Shaving and Genital Self Esteem

When I was 12, it seemed like I was the last of all 12 year olds still not shaving her legs. I had found scrappy ways around other rites of passage. There was one bra that came from my cousin in a garbage bag of hand-me-downs. There was the was the body spray I found at home labeled “deodorizing” which I started wearing under my arm-pits. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to steal a razor to shave. Just asking my mom for a bra, deodorant or a razor was out of the question. I felt way too embarrassed but also fearful of what her answer would be. So instead I felt silent shame over the light hair on my legs and took my fashion cues from the Pentecostal girls at school with their waist length hair and ankle-sweeping denim skirts.

While my experience of entering puberty might say volumes more about the family and self than it does the experience of shaving, it also predicts my feelings about body-hair. That shame was cemented and body hair meant ridicule. I also think I am not alone in this emotionally delicate history.

When it comes to the ubiquity of shaving/waxing genitals, I aesthetically don’t have much of an opinion. I think that smooth and shaved can be very hot, so can fastidiously trimmed or soft and furry. I have no moral or feminist qualms with the bald look, but in the past few years I have began to question it. Personally, I think anytime something becomes so de rigeur (especially something purely cosmetic) it is worth questioning.

I first decided to shave-all when I was a sophomore in high school. My best friend was over and I called her in the bathroom to show her what I did. She gasped. This was the early 00’s and we knew about the bald look from Cosmo but it wasn’t yet the norm in our school (well, as far as we could guess.) I shaved for some of the same reasons I would quit shaving years later, out of curiosity and rebellion. But as baldness became the norm the messages I got from friends, boyfriends and culture was that bush=gross, vagina= only hot if freshly shaved. The problem here is not quite that hair=gross, but the message that either shaving or not shaving makes your genitals acceptable or disgusting. What is then at play is a struggle of genital self-esteem.

As I started getting this message in my late teens and early twenties, it was also being passed to younger generations. That same best friend who I showed my new baldness to in high-school, shared a story about this. She had a little sister who was a social-outsider among the other 6th grade girls. She was a tomboy and slowly entering puberty and the femme realm. Unlike me, this girl was brave enough to ask. She asked if she could shave her genitals yet, because all of the other girls did and she didn’t want to be made fun of.

I’ve been female-centric here but I think that men also need to work on their genital self-esteem–more than women. Thanks to feminism, women have at least been able to talk about these issues. Guys pretty much aren’t allowed to talk about their genitals unless they are bragging. And there is a lot to talk about, just considering e-mail spam and media messages they are bombarded with about their inches and girth.

Let’s also not forget that the expectation to shave isn’t a full-on double standard. Men are also supposed to shave, now more than ever. A razor company hip to this recently came out with an ad campaign playing the yarn, “shaving the bush makes the trunk look longer” clearly playing on male genital-self-esteem.

When I say this is an issue of genital self-esteem, what I am skirting around is this: Can you accept and feel good about your genitals when they are au-natural? Or is the cosmetic act of shaving a self-esteem fix? If you feel like going without shaving would tamper with your genital self esteem, I think it is worth exploring. This is similar to my philosophy about make-up. A truly healthy relationship with make-up is feeling like you don’t *need* it, that you are okay and beautiful without it. It isn’t a given, but rather something to actively work toward.

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