Letting my Freak Flag Fly

When I was a senior in high school, our band trip was to Orlando, Florida. My friends and I amused ourselves by acting like we were German tourists while we made our way through Disney World. By “acting like we were German tourists,” I just mean speaking our broken high school German to one another. We did it just to be silly at first, but when we discovered just how easily our fellow Americans were to trick, we couldn’t resist a few good-natured ruses.

My favorite was when my two friends—a young man and another young woman—and I spoke German to one another throughout a ride, acting like we couldn’t understand the two teenagers who sat across from us.

“Where do you think they’re from?” one said.

“I don’t know,” said the other. “Probably Europe. Did you see the girls’ legs?” He didn’t even try to quiet his voice, so confident was he that we didn’t understand English.

My friends and I had to try very hard not to laugh as we repeated to one another what they’d said about unsere Beine. It hadn’t occurred to any of us that our hairy legs—or at least the women’s hairy legs—would enhance our ability to pass as non-Americans, or that someone would comment on them right in front of us.

As the ride stopped, we thanked the boys in English for being such good ride neighbors, and laughed together at their expressions as they realized we’d understood everything they’d said.

That was a fun trip. I got to embarrass strangers, imagine that I was bilingual (even though I would have been terrified to speak German to an actual German), and be a freak with hairy legs alongside a friend who also had hairy legs.

I’ve known very few women who leave their legs unshaven, at least during shorts season, and even fewer who don’t shave their armpits. I’ve had to be a hairy freak mostly on my own for the past twenty years.

My primary reason for not shaving has always been laziness combined with sensitive skin. Sure, my legs might be hairless, but they were covered in a red, stinging rash until the stubble came in, and then I had to do it all over again. My armpits were even worse, and I really like to put my arms down sometimes.

I have a lot of other reasons not to shave: It takes too long. I don’t feel like spending the money. What’s the point?

The most compelling reason for me is that women naturally grow hair on their bodies. It’s one of the things that happens during puberty and that signals our entry into adulthood. Why would I want to remove physical proof that I’m an adult woman rather than a pre-pubescent girl? It seems especially odd to shave now that the crow’s feet and general world-weariness of my countenance have erased all chance of my being mistaken for a mere girl. With hairless legs road-mapped with varicosities, who would I be kidding?

Even with such compelling reasons, I’ve never proselytized. What other people do with their own legs is their own business.

Plus, I can empathize with other women who might not feel ready to toss their razors because even though I have no desire to jump back into the depilation market, I don’t exactly flaunt my hairiness. I almost never wear a skirt without opaque tights underneath to hide my leg hair, and I went for years without wearing a tank top, not because I was modest (I actually love showing off my upper arms), but because I was self-conscious about my armpit hair.

But I’ve had enough of hiding.

This Sunday at church I wore a sleeveless knee-length dress without tights. At one point during choir practice, I even stretched my arms over my head.

Just one small step in my personal revolution.

I’m excited about my new-found lack of care about my personal appearance, but I’m also a little anxious. I would feel a lot better if I saw more female hairiness around. Sure, if I moved to Berkeley or Portland, I’d probably have an easier time of it, but I want to see my hirsute sisters everywhere! At summer street fairs and swimming pools across the United States, on the East Coast and in the Midwest, down South and out West. I don’t want to see amber waves of grain; I want to see leg hairs waving in the breeze!

Come on hairy ladies! I know I can’t be the only one. Where are you? And if you shave, why don’t you join us? Let your freak flag fly!

7 comments

  1. Pingback: Weekly Walk 7 | Imperfect Happiness
  2. ?Lea · June 10, 2014

    I quit shaving my legs in 1994. I shave my underarms sporadically. I wear shorts and bathing suits. I don’t shave for all the reasons you mentioned. When men feel compelled to shave, I will to!

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  3. Lori · June 10, 2014

    I think you’re right, Charity, in every way and particularly in the sense that it would be good to see more women like you around. Theoretically, rationally, I know that I should not feel like I have to remove the hair from my legs, etc. I hate all about it and I despise myself for not being able to put an end to it. I hate the fact that when men go to the beach they just have to pull on a pair of swim shorts, while women have to go through all these grooming routines and even then they are terrified of being judged and not being up to the standards of beauty the society imposes on us. You personally encourage me to feel more free to accept my hairy legs (only sometimes, mind you, I’m still far from free). It’s a long process of deprogramming and deconditioning. I certainly do not want my daughter to feel like she has to remove hair from her body to look acceptable in society. It’s an atrocious thing that women have found themselves prisoners to. And yes, while this is seemingly a personal choice, it is actually very much culturally discouraged not to remove hair, and there is a lot of pressure to comply. I was actually also thinking of writing something on the topic on my blog. It’s still in the drafts folder. Soon. In the meaning, I am cheering you one and (very) slowly following in your footsteps. Your revolution is not just personal. It does catch on. You’re doing good work.

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    • Charity · June 10, 2014

      “I certainly do not want my daughter to feel like she has to remove hair from her body to look acceptable in society.”

      Amen. Thinking about how my actions will create the “normal” of my children’s lives is something that drives a lot of my decisions (not to shave, not to wear makeup, not to keep the house clean. Okay, so that last one isn’t a conscious choice but rather a natural consequence of inefficient planning). My daughter might grow up to shave, but I want it to be because she wants to, not because she feels less somehow if she doesn’t. My kids already think that dads go to work and moms stay home with the kids because that’s how we do things in our family, so I’m extra conscious about the gender stereotypes I’m modeling. I figure as long as I throw a monkey wrench into a couple of cultural assumptions, maybe they’ll at least second guess their own assumptions before internalizing them beyond all conscious retrieval. I’m not sure that hairy legs can do all of that, but a mom can hope.

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  4. Ellery · June 9, 2014

    I am completely UN-tempted to comment on this one, because it is the one area in which my personal preferences are at odds with all of the great reasons that you offer for choosing to be more natural. After all, no one should ever debate a personal preference. They would always lose. For example, choosing one’s mate is the ultimate form of legal discrimination.

    But comment, I must, because your soliloquy brought to mind a book by the late, inimitable Richard Feynman: “What Do You Care What Other People Think?” Your choice to be natural is a perfect example of living for yourself and not for others. Of course, I refer to the little things–and do not suggest that one should refrain from “living for others” through nurturing and generosity. Choices such as wardrobe, grooming, or the car that you buy contribute to your balance and uniqueness, especially if they don’t interfere with your health or push odors or noise into another person’s space.

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    • Charity · June 10, 2014

      I think there’s a touch of activism in the things I do, too, though. If people see unshaven female legs and underarms enough, maybe it will shift the cultural norm so that women feel empowered to choose whether to remove their body hair rather than just feeling compelled to do so. So in that sense, I do care what other people think, but more in the sense that I want to shift cultural norms than that I want my own actions to be dictated purely by what other people think of me.

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