream. It works really well, and I never get razor cuts anymore. Plus conditioner is cheap, and becomes multipurpose when you use it this way!

My third shaving tip is to never put the plastic cover back over the blade of the razor. Instead, once I am finished shaving, I place the razor blade side facing up to dry, so it doesn’t rust.

Being open to information that doesn’t confirm your biases

Part of staying open to change is accepting when you’re wrong about something. That’s why I am careful not to proselytize. I didn’t realize my disposable razor would turn out to be a more sustainable option than my replaceable-blade razor from yesteryear. And, I would never have known had I not tried something new.

Body positivity

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It’s not about the clothes you’re wearing

The most liberating thing is being in control of your own body. Suriaya, the Texas teen I spoke about earlier, said she posted her underwear selfie simply because she was, “…feeling cute and was loving [her] body shape.” Shaving or not shaving should be a means to an end, to help you feel good about your body. I love this quote from Suriaya about how she thinks about her body hair, defining her body in her own terms. “I see myself as a garden, as a forest, as the geography of my homeland. What those men see as appalling, I redefined to be a garden so beautiful Epicurus dare enter it–something to put Eden and Babylon to shame. Because of this, their comments really do mean nothing.”

Whether you decide to shave or not is a moot point. Feeling confident in your own skin is much more important. My goal is to cultivate the same level of respect and adoration for my own body as Suriaya has in her short life. I hope you will, too.

Do you think shaving and body positivity can co-exist? In the comments below, tell me about your own body acceptance routine. Are you body positive? What do you do to nurture your self-image?