My friend, Robyn, informed me a few days ago that it was the first day of spring. I haven’t been looking at my calendar, so somehow I missed that. However, I already knew that spring was officially here in Texas, because I had already uncovered my pasty white legs to wear shorts.
Actually, they were pasty, white, hairy legs. Chewbaka had nothing on me.
Over the winter, I neglect the ritual of shaving my legs. Encased in leggings and long pants, I happily ignore the unsightly pelt I acquire. Who is going to judge me? My husband? His legs are hairier than mine, and he loves me anyway.
When spring time rolls around, other people are going to see, and I feel the compulsion to conform. By then, I have to get a machete to hack through the growth.
When did an act, that was once a daily beauty ritual for me, become such a dreaded chore? Once, the opportunity to shave my legs was a desired rite of passage. When I was in the 4th grade, I began begging my Momma to let me shave. “Debbie and Carol get to shave their legs,” I whined.
You knew girls like Debbie and Carol. They were the trend setters. They were the ones who had all the “firsts:” the first panty hose, the first lipstick, the first hair dye, the first pierced ears, the first training bra (and what exactly were we supposed to train those things to do?).
In the 4th grade, they shaved the peach fuzz on their legs and then made sure that everyone in class knew. They sat in their miniskirts lovingly stroking their hairless limbs in front of God and everybody, so the rest of us would notice and envy. Of course, my mother wouldn’t let me shave mine.
One day when Momma rushed out the door to work, I decided to just take care of my problem without permission. I stealthily removed her Lady Shick electric razor from its pink vinyl case in her vanity and hid behind the recliner in the study to keep prying eyes from seeing me. Suddenly I heard the front door slam open. Momma came zipping in the door and rushed to her vanity crying, “I forgot to shave my legs!” I was busted— in more ways than one. But, she let me continue to shave my legs after that, so it was worth it.
I was curious about when hairless legs became such an important part of our culture. The trend toward hairlessness for women was driven by a merciless marketing assault. Aren’t all of our current cultural standards of beauty driven by marketing? Hairless armpits were the beginning of it all.
In May, 1915, Harper’s Bazaar, a magazine aimed at the upper crust, had an ad which featured a waist-up photograph of a young woman who appears to be dressed in a slip with a toga-like outfit covering one shoulder. Her arms were arched over her head revealing perfectly hairless armpits. The first part of the ad read, “Summer Dress and Modern Dancing combine to make necessary the removal of objectionable hair,” according to the website Everything. Women bought into the idea and began following the trend to remove that icky armpit hair.
Once that battle was won, as hemlines began to rise, the quest to get women to shave their legs began. What probably made it a “must” is the famous photo of Betty Grable showing off her gorgeous gams for the GIs during the WWII era. After, that it was simply unpatriotic for a woman NOT to shave her legs.
When I was in High School, there was an exchange student from Norway, named Linda. She accompanied my family to our weekend getaway at Lake Texoma to enjoy some swimming and learn to water ski. I loaned Linda a bathing suit, but after she put it on I noticed that her legs had hair long enough to braid.
I said, “Linda, do you want to borrow a razor to shave your legs?” Her eyes got as big around as breakfast sausages.
“No,” she told me. “In Norway, the only women who shave their legs are Americans and whores.”
“I’m proud to be an American,” I said.
So, spring is here and summer is on its way, now I’ll be shaving my legs every day. My sister informs me that the hair on my legs will stop growing soon because of the hormonal changes of menopause. Doesn’t God have a good sense of humor? The leg hair will stop growing so everyone can see my cellulite and varicose veins. And, hair will sprout on my chin and upper lip.
I used to joke that I inherited my father’s chest and my mother’s mustache. It’s not so funny anymore.