Feminist Ladies Don’t/Do Shave

May 21, 2012 § 1 Comment

I just posted last week about the politicization of women’s bodies.  As a natural progression, I thought I’d tell a story about politicizing my own body.  Here follows a brief account of my history with the age old feminist question – to shave or not to shave?

Before I discovered feminism, when I probably nineteen, I was with some friends at a book signing.  We were standing next to a women our age who did not shave, had brilliantly asymmetrical hair, and was wearing all leather.  I got into an exciting conversation with her.  The whole time I was tracking this weird experience as if two lenses were being put in front of my eyes and switched back and forth like at the eye doctor.  One cast a stereotypical, judgmental attitude over this person, and the other felt clearer and positive based on what I was actually experiencing.  Afterwards, I felt uncomfortable with my own biases, particularly towards women who do not shave.  It made me angry to realize, mostly because it was so strong and felt entirely inauthentic.

After discovering feminism, I started questioning whether or not I should shave.  I went back and forth on it, with a surprising amount of angst.  I was scared to do something that aligned me with a stereotype.  It felt strangely like it could disempower my feminist stance by giving people an excuse to compartmentalize and discredit me.  But I felt like a coward and a tool for being unable to stop shaving and being so preoccupied with other people’s perceptions.

I was amazed to find how deeply both choices were riddled with harsh self-judgments and how little resilience I felt in the face of them.  Thinking about my body and about my body being perceived by others stirred up a lot of internal violence.  Finally, I remembered the girl I had met.  I decided to stop shaving, because I wanted to deal with my internal judgments in the context of my own body.  And they came up, exactly the same as I remembered.

Some months later, finally comfortable with my unshaved body, I found myself noticing women who did shave.  And I noticed a tone of inner judgment towards them, as if they weren’t feminist enough or autonomous in some way.  It felt like the same mean-spirited, little invasive part of my brain, the same dual lens now weirdly reversed.  So I went through a reverse ordeal and got myself to shave again.  I had a lot of emotions again this time about my body.  It felt strangely vulnerable and reminded me of my old self.  It felt once again like something people could see and judge.

I had this ideal for a while that I should be able to figure out what my personally preferences were and shave or not shave “for my own reasons.”  The issue was so politically loaded, I could never quite achieve that.  I realized the real struggle would be to not judge myself about it.  Women should be able to shave or not, but far more importantly, women should be able to look at their bodies without hate and judgment, without the sense of being perceived and at risk of being valued or devalued based on how they fit an ideal, and be free from rejection, criticism, and commentary on what they decide to do with their own bodies.

Eventually, I took up a habit of shaving half the year, when it’s cold, and not shaving the other half, when it’s hot.  That’s been going on for probably three or four years, and I just now have gotten to where I don’t freak out when I transition from one to the other.  I feel like I enjoy my body in both states, and I look forward to seeing it again when the seasons change and I’m going to switch.  And I do not even notice whether or not other people shave.  And I notice my inner voices are much better company these days as I’m in the shower adjusting to my routine of seasonal shaving, sorting through all its corresponding philosophical musings, so it seems all the work was worth it.

It shocks me still how much work I had to do to get away from a harsh critique and knee-jerk politicization of my own body and the bodies of other women on what ought to have been such a small issue.  I had such a hard time taking off my shirt with first-time lovers during the time after I first stopped shaving.  I finally started getting with people who seemed literally not to notice or care, which I personally feel to be a good sign about the advancement of my choices.

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§ One Response to Feminist Ladies Don’t/Do Shave

  • elizabethalex says:

    “Women should be able to shave or not, but far more importantly, women should be able to look at their bodies without hate and judgment, without the sense of being perceived and at risk of being valued or devalued based on how they fit an ideal, and be free from rejection, criticism, and commentary on what they decide to do with their own bodies.”

    YES! Yes, and yes.

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