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So…No Bikini Wax Then?

By Amalah

Hi Amy,
I actually have a question that I think you might not be able to help me with since I imagine that you have no experience with it. But! I hope that you will be able to help through your keen insight, razor wit, and network of intelligent ladies.
On to the issue at hand. When I was younger, I didn’t shave my underarms or my legs. I didn’t pluck my eyebrows. For a while (two years!), I didn’t even wear a bra. (I’m a d-cup!) I will pause while you collect yourself from your hiding place under your chair…
Now that I am getting older, I do want to start looking more professional and ladylike and put together, but I am torn. As you can guess, I was a motivated little activist who believed that beauty was invented to hold women down and make us subservient and inferior to men. How can we be strong women and business leaders when it takes us three hours just to get out the door in the morning?! Honestly, I still kind of feel that way.
And that is the problem.
I can’t seem to reconcile the fact that I think it’s ridiculous for women to have to shave their legs while men run around like hairy apes, just because women “aren’t supposed to be hairy,” (Yes, we are! Otherwise, the hair wouldn’t grow! Just like it does on a man!) with the fact that I do enjoy getting dressed up and looking nice. I like wearing fabulous shoes (Working at a shoe retailer was a bad move!) and cute outfits. I like my hair to look great, even if I have no idea how to make that happen. But the young, idealistic woman inside me is disgusted. Disgusted! That I would sell out to follow artificially constructed beauty norms just because I can’t handle having my own ideals anymore.
I don’t know what to do because it’s making me really unhappy. I feel like it’s a lose-lose situation, so I need to see some sort of silver lining, somewhere! I really hope you can help me; I’m at a loss. Oh, and I still haven’t been able to bring myself to shave my legs, if that inspires you to help me!
Also, here is a picture of my toy poodle in a Halloween costume because he is very cute and it may make my email less painful for you! And yes, my dog is wearing his devil’s cape as a skirt because my husband does not understand how costumes work! I can’t wait until we have kids for him to dress! Oh, did I mention that I have a husband? He never would have married me if I were the no-bra-wearing, non-armpit-shaving woman that I was 10 years ago. (In fairness, I would never have married him if he were still a smoker. Timing is everything!) He does wish I would shave my legs, but he never mentions it. I think having him around makes it even harder for me because I feel even more like I’m changing for the wrong reasons, namely that a MAN (ew! ick! evil!) wants me to.
Thank you in advance! And I’m sorry this is so long, geez!

Lothar.bmpWell! Isn’t this a nice change of pace? This question stumps me a little, honestly. Half of my brain is wondering why in the world you would want MY advice, when I have so clearly accepted the Gospel of Artificially Constructed Beauty Norms, and the other half of my brain has left the building. I think it’s cowering somewhere in the backyard. It does not like being stumped.
Let me start off with a story. Jason bought me an all-day spa package this past Valentine’s Day. All day! Massages and a facial and mani and pedi and just a glorious, delightful day of girlish pampering. While I was getting my nails done, a lesbian couple arrived and asked for pedicures. One woman looked oh. so. uncomfortable. She visibly recoiled when the technician told her to pick out a nail color and she stammered that she’d “just like some clear polish, please.”
Her partner looked oh. so. happy. She picked out her color and smiled from ear to ear as they settled into side-by-side chairs and soaked their feet in the jacuzzi. She thanked her girlfriend several times for agreeing to come. Her girlfriend — though it was obvious that this was her own personal hell on earth — just smiled back and held her hand, clearly happy because she’d made her love happy. It was the sweetest, most heartwarming thing ever.
Look, I shave my legs. (Most of the time, anyway. I mean, girlplease.) I like them shaved. My husband likes them shaved. I also like my husband’s face shaved and his back waxed before we go to the beach. (Oh, baby, I’m sorry.) (Also, whatever, you never read this column.) But he does these things because he wants to, not just because I like it. But I do like it. And ’round and ’round I go with this squishy circular logic that doesn’t really make much of a point other than to maybe suggest that sometimes we do things for other people AND ourselves and sometimes shaving is just shaving.
Your hair follicles are not the beginning and end of all that you once held dear. Sure, unshaven legs make a Statement, but you know what makes even more of a statement? The stuff you really DO. Going to work, following your dreams, working honorably and ethically, giving to charity, taking advantage of the opportunities our feminist sisters fought for, and just all around kicking ass and taking names. Mentor a teenage girl, volunteer at a women’s shelter, smash through that glass ceiling with your brilliant awesomeness –THAT’S fighting the good fight and holding true to your feminist ideals, and all of it can be done regardless of the state of your legs.
463px-Rosie_the_Riveter.jpgBut honestly, I don’t care if you decide to never ever shave your legs. It’s not like a weirded-out glance from a catty bitch like me should hold any weight in your world. But I also don’t care if you DO shave your legs. I wouldn’t think any less of you, because it just isn’t that big a deal. I know it is for you, right now, but…it just isn’t. It’s not a boob job or Botox. It’s just shaving your legs. Once more, with feeling: Your hair follicles are not the beginning and end of all that you once held dear. Dial back on the symbolism a little, and re-focus your sense of self and your belief system on those honest-to-goodness chay-yay-ange the world actions.
Give shaving a try, maybe. It won’t take three hours to get out the door, I promise. Most of us do the whole girly shebang in under an hour. I can get out the door in 15 minutes if I oversleep, and that still includes a swipe of the razor to my armpits. Maybe you’ll like shaving. Maybe your husband will like it. (And that’s OKAY! Doesn’t he ever do things just to make you happy? Don’t look at him as a representation of MEN, but just in the context of your own private give-and-take relationship. With the giving and the taking. That we all do.)
And if you don’t like it, well…it will totally grow back. Quickly.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Tamara

