The dangers of shaving are more than skin deep

BY Alexa Van Vliet, Guest Columnist


I am a woman who doesn’t shave.


It’s all about love. I will not despise myself any more. Once you love yourself, it is easier to love and help others as well, as bell hooks, feminist and social activist, articulated in her book Outlaw Culture. I want others to love themselves. More specifically, I want women to love themselves because for so long, we haven’t.


A friend applauded my efforts and agreed with my message, but told me frankly she could not follow a similar path. She didn’t think it mattered that much; shaving didn’t bother her at all. 


Breaking the norm


According to sociologist Allan G. Johnson, when confronting a norm that seems to become nearly natural to everyone, people aren’t going to consider alternatives easily. People don’t usually contemplate how a habit that seems so normal can perhaps be potentially damaging.  


The most normalized behaviors need to be questioned more than any others, since those are the ones that people will follow just because they seem natural. In fact, shaving is not natural, but we have trained ourselves to think it is.


What makes shaving one’s legs or underarms or pubic region potentially damaging? To start on a physical level, some women have very sensitive skin. They are subjected to irritations such as razor burn, red bumps, bleeding, in-grown hairs and overall chafed skin. 


Most women will claim that shaving isn’t a nuisance. It’s true that it comes easier to some than others. But part of femininity in this country is for women to sound like they’re not trying. That’s why the contradictory standards of femininity are not often talked about: A woman who challenges the norms shows that she is mentally unable to handle what it takes to be feminine, or else she would just be quiet like the rest of the women going through the same obstacles. None of us want to be looked down on like that.


Maybe shaving really does irritate some of these women, but they don’t want to look like they’re trying too hard. When a woman is seen as “trying too hard,” men won’t be as attracted to her, women will be highly judgmental of her, and she becomes humiliated. It’s too obvious that she puts a lot of effort into waxing, tanning, fixing her hair, or putting on make-up. 


It’s as if we somehow want to naturalize make-up, shaving, straightened hair, fatless stomachs and thighs, even though these are all obviously artificial constructions. Naturalizing these norms suddenly makes those women who don’t participate in them seem less feminine, and therefore less like a woman. 


Being a woman should not be defined by these behaviors, but it has been for years. Women who don’t perpetuate these norms are susceptible to laughter, humiliation, isolation, and an unfeminine reputation. Violence may actually occur against individuals who do not act within their gender role or in coordination with their biological sex. Indeed, physical and emotional damage can be done to those who are trying to achieve femininity as well as to those who are perceived as unfeminine.


According to Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth, the damages begin when someone (or something) defines what being a woman is for others. Women wouldn’t have started shaving on their own unless someone (or something) told them they had to. 


It begins somewhere


Most women can probably remember when they started shaving their legs. Maybe an acquaintance scoffed at your hairiness and it sent a shock wave through your system. Maybe you were an insecure adolescent who wasn’t sure about anything and grabbed that razor because you knew that’s what women do. Or maybe you were proud and felt it was a rite of passage into womanhood, finally being able to shave off that hair that you acquired during your bodily maturation of becoming a real woman on a physical level. Contradictory? Just maybe.


Why would we need to shave? Our neurotic need to be smooth isn’t because growing hair is a dangerous, freak mutation that we all have. It’s not a freak mutation. The constant bombardment of smooth, sexy ladies in the magazines, on the talk shows, in the movies, in the wild fantasies of men makes us want to be unnaturally smooth, according to Jean Kilbourne, author, documentarion and lecturer. 


Some might argue, “But Alexa, if we want to be so natural then we shouldn’t shower and wear deodorant.” But men don’t shave their legs or underarms and they still practice common hygiene. There is no hygienic or health reason for why women should shave their legs. 


“But Alexa, you telling me not to shave is just as bad as people telling me to shave, isn’t it?” 


I do not see it as me telling you to not shave, for I will not laugh at you or humiliate you if you do shave (unlike what happens to women when they don’t shave). I just want women to use their own eyes to see themselves. A lot of women go through winter without shaving often and don’t mind it a bit. But the second warm weather and shorts arise; we all have to start our routine again. 


Some women may shave for themselves. They’re not trying to be feminine for a man or trying to avoid criticism from other women. In my mind, however, that’s still not being able to love yourself the way you are; it’s part of that neurotic need that in order to be a woman, you must be smooth. 


 If enough women can love themselves, truly love our bodies and our minds, serious change can be reached. We won’t let ourselves be dominated and objectified by men with their unblinking stares at our chests, their demeaning speech toward us, and their use of physical violence against us. 


Ending harmful habits 


Men call each other “pussies” and the ever-so-blatant “women” when they perceive other men as being weak, as Michael Messner explored in his book Playing The Field (the notion of what men think “weak” is could be discussed in a whole other column). 


If we appreciated ourselves, ladies, we wouldn’t stand up for these insults against our being. Maybe we’d realize that when men see women as only sexual objects, they’re more likely to think of women as just things to satisfy them. 


According to Susan Brownmiller, author and activist, the moment someone dehumanizes a woman, it is much easier to disrespect and do harm to her since she’s not seen as a real human with real feelings and real pain. 


It is not wholly our fault that we are seen as sexual objects, but we can make choices, such as standing up against these demeaning, dominating behaviors. 


We also wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) allow other women to castigate each other with such insults as “bitch,” “ho,” “slut,” and making fun of others’ weights. Unfortunately, this happens often.


We need to love ourselves individually and on a collective level or else we are always going to be seen as beings that can be controlled and dominated.