For some, this post could be the most disturbing post I have written to date, which is really sad if you think about it.
To start, I do not have a position on women's body hair... I honestly couldn't care less if women shave, wax, or go natural on any part of their bodies providing that they are comfortable with their decision and at very least occasionally question it. Actually, that isn't entirely true.. when I see a female celebrity rocking body hair at a concert or on the red carpet, I feel a twinge of happiness!
I tend to shave my legs occasionally in the summer (and by occasionally, I mean like 2-3 times over the course of the entire summer)... and in the winter, maybe if there is a wedding or something I might consider it. The hair isn't particularly thick or dark, and is usually not that noticeable unless you are really paying attention.
Anyway, at school this week I was wearing knee-length shorts and had not shaved my legs in over a month. I was walking down the hallway and a man looked at me... you know that up and down "approving" look that isn't quite a catcall but can be very uncomfortable and even intimidating for the person being looked at? As he was looking downwards, he noticed the hair on my legs and his face changed to an expression that I would describe as shock and disgust. He then looked away and went on with what he was doing. The worst part is that it happened a second time the same day as I was leaving school... and I had my 5 year old son with me, so being a mother does not necessarily protect women from being stared at, neither does dressing casually, not wearing makeup, not being particularly feminine, and I could go on.... not that any of these things should be necessary, as all women should have a right to walk down the street or through their school without being made to feel uncomfortable by such things.
I'm not sure which look is more insulting; the I-am-entitled-to-look-at-your-body-simply-because-you-are-female look, or the disgusted how-dare-you-not-prepare-yourself-properly-for-my-gaze look. At least the second has an element of defiance on my part.
Seriously, the only explanation for this is a double standard. He sure had hairy legs (the first guy was wearing shorts), but that is fine for men; actually, it would be weird for him not to have leg hair unless he was a swimmer or something. I have had men ask me why I didn't prefer the feeling of soft, smooth legs over stubbly legs, and I've turned the question back on them, considering they don't seem to prefer their legs hair-free. And they aren't stubbly... after a few weeks the hair gets soft, and it is actually quite fun to play with (maybe that's just me??).
There is absolutely no biological or even hygienic reason to remove body hair; it is almost entirely related to cultural expectations, and this is an expectation that I have rarely seen challenged. So I will continue to challenge it, albeit intermittently, because I don't think that we can pretend to live in a "post-feminist" world if there is one standard for men (functional) and a completely different standard for women (conform to men's standards of beauty).
On a more anti-consumerist note, I wonder how much money a woman spends on shavers, shaving cream, after shave lotions, hair removal creams, home and salon waxes, etc. And how much waste goes into the landfills... And how many dangerous chemicals get absorbed into her body and into the environment...