    April 11, 2007 at 11:14 am

    Your husband waxes his back before you go to the beach? How did you convince him to try that? Do you send him to a salon, or do you use that Sally Hansen stuff? I am in AWE.

  • Zoot

    April 11, 2007 at 11:27 am

    Well said, Amy. You remind me of a similar written many moons ago:
    It says, “The definition of feminism does not include a mandatory leg-hair check; wax on, wax off, whatever you want. If you believe in, support, look fondly on, hope for, and/or work towards equality of the sexes, you are a feminist.”
    I’ve fallen into the same traps before when I contemplate buying fancy shoes.

  • jen

    April 11, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    this is a fascinating question… although I agree with all the ideals that Amy lays out (gender equality, supporting other women, etc.), I can totally get down as a girly girl as well. I would’ve said the same thing, Amy… “try it and see what you think.” it’s not a sell-out-y thing to do because you obviously still hold the same ideals, you know? it’s something you want to try to see how it makes you feel. I feel like that’s more empowering than anything else… this is something I do because I have the choice, not because someone else told me to.
    good luck Julia!

  • mtngray

    April 11, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    I think what feminism gave to women is the ability for us to decide how we want to live our lives without fear of judgement. So shave or don’t shave. Wear make up or not. Just do what makes you happy without worrying about meeting some ideal about what a woman should be. You’ll still be a strong woman no matter what!

  • judi

    April 11, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    i had to register to comment here — in a recent post you wrote about being quick to tear up. that is me ALL the time — the slightest sappy factor in any commercial starts the waterworks.
    i just wanted to say that i totally teared up reading this post feeling my heart swell w/ good feelings about womanhood and all that lovely stuff you were saying.
    THANKS for what you do!!

  • TasterSpoon

    April 11, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    I also have to second Amy’s last remark about doing what works for the two of you and not necessarily finding it representative of the patriarchal society at large.
    Me, I looove men with shaved legs. My boyfriend only shaves his when it’s cycling season and even then I know he has to tolerate snickers from his co-workers. But every once in a while I’ll discover he’s shaved his legs for no practical reason whatsoever (no imminent races) and I’ll know he did it for ME. And it’s awesome. And I try to make it worth his while. But he still grows in during the winter and I still love him, hairy legs and all.
    I know quite a few cyclists and swimmers – guys – who prefer their legs shaved all the time (so maybe you can recognize this as an aesthetic issue rather than a gender one), and if that were really important to me, it’d be simpler if I dated one of them. But I love my squeeze, and the legs are totally secondary, and that’s that. Sounds like your husband feels similarly.
    Also, in our relationship, I love to cook. I’d be really pissed if he EXPECTED me to cook, but since he doesn’t, I don’t feel like I’m trapped in a gender role just because I like a typically female activity.
    And so on and so forth.

  • julie

    April 11, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    My boyfriend is a bodybuilder, so he is usually back/chest hairless and I LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS.
    I hate shaving my legs. Well let me rephrase. I am so lazy that the actual motion of shaving my legs is too much work. So I don’t shave very often.
    I also shower at night, and do my hair/make up/ primping in like 10 minutes in the morning.

