Why I Stopped Shaving

header image: Cathyrox

When I was in the seventh grade, I couldn’t wait to shave my legs for the first time. Despite the fact that my leg hair was still blonde and whispy, I knew that many of my peers had smooth legs and I wanted them too. Shaving seemed like something intensely personal that I needed to discuss only in whispers. The day I set aside to shave for the first time, I told a friend at school that I was excited to get home from school that day. When she asked why I replied, “I just am.” Shaving had the mysticism of sex combined with the taboo of menstruation, at least in my mind. It was something women did but never talked about.

It wasn’t until high school that I first began to question why it was that I was required to shave off my body hair. I went the whole winter of junior year without shaving my legs, wearing pants each day. My high school boyfriend asked me when I would start shaving my legs again, and I asked him why it mattered, since no one could see them. “Because I like your legs and I want to see them,” he said. I think he genuinely meant it as a compliment, but, thinking back, it makes me feel gross. This interaction solidified my growing suspicion that shaving was an activity that women did for men, not for themselves, and that, if I was going to be considered attractive by the opposite sex, then I better keep shaving. A few weeks later, when the weather started to warm up, I did shave my legs again, eager to reveal them to my boyfriend from their hairy, wintry prison.

Despite a short period of weird grunge in high school when I wore only boys pants, I’ve always presented as highly feminine. I like makeup, wearing skirts, and the color pink. So, I followed the script set by the women before me. Every day I would shave under my arms and several times per week I would shave my legs. Throughout years of knicks, razor burn, and Nair mishaps, it never occurred to me that I could just NOT do it anymore.

Every summer, I spend several days in Hot Springs, NC at the Wild Goose Festival. Two years ago, I met a fellow queer woman at the festival and noticed her armpit hair. I had always assumed that, if I grew out my body hair, I would look disgusting and mannish. However, this woman was beautiful and I thought her body hair only added to her ~*Earth Goddess Aesthetic*~. I doubted I was cool enough to pull it off, but I stopped shaving my armpits at Wild Goose that year, partially because I usually don’t shower during the 3 day outdoor festival, but this year I continued my no-shave experiment when I got home. Two years later, and the experiment is still going. It wasn’t as though I made a dramatic decision on a specific principle. I just stopped shaving and never started again. I found that it didn’t make me look gross like I thought it would, and, if anything, it made my armpits healthier. No razor bumps, no burning when I put on deodorant after a shower, no irritation when I run in a tank top. Essentially, my laziness turned into feminst rebellion and self-confidence.

My decision to stop shaving my legs was similarly unremarkable. During some medication changes last fall, my depression was particularly bad, and I decided to give everything in my room with which I could harm myself to my roommates as a safety measure. One of the things I gave them was my razor. After a few weeks, I was feeling better and asked for my things back. However, my leg hair had already sprouted, plus it was November, so I decided to let it grow. This week, for the first time since I was 12, I wore a skirt with fully grown leg hair, and I loved it. I could FEEL THE WIND. At first, I thought something was on my leg and I kept looking down, but I eventually realized what I was feeling was the natural little feelers sticking out of my calves.

I’m not trying to tell everyone to stop shaving. I don’t care what you do with your own body hair as long as it’s making you happy. Middle school me was pumped to have smooth legs. It made me feel glories. But adult me is tired of spending time in the shower removing hair and wasting plastic. I’m tired of men and capitalism telling me how my body should be. But if shaving is what makes you feel like an empowered super-lady, do your thing, girl. Shaving is a personal decision. Maybe my 12-year-old self was onto something. Removing body hair is intimate. It can be seasonal like cycles of the moon. It can be empowering. And it can be painful. Do what gives you power, and do it because you owe your body the best you can give Her.

My Word for 2019 is Brave

I’ve never chosen a word of the year before. Honestly, it always sounded a little bit corny. I feel the same way about making New Year’s resolutions. New Year’s feels like a tired joke about how Americans are terrible about following through. I have a love-hate relationship with New Year’s – I love the concept of new beginnings and fresh starts but I hate the ways we’ve turned it into a method of being dissatisfied with who we are and how we’re living.

This year, though, I decided to try the PowerSheets goal setting planner for the first time (I promise this isn’t an ad…stay with me). I’ve seen other successful women use it and love it, and I currently have a lot of dreams but need some help making them happen. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good planner, especially one with stickers. Part of the PowerSheets process is choosing a word of the year. Ideally, it’s something that can serve as an umbrella for all your goals and plans.

