I’m a guy. I shaved my legs and here’s what I learned.

By Alex Johnson-Fry

This article is about my experience shaving my body hair for the first time in my life. I’m a cis, hetero man, and therefore American society does not put any pressure on me to shave my arms or legs. There are no social standards that tell me to shave my body hair, in fact a sign of masculinity in America is a man with a lot of body hair. 

A phrase like “that’ll put some hair on your chest” when referring to a strong alcoholic drink is just one of many examples of how we connect body hair to “masculinity,” and value it more for men in society.

However — as is usually the case — the thing we value in men, we stigmatize for women. Women in American society are heavily encouraged to shave all visible body hair, and any time a woman is seen in public with visible body hair, she is met with strange looks or is assumed to be making a statement. Never are they viewed simply as a person living with their natural amount of bodily hair.

So, when did this all start?

The history of hair removal is long and confusing, with the standards changing century to century. It may sound strange to learn that people in the Roman and Egyptian Empires participated in hair removal but then in the 1700s nobody did, but that is the nature of social constructions; they don’t follow any historical logic. They are simply a result of the current cultural norms.

Modern-day hair removal became popular between the 1920s and 1940s, as women’s clothing began to reveal more skin. As fashion changed, so did cultural expectations. The first razors marketed for women were made by Gillette, with ads encouraging women to remove “unsightly hair” such as underarm hair. This hair was only labeled unsightly because it had suddenly become visible, as women’s clothing began to reveal arms and armpits.

When short skirts became fashionable, suddenly leg hair was deemed unattractive and women were pressured into shaving that too. Every time skin becomes visible, the hair there suddenly becomes repulsive, as if it hadn’t been there before, simply because men couldn’t see it. When bikinis were invented, Western societies decided that pubic hair needed to be removed, and the pattern goes on. 

Today, women are encouraged to remove almost all of their hair, and we have reached the point where laser hair removal has become a popular method of permanently removing hair. While women are told to remove all of their hair, men are told to remove almost none of it.

Women who do choose to grow their hair are portrayed as lesbians or labeled angry, man-hating feminists. Women are not left alone to simply exist. Regardless of the choices they make they are placed in a box. Instead of treating people equally society divides and pits them against each other. 

I have never shaved my body hair because I never felt the need to. I was never pressured into it, nobody ever made a negative comment about my hair and for the most part, everyone just ignored it. I would guess that almost every man-identifying person would tell a similar story, and almost every woman-identifying person would say the opposite. I decided to shave my own hair to personally understand what goes into hair removal, and to see how it would affect my view of body hair.

I started out by shaving my armpit hair, as it is a small area and easy to reach. It took me about five minutes to shave my armpits with the cheap razor and shave gel that I bought at Walgreens. My arms were pretty easy as well — it took around 15 minutes total.

My legs were a different story. It being my first time may have slowed me down a bit, but it took over an hour to shave one leg, as well as a lot of water and shave gel. I kind of had fun shaving my arms, it was satisfying in a way and it didn’t take much time and effort. Shaving my legs felt like a chore, and I did it once in 20 years.

My first reaction to seeing my body without hair was how strange it was. I don’t look like me. I am also grappling with the fact that for my entire life I have associated hairlessness with women, almost exclusively. One reason for doing this is that hopefully it allows me to start to break down my implicit biases. I have been taught to associate hairlessness with women, and as a heterosexual man, I’ve been taught to find that attractive.

Normalizing body hair on women and hairlessness with men is a step in the right direction, to not only destigmatize hair for women, but hopefully de-emphasize hairlessness as attractive to others. 

My goal for this piece was not to convince anyone to change their shaving habits, I just want you to consider your motives for shaving or not shaving. If you like shaving your body hair and you do it for you, go right ahead. If you like to keep your body hair natural or prefer to trim or groom it in some other way, that’s fine too. 

I would just ask that you consider your motives, and if the only reason for your decision is to fulfill societal norms, maybe try something different — or find a different reason for doing so.

What else do you do just because society tells you to? Do what makes you happy, not what an arbitrary beauty standard tells you to do.

Alex Johnson-Fry (he/him) is a Staff Writer and editor for Bell Magazine. He is a third-year at UW–Madison studying Economics, Political Science, Public Policy, and Gender & Women’s Studies.

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