Cross-posted with Equal Writes, Princeton's feminist blog.
To depilate or not to depilate: that is a question that most women do not even think to ask themselves. After my awakening in my WOM 201 class when I learned that we perform our genders (thanks, beloved Gayle Salamon and Judith Butler), I definitely asked myself the question of why I shaved. The next year, I stopped shaving my leg and arm hair in defiance of gender norms. The personal is political, and I wanted to do my part and be a "good" feminist, aligning my actions with my beliefs.
A New York Times article probing whether unshaven celebrities on the red carpet are "Free Spirits or Unkempt?" rambles without taking a stance or clearly presenting different sides, and considers the perspective to the notion that not shaving would make one "unkempt." I found a lot of their ideas alarming. But instead of unpacking what's problematic about the article, Jezebel's response article, "Leg Work: Body Hair Is Not Always A Statement" negates the importance of the debate, lamenting that the NYT focuses on hair at all. The author, Anna North, argues that the choice of whether or not to shave is not necessarily political and that news sources like the NYT should stop focusing on our bodies and start paying attention to our thoughts.
I agree that it's important for all of us to assert our thoughts and beliefs and for newspapers like the New York Times to write on ideas rather than legs. But, the article did appear in the Fashion & Style section, so it makes sense that it focused on appearance. Upon reading the comments on both articles, it's obvious that the issue of hair is still contested. There seems to be two sides of two different battles - people either prefer women to shave or not, and people see the decision as either political or not. Seeing as some people have such strong opinions that not shaving is absolutely disgusting and unappealing on women, it's obviously something we still need to talk about.
A theme mentioned (although not fully explored) in both articles is that the ultimate goal should be one of authenticity, where one does what one feels like doing. The concluding paragraph in the NYT articles is as follows:
For Ms. Palmer, the singer, [who didn't shave her legs] the point is to free yourself from caring what others think. (Easier said than done.) Still, she tells young fans who mistake not shaving for authenticity: "You know what's really cool? Wake up every morning, decide what you feel like doing, and do it."
Agreed. Authenticity is definitely one of my ever-present life goals. However, although both articles emphasized that the women didn't shave at least somewhat for political reasons, I believe that the decision to do so, especially for such influential and scrutinized women as those in question, is inherently political. What we feel like doing is influenced by society and the people around us, and comment after comment on both articles were personal testimonies from women who shave only because they feel they have to or because it's the path of least resistance. Therefore, to act contrary to societal standards, whether you "feel like" doing it or not, is political because it confronts others who see your body with the reality that an alternative exists.
My lesbian identity has definitely influenced my ideas around this topic. I first got interested in feminism, which led me to the idea of performativity, mostly because I wanted to better understand gender and sexuality. I stopped shaving to prove a point, but I was able to do this partially because I felt like I was doing it in a tradition of feminists and queers. I felt like not only would the friends and family that I already had still love me regardless of whether I had hair, I thought lesbian women I might want to date would be more accepting of hair than your average man. However, now in a serious committed relationship, I recently got rid of a lot of hair as a gesture of love for my girlfriend . The main reason I accept her desire for me to shave is that she seems to despise hair on all people, men included. Perhaps she has been influenced by all those depilation companies over the years, but at least I know that her desire for hair removal is not gender-specific.
Even though my legs are now hair-less, conforming to societal standards for what makes an attractive, feminine woman, I still feel like a "good," empowered feminist because I am actively choosing to remove the hair out of love, rather than removing it out of fear. I am not caving to society, I am choosing to please my woman, and that, to me, is an authentic enough reason for me.