Here’s a random bit of info for you: I rarely ever shave my legs. I do so five times a year, tops.
I have blonde hair, so it doesn’t show up much in the first place, but I have never really understood the feminine compulsion to shave such a random part of our bodies. Unfortunately, over the course of my life I’ve gotten a huge amount of flack over my lack of adherence to this particular cultural tradition.
Women are constantly told by the media, our mothers, and our friends that men don’t like women who don’t shave their legs. “You won’t find a man that way” they say. I call bullshit.
I would have predicted that it would have been men who had problems with my lack of leg-shaving. Presumably, they’re the ones we shave for, right? Nope. No man I have ever dated has had much, if any, issue with my shaving preferences. It’s possible that they’ve just been nice, but from more in-depth conversations I’ve had about that habit with them, that does not seem to be the case. They simply don’t really care as long as it’s not “totally out of control”.
So where does this “huge amount of flack” that I’ve gotten over the years come from? Well, that’s the surprising part: other women.
“You won’t ever find a man that way.”
“Ew. Your boyfriend is okay with that?”
“Ugh. I could never do that.”
“Don’t you worry about how people will look at you when they see your legs?”
“Some day you will grow up and learn that grown women shave their legs.”
These are all things I have been told by other women. By contrast, let’s look at what I have heard from men:
“As long as you don’t look like you belong in a fetish porn video, what does it matter?”
“Finally, a girl who won’t take forever in the bathroom every morning!”
“Our eyes rarely go below your ass, so what guy is really going to look all that closely at your legs?”
There’s something very wrong with this picture. Women have so internalized this cultural message that sexy legs are shaved legs that they have turned it into a self-perpetuating myth. I’m not saying that all, or even most men don’t care, but I would guess that a significant portion of them really don’t, deep down. But, they’ve grown used to having girls with shaved legs, and as a result, that’s what they’ve internalized as “correct”. Women are, hilariously, doing this to themselves.
Self-perpetuating myths are one of my primary enemies when I think about what is wrong with society. Couples who aren’t all that hot on the idea of 2.5 kids and a white picket fence eventually get pressured into offspring and a mortgage out of fear of standing out, and as a result, they merely add to the majority group, making it even more difficult for the minority that they once were. The same principle can apply to all sorts of things: the need for a degree from a prestigious college, having a car instead of a bike, letting your hair go gray instead of dying it to look younger, to name just a few.
There’s an easy way to spot a self-perpetuating myth: when someone tells you something, ask why they feel that way. If they can’t give a good answer (i.e. something other than “because that’s what everyone does”, etc), then it’s likely that they got their sentiment from someone else, rather than from an examination of what they, as a person, want. Even if they do give a good answer, I encourage you to poke and prod a little bit more, to see if they’ve really given thought to their beliefs. If they have, then you have likely merely strengthened those beliefs. If they have not, then your persistence may encourage them to reexamine those beliefs, a habit that is good for everyone.
Don’t feel bad if you buy into self-perpetuating myths. It’s hard not to. Culture plays a huge role in guiding us about how to interact with the world, but it doesn’t mean that you always have to go along with it. Every once in awhile, stop, breathe, and think about why you’re doing what you’re doing, why you’re feeling what you’re feeling, why you’re thinking what you’re thinking. Mindfulness is helpful when trying to avoid buying into these myths, but it’s also a skill you can learn over time.
What myths have you bought into in the past but have since realized are total BS? What myths do you see those around you buy into, and how could you help them break free from their cage of ignorance?