As I stared at my computer screen reading about whether or not my gynecologist would judge me for my unshaven wooly mammoth legs, I quickly realized that the internet is both the best friend and the worst enemy of an anxious woman. I absorbed the weight of each comment into my warring thoughts:
Of course not! She’s a professional. I knew this, but only in the sanest parts of my brains. You see, as early as the age of seven, I can remember begging my mother to let me shave my legs because even adults would stare at my legs and say, “You’re the hairiest little girl I’ve ever seen!” Believe it or not, it was somehow appropriate for adults to say this to a child, which led me to…
I have a friend who works as an assistant, and she told me they will talk about you after you leave if you’re gross. She tells me stories all the time. Gross. They would think I was gross with these legs. I knew it. I had grown frustrated the day before when I told my boyfriend about my mounting anxiety about the doctor’s visit. I knew the doctor’s face would be right next to the lush coat on my legs, and I was embarrassed. He listened patiently and told me all the things I knew: She was a professional and it shouldn’t matter. But what he couldn’t understand as a man was that if his beard grows too long and shaggy, people joke with him; if my leg hair grows too long and shaggy, I am seen as unfeminine, unattractive, and yes, even gross.
Will my gynecologist see this as a Feminist statement? This comment really grabbed me. I wished I could say that my forest of leg hair was a Feminist statement. I do identify as a Feminist, and if I had started growing it out as a statement, I could wear it as a badge of honor, rather than a terrible mark of embarrassment. About a year earlier, eczema had overtaken my legs so badly that I would wake up with bloody sheets from where I had clawed through my skin in the middle of the night. People stared at the scars and gashes on my legs, and when I told them what it was from, I could tell they wondered why I couldn’t just have some willpower and stop scratching. The dermatologist said the answer was simple: Stop shaving and allow them to heal. But I didn’t.
I was worried, unfoundedly I will add, that my incredibly supportive and forward-thinking boyfriend would find me unnattractive, that I would have to wear pants every day, that people would think I was unfeminine, that I would feel unattractive and unfeminine. I kept thinking back to begging my mother to let me shave as a child because even adults would make fun of my leg hair, and I chose the comfort of conformity over my own health and well-being. I assaulted my legs with steroid creams and lotions, upgraded my razors, and hoped for the best.
It wasn’t until a couple of months later when I was near tears from the frustration of not even being able to sit on the couch and make it through one episode of 30 Rock without having to go take care of a new gash I had scratched onto my legs that I finally decided to give this a real shot and put down my razor.
I got a mixed bag of results: My boyfriend treated me no differently (except in that he did express that he was happier now that I wasn’t crying, bleeding, itchy, and frustrated), but I felt unattractive and self-conscious. I wore pants or dresses with tights every day, except once when I walked my dog in sweatpant capris, and my elderly neighbor stared at my legs the whole time she was talking to me; the upside of this experience was that the feeling of wind in my leg hair was pretty spectacular. Most importantly, however, my legs healed, and I got some peace.
Oh, and my gynecologist acted totally normally, of course, because she’s a professional.
I wish I could say this is one of those stories where I came out the other side more comfortable in my own skin and less consumed by subjective beauty standards, but it isn’t. Summer is coming, and I recently shaved my legs because I wanted to wear shorts and dresses, and I do feel better and more confident now that my legs are silky. I don’t think you have to stop shaving your legs to be a Feminist; I think you can like the feeling of smooth legs and want them to be hairless and that’s fine. But also think that’s not the only reason that I do it. Even as someone who identifies as a Feminist, I still face struggles with the expectations placed on me as a woman, even at the early age of seven. What I did gain from the experience was awareness of this fact, the comfort and assurance that my leg hair doesn’t matter to the people who matter the most, and the special feeling that many women will never get to experience--my leg hair blowing in the breeze.