I looked at all the threads I was weaving together as I dreamed up my 2019. I want to be more intentional: about money, about food, about zero waste, about minimalism. I want to continue my recovery from perfectionsim. I want to take risks even if it means things don’t work out as planned. I want to keep journeying through my trauma toward healing. I want to work towards getting published. I want to clarify my vocational goals. I have a lot to manage, but a lot of it seems to come down to progress over perfection. I can spend the next year wishing that things were different or I can take actual steps toward making things happen. (I’m using a lot of PowerSheets language here…sorry y’all.) After choosing goals and focusing my priorities, bravery seemed like the thing I would need most.

At the end of 2018, I needed a lot of bravery. Politically, autumn was full of triggers of my own experiences. I had to attend an event where my abuser would be present and had to make an emergency mental health plan. Changes in my medication had me feeling less stable than I had in nearly a decade. After Thanksgiving, I took a week off from work because of an intense relapse of depression that nearly had me checking myself into the hospital. Changes at work meant I would be starting 2019 with only 1 coworker out of the 3 I usually have (and running a whole nonprofit is hard enough with only 4 of us). I did not feel ready to take on new things. But as I reflect on what all of the turmoil that the end of last year taught me, it was nothing if not bravery.

Bravery to be honest with my boss about my mental health. Bravery to speak out with my doctor about how I was reacting to my medication. Bravery to work through my memories and flashbacks with my therapist. Bravery to ask friends to come sit with me when I couldn’t be alone. Even though I’ve largely come out of the darkness that was the past few months, I still need this bravery.

I also need bravery to give myself permission to take breaks from all this goal setting – to watch TV and relax when I’m so worn out that my insides feel like sandpaper. Sometimes, I become all consumed with my new goal setting habits and feel guilty when I spend my evenings doing anything but working toward my goals. But balance is absolutely necessary. Spontenaity is necessary. Breathing is necessary. I’m still struggling to manage my time in a way that combines both working toward my goals and resting. I have to keep reminding myself that I was doing some intense healing just a few weeks ago. Being brave is both big and small and I can’t wait to see what it brings me.

Making a Home

I hate moving.  I don’t like change.  I like routines, stability, consistency.  I wish I could stay in my little shoebox apartment, but my rent is going up and I can’t afford it.  Within the next month, I have no choice but to move to a new home.

The things I’m going to miss about my current living space don’t exactly make sense.  I’m not going to miss the occassional roaches or millipedes.  I won’t miss not having a dishwasher.  I also won’t miss the lack of central heating and air.  Most of all, I’ll enjoy not having my power go out every time it storms (thanks, Candler Park).  But I will miss the four mile loop I run each day on the Beltline.  I’ll miss the people I see every morning on my walk to the train – a family with two elementary aged kids walking to school, a family that got a new puppy several months ago that has now grown into a full sized dog, a girl who rides her bike to school and once told me she liked my shirt.  I’ll miss the Kroger where I shop.  I’ll miss my neighbors.

Recently, I got teary eyed just thinking about moving, and I was embarrassed at my emotions.  I’ve only lived in this apartment for two years, and I haven’t always loved it.  It has its kinks.  There are times I wished I could move out.  I’m also not moving far.  I’m staying in the same city, so the area I live in is one I could easily visit any time.  Even so, I’ve grown unavoidably nostalgic about leaving my little corner of the city.

Every day at work, I’m baffled by the ability of humans to make a home in any situation.  I see guests with systems of suitcases that hold their belongings.  I see others with a daily routine – washing their face in our sink, putting on perfume, going to a prayer meeting.  When I pass the areas where our guests live, I bear witness to encampments made of cardboard, tarps, and blankets.  Some use old cardboard and milk crates to make a night stand.  Others use found wooden pallets as a mattress.  Humans do not deserve to be cast aside like this, but I cannot help admiring their ability to make a home in the worst of circumstances.

We desire to have a space that is ours, a space of comfort, organization, routine, and safety.  This desire is so strong that it grants us the ability to make even the worst of conditions into the best home we can manage.

I am privileged.  I have never experienced homelessness or even come close, so in this way my moving woes seem small.  However, I think we all experience a sense of mourning when we have to leave what is familiar and safe in order to make a new nest elsewhere.  I love my little nest, but I have made new ones before.  In my adult life, I moved to college, lived in Costa Rica, spent summers outside of Ashville, moved to Charlotte, and finally landed in Atlanta.  While I was not used to moving as a child, having only moved once with my family before heading to college, I have had my share of transitions over the past ten years.  I know that I will make a new home where I land, but that doesn’t make the uprooting any easier.  For now, I’ll smile broadly as I pass strangers on their way to the bus stop who will never know how much I treasure our silent relationship.

