Friday, August 5, 2011

Why I don't shave my legs

I'd like to speak to those who wonder why I don't shave my legs and how I have a beard.  I'd like to say, for three reasons:   

First, I chose to stop shaving my legs when I awakened to how much pain, anxiety, time and effort I spent on keeping them hairless.  In my first Women's Studies course, we were given an assignment to take note of what products we use to beautify ourselves for the day.  I suddenly had my attention on what I was doing for the last 10 years subconsciously and realized what pain it brought me, no matter what type of hair removal I tried.  I realized the absurdity of the obsession that I had with such a miniscuel aspect of my existence, and realized that it was something seriously obstructing my potential to impact the planet.  I found that my half hour a day shaving my legs (which is necessary to maintain against the strong, fast-growing fur that my body produces) added to almost 4 hours a week that I could instead be writing with, attending rallies with, being in service with.  This is what first had me stop shaving my legs, which ended up becoming a powerful realization that I was trapped by my obsession with trying to look normal.  All in all, I don't shave my legs because I realized that I was trapped by doing it in the first place.  I'm limited when I try to be like others, and I was consumed by ensuring that no one found out my natural state.  What I like to ask instead (which is not a simple question):  Why DO women shave their legs?  If you identify as being feminine- why do YOU shave YOUR legs?  The question of why I don't do something is confusing when the rest of the world IS doing something.  Typically we ask why the chicken crossed the road, not about the one who stayed behind.  Get my drift?  I'll address this more later when I talk about facial hair.

Second, I want diversity/difference between people to be truly recognized as and expressed as being beautiful and necessary. Only if I stand up for my own diverse qualities can I further us all recognizing difference as something to be celebrated.  My hiding of my unique traits or my aim to blend in confirms the socially created perspective that it needs to be hidden, that it is wrong and that that "normalcy" I aim to be like IS natural and right.
I grew up learning that I needed to strike a special kind of balance of being unique and fitting in to be loved by others.  While being taught that diversity is beautiful, I saw nothing but one body type and beauty norm named as truly beautiful.  Those whom I identified with most were tossed aside, ridiculed, or assured that there must be something else that they are good at (examples:  "well, at least you are funny" or "it's what's inside that counts").  Having body hair was and is considered to be freakish, or manish, with an association of perversity, of grossness, or that there's something fundamentally wrong.  No child should feel like they are fundamentally wrong.  No child should grow up trying to hide themselves.  I am most proud of my decision and what I look like when I am in the presence of children.  Every child or young adult who sees me and notices my body hair has evidence in their lives that women are not all hairless (which I believed when I was little and had me feel alone). The more I love my body as it is, the more I can hope to rupture the assumed agreed upon limits of beauty.

Third, I want people to recognize that gender is an illusion (specifically) and that we are often making expectations of others based on our standards for a socially constructed and unavailable "normalcy" (in general).  To break that down:  we're all making it up.  Not only are we all making it (reality) up (as we only experience life through a limited scope, view and language), but we are making ourselves and others right or wrong on how we fit this view of reality.  So here I am, a hairy child, believing that I am gross, wrong, alone... using all of my energy to cover up my natural self, frantically trying to shave fast enough so that no one knows that I grow hair, that no one knows that my body hair is so thick.  I would spend over an hour before a date, trying to reach every last inch on my body with my razor only to feel utter shame when my boyfriend at the time pointed out a missed spot and grimaced.  Perfected femininity was always beyond my reach, no matter the layers of make-up I wore, the hours I spent plucking and shaving my body and no matter the pounds of body-weight I lost through Jenny-Craig in high school or the specialty bras I wore to make my body shape just right as I lost body weight through that program.  Perfected femininity is actually beyond all of our reaches, it's what keeps women forever running and forever hiding behind a mist of products.  I was (and I see so many other women currently are) obsessed with the need to stay feminine and look female, which is defined by it's separateness from masculinity and maleness.  As I've studied gender, sexuality and identity performance over the past 9 years, I've recognized what power these ghostly standards of the never truly defined "gender" have over all of us.  I am frustrated with the hold that gender has in all of our lives, where it's continued perfected performance and our social agreements on it, has created the assumption of what is natural and unnatural, normal or an abomination, and right or wrong.  To be honest, when I was growing up, I truly felt like there was something wrong with me... and I learned quickly that others felt the same way about themselves.  Why are we all partaking in this system that doesn't serve us?  Why are we fertilizing the soil of this invasive poisonous tree?

So to go back to my previous question:  Why DO feminine people shave their legs?  I'd love to know.  I know that my excuse used to be "I think it looks better"... but then I recognized the socially created and agreed upon standards of beauty that held that thought together.  Do I truly find it more beautiful, or did I grow up completely emerced in that it is beautiful?  This is something that I am caught in every day, and it's the reason why I continued to (after 8 years of not removing body hair) pluck my chin of facial hair.  I didn't realize how asleep I was to the connection between it all. 
Then I met Amelia.  I first saw Amelia in a performance by her burlesque troop.  Amelia is of course, unforgettable.  She is one of the most intelligent people I know, one of the most thoughtful and generous sweethearts in my community, and one of the most fierce and direct no-nonsense women I know.  She is courageous and kind, daring and transparent.  I adore her, and I learn from her.  Amelia is a sparkle queen. Amelia plays a femme gender role while having a pronounced beard.  In her strip shows, Amelia wears pure sparkle red lipstick and fills her hair with flowers.  Her beard glows red in the stage spotlight.
One day Amelia asked me the question that I asked you above:  Why DO you pluck your beard?  I was stumped.  I so subconsciously removed the hairs from my chin, that I didn't realize that it was something to not do.  Meeting Amelia for the first time had me realize my inconsistency, but I felt justified in my somehow continued belief that I just don't find it beautiful.
When I heard myself say that, I realized that I was playing into the same game that kept me trapped in shaving my legs.  I realized that I plucked every day, as a means to keep others from knowing that I even naturally grew hair there.  I realized that it had become a trap, where I was unable to go without plucking in fear.  I was scared of being rejected by others, scared of not being loved.  I realized that I plucked out of fear, and that I was perpetuating future fear by maintaining the illusion of normalcy.

I stopped plucking the hairs from my chin three months ago, and I've developed a family of long brown hairs in a goatee like fashion.  I'm seeing what it's like, sort of like a new hairstyle on my head.  If I can truly step out of being afraid of it, then I am truly free.  I feel that if I have the ability to walk both lines (hairy chin or not) without fear of judgement or wanting to look normal to some other degree... then I have the real freedom of choice in how my body looks, and if I like the beauty of this look or that look.

I am committed to getting us all to recognize the power that we have in our lives, and the impact of our continued choosing to go with the current flow.  I am committed to us recognizing that WE'VE built these walls of separation and that we are calling the shots on what is right or wrong.  My life is for being the change I wish to see in the world, and I know that change is often hard to be with.  I invite you to look into what you've been perpetuating, what is hindering your fullest potential, what fear keeps you from exploring.

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