I try to walk in my mom’s high heels, dressed for the day in pearls and a little blue dress.
I want to be pretty.
I’m three years old.
The never-ending quest for beauty begins young.
I’m twelve when a girl at school announces to the lunch table that I still don’t shave my legs, eliciting an “Ewww,” from Blaine, the guy I am totally crushing on. I go home and run the blades over my shin, afraid that I will slice the skin straight off.
I’m fourteen at the water park, overhearing two friends remarking how gross it was that I had hair sneaking out from my bikini line. I feel shame burning through me, a reddening of my cheeks.
I wonder how much shaving is enough. Enough to be accepted, and enough to be beautiful not disgust others.
Every pre-teen has stories like these, humiliation and confusion shaping us into adulthood.
Girls go on to be poked, prodded, waxed, razored, squeezed, tweezed, and teased. They pay for it in their self-esteem just as much as their wallets.
The Pricetag of Beauty
Every year, the beauty industry rakes in billions of dollars. According to one survey of 2,000 participants, American women spend $313 per month on beauty products or $3,756 per year. (Men spend a little less at $244 per month). That adds up to $225,360 in her lifetime ($175,000 in his) or enough money to book a reservation for a sight-seeing trip to space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.
I was willing to spend this money as a teenager. Every morning I applied eyeliner and mascara. I bought the shampoo and conditioner that promised fabulous, shining hair. I shaved my body. I sprayed perfumes in the air, put on necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. I spent extra time in the morning curling or straightening my hair for the day.
I did everything until I didn’t.
Balking at Beauty Standards
One day in middle school, I remember sitting in front of my mirror, looking at myself. Earlier that day, we had all been discussing what type of animal we would be if we were able to change, animagus-style. My ‘friend’ said that I would be a crow because of my beaky nose. (Yikes! Middle schoolers are ruthless.)
I went home and up to my room where my mirror leaned back against the wall. While looking at my face, I tried to block out any negative emotions. No shame, no distaste, no longing to be something else. I decided that I couldn’t change anything about my appearance, so why fret? That was the beginning of an inner acceptance that revolutionized my approach to beauty later on in life.
Throwing Beauty Products Away
The summer of my sophomore year of high school, I decided to stop wearing makeup. It was weird at first. I didn’t recognize myself, even though I was the truest version of myself.
As a teen, all you want is to look older and more responsible, but without makeup, I thought I looked 3 years younger. Eventually, the self-consciousness faded and I came to like the way I looked without makeup.
Two weeks ago, I was packing up for our cross-country move, which meant culling my beauty products. I realized how much of it I haven’t used in a long time. My face scrubs went in the bin, along with eyeshadow palettes, mascaras, and eyeliners.
I haven’t worn jewelry for years. So I gave away all but 2 necklaces and 1 pair of earrings. I don’t own any rings.
I air dry my hair overnight, so I donated my hairdryer. I let go of every bottle of nail polish. Extra lotions, skincare samples, BB creams, primers– I tossed them all.
The Five Whys
Around the time when I found out about financial independence, I began the practice of asking ‘why.’ The technique of asking 5 Whys was first coined by Toyota management while they tried to diagnose issues. If you keep asking why you go from a technical question to an emotional root cause.
And I started applying this to beauty as well.
Why should I shave?
Well, because it’s what women do.
I guess it’s just expected of them?
It’s considered more feminine and attractive.
I’m not really sure, but the alternative is ‘gross’.
Because shame fuels the beauty industry.
We know that during World War II, razors were marketed to women. Ads in the 60s and 70s condemned hair as ‘unfeminine’. Marketers invented a problem where there wasn’t one– just another sales tactic making you question if you are enough.
Some of my friends claim that they shave because they enjoy the feeling.
“I feel like a dolphin when I get into bed with clean sheets,” one said. But I suspect that the shame attached to having hairy legs is a bigger factor. Otherwise, why wouldn’t we see at least some hairy legs in the summer, jumping into swimming pools and strutting on boardwalks? Surely I’m not the only one who is annoyed by the time and effort it takes to maintain smooth legs?
It may seem like a small effort in the grand scheme of things, but on average, a woman spends 10.9 minutes shaving, and she will shave 7,718.4 times in her lifetime.
I’ll spare you the math– that makes 84,000 minutes, 1,400 hours, 58 days spent shaving! That’s a lot of time one could have spent perfecting their bowling game or reading the eye-opening works of Caitlin Moran.
Beauty And Her Beastly Legs
For most of my life, the pursuit of beauty felt like trying to climb a sand dune. Each step dragged me down, and it was a herculean effort to continue climbing under the oppressive heat of society’s sun. Finally, I stopped.
At first, having hairy legs was a bit scary. I wore jeans so no one would know. Dresses looked weird to me in juxtaposition to my hairy legs, so I avoided wearing them. I sometimes wore shorts, but avoided being around other people. I would sometimes cave and shave if we were going to a wedding or if we were going swimming, and let it grow back later.
Over time, I gained a little more confidence, a surety in myself. I stopped shaving altogether. I bare my hairy legs at the pool and at outdoor receptions. Nobody has talked to me about it, although people have asked my partner if he is okay with it. Blech. I wish they would ask me instead– maybe I could lead them down the path of whys.
Why is it gross for women to have body hair?
Why don’t those rules apply to men?
Why do more people ask about my partner’s preference than mine?
Every time we reconsider what we take for granted, we learn.
Less Fear, More Joy
Now that I don’t shave, I gain back time, brain-space, and no longer have to deal with prickly new growth. I don’t have to worry about rubbing my eyes and smearing mascara or what color foundation matches my skin tone.
I feel self-conscious sometimes when I notice people’s eyes flit down, doing a double take. However, if the why boils down to funding an industry built on shame and the lasting policing of misguided middle school boys, I don’t want to support it.
I am not going to spend $313 a month out of fear. I used to spend the money hoping it would fix me, thinking that people might be disgusted by me otherwise. However, the question ultimately became:
Why am I spending money on something rooted in shame, and not joy?
I realized there isn’t anything to fix, and people like me fine hairy legs and all. More importantly, I like me fine. I am enough.