Read the title up there. Now, let me clarify something. I’m only guessing that it’s been a decade since I last shaved. I’m 31 now, and I know I stopped shaving before I turned 21. Either way, it had been so long that I actually didn’t quite remember what to do – do I need wet skin if I’m using lotion? Do I shave my knees? I was standing in shower exhausted by the time I finished one leg, and I almost left the other one hairy out of pure laziness. I thought to myself, “this is why you quit shaving, idiot,” but when I was finally done and reached down to touch my legs, I felt something that I hadn’t felt since my first year of college.
20-year-old Rashaun was most certainly not gonna shave her fucking legs, okay? And she would have let you know this with just as much attitude. I had only discovered politics and activism two years earlier at 18, and I had a tendency to politicize everything. 20 year-old me craved classic southern cooking – neck bones, fried chicken, pork chop sandwiches – but as a newly-minted vegetarian, she was rude enough to preach to my grandmother about how “meat is murder” and how organic foods are better for you (this being said to a lady who grows all of her own food anyway). She recommended that her mother stir-fry collards with olive oil and garlic instead of boiling them “to death” with pigs’ feet and fatback. She stole so much that her 31-year-old self still gets watched by employees at Wall’s in Grenada, MS. She would only listen to and purchase music by DIY punk bands.
And of course, being hairy was a political statement for me. I was taking a DIY stance on the beauty standard by not participating in it in certain ways, and I still do this in my day-to-day life. I learned very valuable lessons by living my politics, and I wish that more people would do that besides DIY punks and Libertarians. Over the years I began to “filter” out the things I truly cared about – I stopped with the vegetarianism because I felt like it took me too far away from my Black southern roots, and soon I began to flavor my personal brand of feminism with aspects of racial politics. The Black womyn’s ongoing struggle to be found naturally beautiful by the world also became my struggle, and I stopped doing spiky punk hair and went natural (I’ve stayed natural, and I always will).
Then I started thinking about my legs. I thought about what mainstream culture told me about my legs (that they should be hairless and uncovered as much as possible for the delight of potential suitors) and what DIY culture told me about my legs (that they’re yours and only yours, do whatever the hell you want with them…but we really think they should be hairy).
Around the age of 27 I began to notice the social pressures running rampant in my beloved scene – never anything harsh, but there were definitely expectations of how I needed to look, and I just wasn’t there anymore. I didn’t like the ratty clothes and dirty houses, and I missed wearing earrings. I’d done a spread for NoFauxxx in the mid-2000s and was introduced to a new concept that I called ‘radical femme,’ where all genders could be as dainty as they pleased without alienating themselves from the gender politics that they held dear. It was the notion of redefining ‘femme’ for oneself – wearing makeup because you want to, not because you’re worried your partner will find you hideous otherwise. Then I saw the 2003 pictorial and interview with Beth Ditto for On Our Backs, a wonderful lesbian erotica magazine that ceased publication in 2007. Here she was, the same size as me, shaven and nude and fucking her partner in front of a camera. This bit was titillating enough, but the quote that literally changed my life went something like, “Sometimes I like to spend 2 hours just getting ready to go out. I’ll take a bath, put on my makeup, pick out something cute to wear…” Now, this is me paraphrasing (couldn’t find the direct quote online) but you get what she’s saying here – within the context of the entire article I could see that she’d defined being a femme for herself, outside of society’s dictation of what femininity is, even though her version of “femme” had striking similarities to the popular concept. Beth Ditto has all the punk cred that a queer feminist could possibly desire in this scene, and nobody looked down on her for shaving.
So on June 1st, 2012, in the same bathroom that I first shaved in as a teen, I shaved my legs and armpits ostensibly for a wedding, but in reality I did it because it was time to own my shit and live my life the way I wanted to. I haven’t kept myself hairless 24/7 since then, and I mostly just shave nowadays when I have a particular outfit I want to wear with smooth legs. I knew wanted to start shaving again when I started wearing tights with skirts all the time, but for years I denied myself out of some sort of well-meaning but naïve dedication to feminism and DIY. As I’ve said in other columns, feminism in it’s simplest form is the right for womyn to make decisions for themselves, and for me, shaving was a feminist act. It was a big decision for me to hop back on that wagon, and it feels really good. I’ve always thought I had nice legs anyway, hairy or not. Once when I was at my hairiest, the prettiest and most “Southern Belle” type girl from my writer’s workshop walked up to me and said, “I just wanna tell you that you have beautiful legs. I’ve been admiring them all semester.”
So now I know that I have beautiful legs no matter what, and it’s my decision as to how I present them to the world. Today they’re spiky and rough, tomorrow they might be shaved, but I know they’ll be sexy to someone, even if it’s just me.