  • Kimmy

    April 11, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    I just want to add a thought… doing something for your husband — not because he’s a man who wants it, but because he’s the person you love and chose to spend your life with — might feel so damn good to you (especially when he falls all over himself showing his appreciation, wink wink, nudge nudge)… you might just want to keep on shaving those legs. There’s something to be said for doing something tiny that your partner will like, and reaping massive rewards.
    I so totally agree with what Amy said — shaving your legs doesn’t make you any more or less a feminist. Just like the fact that Amy (and I) love makeup and hair and all of those other “Artificially Constructed Beauty Norms”, doesn’t make us any less strong women, or any less sympathetic to our gender’s own cause. I’m a female television reporter who does sports… I get the plight full on. I fight it every single day.
    But I also love feeling sexy and attractive. Not for men, but for me. And that doesn’t take away from the strides I make in my profession.
    So… grab that Bic. Like Amy said… it grows back. Way too fast!

  • annemie

    April 11, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    …and there’s nothing inherently anti-feminist about embracing our femininity! Somewhere along the way it seems that feminism and acting like men got confused. I love getting my girly-girl on from time to time, and have no problem reconciling that with the fact that I believe women are equal to (if not a bit ahead of!) men.

  • Cha

    April 11, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    So I’m going to take the other tack and address the larger issue of wanting to look good, but not wanting to spend that much time. Maintenance, man, maintenance! Maintenance that feels good! Facials (excepting extractions) feel wonderful. Pedicures are fabulous (okay, maybe not for everyone, but you get the gist)! Manicures are indulgent (though some argue necessary) to have someone taking that much care of you. They make you look that much more polished and *they feel good.* Go get a great cut that makes you feel lighter and sexier and that you don’t have to think about using a jillion different products and tools the next day. It’s not about torturing yourself because of artificial beauty ideals, but because it’s maintenance of your outerself and care for your soul.
    I like to shave, I like the way it feels, but I also like to look down at my glossy, rosy toes and feel like, hey, even if everything else is a mess, my toes look *hot.* And that’s just for me (because he could really care less, damnit).

  • Virginia Gal

    April 12, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    To follow up with Cha, I try to keep my toe nails looking good year round. There is something comforting about seeing that splash of color down there, even if my legs haven’t been shaved in so long that I would need a fresh razor to get the hair off without razor burn *ouch*. Makes me feel girly, even if my husband doesnot notice.

  • TasterSpoon

    April 12, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    More thoughts, more philosophical.
    You’ve already said you want to look more “professional and ladylike.” I don’t think that’s so much giving in to the norms as it is accepting that the norms exist – and recognizing that some amount of conformity is necessary to participate effectively in a society.
    A person who spends zero attention on his or her appearance may intend to send the message, “I don’t care what other people think,” but the problem is that other people meet him or her, and think, “They obviously don’t care what I think. So why should I listen to anything they have to say?”
    The real world situation is that people respond more positively to people they find attractive, and *both sides* trade that good feeling back and forth, and it’s easier to communicate.
    If you want your legs (or pits, or brows, or boobs) to send your message for you, they will. (They will!) But query whether it’s the most effective way to communicate with people who aren’t already down with your way of thinking, or whether it won’t just turn off the very people whose minds you hope to change.
    And query whether stressing over whether your appearance will be a barrier in your life is really the best use of your own bandwidth. Sometimes mindlessly going with the flow has the benefit of freeing you up for more important thoughts.
    I guess I’m just a practical feminist, and I think it’s easier to change a society from the inside than from the outside. (But there are lots of ways to skin a cat and I totally support people who want to fix things any way they can!)

  • scootnshoot

    April 12, 2007 at 8:23 pm

    I’m the OP/questioner, and I wanted to thank everyone for their help. I’m still surprised that my question got answered. And delighted!
    TasterSpoon, your comment really hit home. You make a lot of good points, especially about just being practical. Thank you very much for your insight.

  • alice

    April 14, 2007 at 3:28 am

    TasterSpoon, you rock.
    scootnshoot, I hear you! As an eyebrow-tweezing, armpit-shaving, hairy-legged hippie-ish gal, this is a question that I think about a lot. I think I got off easy because I was somewhat uncritically girly early on, and so got to explore all sorts of beauty regimes. Then, when I went more granola, I knew what kinds of tricks worked for me, and which didn’t.
    So that’s my advice to you – explore. I do counsel against the leg *shaving* idea, just because stubble is so freakishly evil, you may keep on shaving just to keep the stubble at bay. However, it’s fast and non-stinky (unlike waxing and nair), so … experiment.
    I think that if you go into this looking for what resonates with you, you’ll be (more) able to avoid the slippery slope issue. Figuring out the balance between internalized artificial beauty norms and my own ideas of beauty is hard, since there’s no clear dividing line and a fair bit of overlap. But using my gut as a guide is the best way I’ve found to navigate through it.

  • april.b

    April 14, 2007 at 8:24 pm

    This might be my favorite smackdown post ever.