Leg Shaving and Self-Perpetuating Myths

July 7, 2010  |  Featured, Lifestyle Design, No Sidebar

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?

[Photos by SuzetteSuzette, ArcticPuppy]


  1. I haven’t shaved my legs since the first Bush administration. No lie. I have blonde body hair, so you really can’t tell AT ALL. I’ve even modeled swim suits without shaving.

    I do, however, shave other parts of my body. Armpit shaving makes more sense because without the hair, you get less sweaty. Also, other areas get shaved at my partner’s request (I don’t mind at all – it’s a pretty simple thing to do to make someone happy), but he never notices or comments on my legs.

    It’s ridiculous. I don’t know who told women they ever needed to shave their legs in the first place and why it became the norm, but it’s one of the least “sensical” beauty fads of them all.

  2. Eek. I buy into the malarkey. I have thick, dark and long Italian hair and very fair skin and to not shave my legs would have me looking like a man, so I can’t get away with it. Would you still not shave your legs if your hair wasn’t blond? I think it’s easy to say you won’t when you have blond hair – all the stares that I’d get are just too uncomfortable for me to NOT shave my legs. You’re lucky to be blond.

    • The hair on the bottom half of my legs (i.e. my calves) is pretty dark, and it doesn’t really bother me. You shouldn’t care about the stares anyway – anyone who would judge you over a little leg hair isn’t someone who deserves your attention anyway.

    • that’s what I thought while reading it. it is easy to say if your hair is barely visible, I wouldn’t have to shave too if it was my case. but even if I have blond hair, it is still a lot darker on my legs and I have really white skin, so you see it without having to look closely. I also find unshaved legs unatractive myself and have problems with hairy men, but it’s my own opinion, just don’t find it attractive.

  3. Jeez, I LOVE it if I found a guy who didn’t mind leg hair. Admittedly, I have dark hair and light skin so I suppose it shows up, but 70% of the guys I’ve dated can’t stand it if I have even a stubble, much less long enough to really show. One of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed single life is that I don’t have to worry about shaving my legs!

    • You know what I find generally makes men shut up? Ask them to shave a part of their bodies, like their own legs or their chest. Once they realize what a hassle it is, they generally realize the ridiculousness of their original request.

  4. I really don’t get the idea of shaving at all. I prefer to let my legs and arm pits be, even though I have thick, dark hair. There’s a reason for hair in certain places. When I am in a place where it seems easier to shave than to put up with the hassle from OTHER WOMEN, it feels gross. Hair has a purpose. It wicks sweat from the body, protects from bugs and mosquitoes, protects from chaffing, and just feels better. There is nothing grosser than shaving after a few months and feeling the sweat stick to you and having more sweat show up and smell because it’s not being filtered by your hair. I can’t wait until I get to the point where I don’t care at all what women think. Most men honestly don’t give a shit, and those who say they do get over it when the shock wears away, which takes about .002 seconds.

    At Smith, I really expected it would be this great experience where women came together to learn and sort of left their silly insults and judgments at the door. Wrong. Girls would tear apart female professors who were considered tough graders by saying they were like that “because they’re ugly” while no reason would be given for unattractive male professors.

    Most recently, after Kagan was nominated for the Supreme Court, there was a post on our Smith forum saying she probably wouldn’t get the position because all of the photos of her on news sites are unflattering and all of the other female supreme court judges were at least good looking. This comment was from a woman who I know personally and who is actually an intelligent person.

    The myth that women have to be attractive to get ahead and be taken seriously drives me bonkers, and even more so when it comes from those who I believe are intelligent, well-rounded women. I used to sit silently and let them go on with it, but I’ve taken the approach of pointing out how their own looks might be discussed. “Hey Mary, you aren’t exactly a model and you are still being promoted quickly through your company.” Shuts them right up.

  5. I go back and forth, but this is purely my own preference (more comfortable with my dress pants for work), and even when I am in a “shaving” phase, it’s usually once a week so it gets hairy between shaving days.

    As fair as the calling bullshit, I agree (according to my own experience). B has stated a preference for the smoothness of shaved legs, but it is like his preference for long hair: it’s nice, but he’s not bothered by hairy legs or short hair and would prefer me to just do what I want to.

  6. Hmmm…shaved legs is a pretty interesting topic. Different cultures find different things beautiful. In the midwest, most men find hairless leg more desirable. However, I’m positive that men who are either apathetic or desire unshaved legs. I also think it depends on the individual’s background, whether or not the women in their family shave or if their past girlfriends have shaved. My past boyfriends have all preferred hairless legs, and have complained if I let it get too hairy.

    I know it sounds like I’m trying too hard to please my man, but it’s something that takes 3 minutes a day and it makes my man really happy.

  7. I do shave my legs and I am glad that my hair is blond.. 😀

    I never thought that this has been an issue for some? I shave because I just like it, I love it when I don’t see hair on my legs. I feel so messy when I see small hair growing esp on my armpits.

    Glad that my hubby is not particular on this but I know that he’s happy touching my soft and smooth legs. :)

  8. I don’t shave anything. My hair is medium dark and my skin is very light. My skin is so much happier since I stopped! My husband didn’t care when we were dating and he doesn’t care now. As he said once, it’s proof that I’m a mammal, and he’s pleased that we’re the same species.

    (if it were about him–which it isn’t–I imagine the breakouts from shaving, and I tried everything back then to stop the breakouts, would have been much more of a turnoff.)

  9. Leg hair filters body odour? Are you kidding me? I think some of you are really reaching for reasons not to shave.

    Peach fuzz aside, leg hair looks awful. It masks your body’s muscle definition and curves. It feels awful too. I love running my hands over shaved skin. I love the sensation of clothing on my freshly shaved legs. Lack of leg hair keeps me cool in the summer as well.

    I agree that it’s a pain to shave it, and maybe the time/benefit ratio is not entirely in leg-shaving’s favor, but let’s not get carried away here and pronounce letting your body hair grow as the cure for whatever ails you. I’m surprised no one has quoted Captain Jack Sparrow yet and told us that body hair is also ever so useful in roping in sea turtles.

  10. Hmm, I didn’t realize we thought we were shaving our legs for men, but I can see that.

    I shave my legs, multiple times a week, but it’s for me. When I don’t feel like it, I don’t do it, and I have dark hair. I shave my legs because I really like rubbing my freshly shaved legs together, heh. My husband would never notice the difference…he’s not very observant of those types of things.

  11. Ballet tights are much more comfortable with shaved legs! :s Left to my own devices without a razor and tweezer, I look like a neanderthal and frankly am too thin-skinned to put up with judgmental people. If I have to pick my battles, then the hair one isn’t the one I pick- for me it’s emotionally easier to cave to peer pressure and just shave it off if it’s going to show.


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