Becoming Minimalist

I have always been a “just in case” type of person.  My dad taught me this.  If you go camping with me, I have bandaids, stomach medicine, a pocket knife, and an emergency water purifier.  When I go to protests, I bring bandanas and a small jug of milk in case of tear gas.  I’m a stellar bridesmaid because I bring a make up bag that has everything from a Tide-to-go pen to bobby pins.  This might seem like a lovely quality but, in reality, my desire to be prepared for all situations stems from anxiety.  There is no need to fear the unknown if I am prepared for all situations.  But it is impossible to be prepared for all situations.  I have experienced plenty of things that I was not prepared for – sexual assault, the loss of my mother, failing relationships – and I have a feeling that with each personal tragedy I’ve steeled myself to be more prepared “next time.”  My emotional and physical arsenal of “just in case” items has become too large.

For upwards of five years, I’ve wanted to shrink what I own.  When I entered seminary, I had the goal of getting rid of an item each time I bought a new one so that I wouldn’t amass any more volume, but rather simply rotate out the things that no longer served me.  I didn’t stick to this resolution, but I also didn’t have much room to grow.  My first apartment in Atlanta was shared with two other people and two cats.  My current apartment is a whopping 500 square feet and is also shared with two cats, so you can probably see the issue here.  I do not have the luxury of space in which to keep my “just in case” mentality.  I barely fit what I own into the space to begin with, so I do not have much room to grow my possessions.

Perhaps the most influencing factor in my transition toward minimalism is that I work with people experiencing homelessness.  Every day I see people who are carrying everything they own in a backpack while I come to work concerned if I’m wearing the same shoes more than two days in a row.  My daily encounters with people who have nothing have taught me two things about my own scarcity mentality: first, that it is possible to survive on much less than what I have and, second, that I have more than enough.  Each time there is a special event, I do not need to buy a new dress.  When I can’t find a sweater in my closet that looks like the one I saw my friend wearing, I don’t need to buy a new one.  It is possible to be content with the things I have because what I have is more than enough.

This past week I participated in the #winter10x10 challenge hosted by Instagram influencers Caroline Joy Rector and Lee Vosburgh.  The guidelines of the challenge were to select ten items from your existing wardrobe including clothing and shoes (but not including accessories, undergarments, and coats) and create ten different outfits out of these items over ten days.  I was a little bit terrified of committing to the challenge, which felt ridiculous considering that I see people every day who have been wearing the same clothes for weeks, but I was.  I not only survived and enjoyed the challenge.  (Find me on Instagram at @meowitsbrenna to see my outfits!) It also served as a catalyst for me to finally begin the process of becoming more minimalist in what I own, keep, and buy.

I started with my clothing.  As per suggestions I found on Pinterest, I made four piles of my clothing: 1. Things I love that fit me well and I wear often.  2. Things I like but don’t wear much or don’t fit me as well as they should.  3. Things I want to give away.  4.  Things to trash.  Using this process, I cut my wardrobe nearly in half.  I expected to feel uneasy and anxious (what if I needed one of the things I gave away “just in case”?), but instead I felt liberated.  I felt organized.  I felt at peace.  To ease the process, I put pile two away in a container under my bed.  If I don’t look for or miss any of these items over the next three months, they’ll go in the give away pile too.

I now have three bags of clothing to sell and giveaway in my trunk and a newly organized room.  I was afraid to take this leap because of my anxieties about preparedness, disaster, and scarcity.  However, if I can grow to accept that I cannot be prepared for all situations, I allow myself to live with only what I need as well as learn to be a more spontaneous person.  If you know me well, you know that I like to have a plan.  I’m not the type of person who just “wings it” and “rolls with the punches.”  Everything is written down, prepared in advance, and has a place.  But I’m learning that things can come together even when I am not properly prepared and that they can fall apart even when I am.  Having a closet full of clothing that I only wear a third of does not protect me from pain.  But getting rid of things that no longer serve me can both allow me to let go and meet the needs of others who really are experiencing disaster.  I plan to go through everything I own over the next few months, getting rid of things I haven’t touched in years, and hopefully also shedding some of my own pain and anxiety about the unexpected.