Feminists Can't Shave
The This is What a Feminist Looks Like campaign has inspired discussion and change around the world. The message behind it is that people of all shapes, sizes, races, ethnicities and genders can believe in gender equality. By putting this kind of inclusive feminism into words, This is What a Feminist Looks Like is working on deconstructing societal stereotypes of who feminists are and what they look like.
I find that the average person still believes that s/he can assume who is a feminist solely based on physical appearance. These sort of harmful generalizations turn “feminist” into a negative word. A woman who doesn’t shave? Ugh, what a feminist. A woman who decides to go braless? She must be a feminist. A woman who doesn’t wear makeup and opts for baggy jeans? Feminist. “Feminist” is often used as a label for women who present themselves in a way deemed atypical by mainstream society, even though people’s political or social views are not always reflected in their bodies or clothing. An example of this is the women’s shaving paradigm.
It’s true that many women today decide not to shave their legs or their armpits. Some feel as though it’s a social construct that they wish to avoid, others simply feel more comfortable and authentic in their skin if they don’t do it. But it’s not a set formula--not everyone who doesn’t shave is a feminist, and not everyone who is a feminist doesn’t shave. When I started shaving my legs it gave me confidence, (other brunettes may know the feeling, while my blonde friends got off easy), and as an avid dancer, shaving my legs made costumes more comfortable. But shaving was also what I was told I had to do as a young woman--did this mean that if I did it I couldn’t be a feminist? I was surprised at how it weighed on my conscience. I had an image in my mind of how a feminist was supposed to look (this was years before the This is What a Feminist Looks Like movement entered my worldview), and all of those images had cast razors aside. Every year when I went to camp I would try not shaving, but at the end of the session, the razor came back out. I felt a little guilty, but I felt better once the hair was gone. I wasn’t shaving because I felt like I had to--plenty of counselors and other campers hadn’t shaved in weeks, and it would have been fine if I had done the same. This was a personal decision.
In my experience, there’s often a difference between a feminist who shaves and a non-feminist who shaves. The non-feminist likely shaves because she feels that she has to for others, while the feminist will shave because she wants to do it for herself. Girls today are pressured to shave to “look pretty,” and are simultaneously told that shaving is a sign of weakness against that same pressure. Either way you go, someone will look at your legs and be disappointed, so do whatever feels best to you! Your body is a sacred thing, and you should be the only one making choices about how you present it. We lose the supportive infrastructure that elevates women when one woman can’t support another for the choices she makes about her own body.
So I will probably continue to shave my legs, because I know what feels right for me, and because I am the one who gets to control how I look. No one can tell me that my body doesn’t match my feminism--I am what a feminist looks like.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Groustra, Sarah. "Feminists Can't Shave." 14 December 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 19, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/feminists-cant-shave>.