Three years ago, I stopped wearing garments. I’d worn them about half the time the year before during pregnancy and after having my son. I eventually became used to the feel of my clothes moving against my bare skin, the breeze on my back through the yarn of knit sweaters, and the improvement of health and hygiene that came from increased air circulation in private areas. I still wore garments out of habit, loyalty, and a tiny bit of fear until, one day, I didn’t anymore.
As with many lasts, the last time I took off my garments, I didn’t know it would be the last time. But days turned into weeks and then months, and I never put them on again.
The unexpected byproduct of the decision to only wear garments when I wanted to was a sense of exhilarated liberation. For the first time, I felt I was taking ownership of my body. It was the first small step toward taking back my own moral authority from the church I’d outsourced it to for so long.
Two years ago, in scorching summer heat that I weathered in jeans, I set a goal for myself: the next summer, I would wear “real” shorts. In public.
I’ve always hated knee-length shorts. To me, they’re uncomfortable and unflattering, restrictive and heat retaining. Despite living in one of the hottest places in the US, I nearly always opted for trousers in the summer, preferring jeans to long shorts.
Last summer, I tentatively wore my one pair of mid-thigh shorts to school pickup a handful of times and once to the grocery store. Despite my resolution the year before, I felt self conscious and harbored worries about running into members of my ward. I watched other moms picking up their children from school, apparently completely unconcerned over their weather-appropriate clothing, and I imagined how amused they’d be if they could sense my internal turmoil over a few inches of thigh emerging from a pair of completely banal shorts.
This summer, while I’ve worn shorts regularly in my own house and yard (where I spend the vast majority of my time #copingwithcovid19), I’ve hit a new mental barrier to public shorts wearing: I’ve stopped shaving my legs.
Other than a brief novelty-fueled enjoyment of shaving in my adolescence, I’ve always disliked it. In my last shower there was no ledge of any sort, so to shave, I had to awkwardly brace my foot against the wall while I balanced on the other leg (a hundred bucks says a man designed that shower). In high school, I sometimes braved razor burn and quickly shaved with lotion before running out the door rather than be seen with stubbly legs. At church during the winter, I’d often wear my one long skirt week after week to avoid shaving. But I’d always shave when I knew I’d be swimming or showing my legs.
There is a sensory pleasure in shaved legs: the feel of them sliding frictionless against bedsheets, the silky caress of a breeze on smooth calves. But I’ve discovered there’s a sensory pleasure in hairy legs, too: air currents gently move through leg hair like ocean currents through seaweed, the subtle pleasant ruffling of follicles undulating individual hairs against bare skin.
I have no objection to anyone who chooses to shave their legs for any of a myriad number of personal reasons. I do object, however, to a culture that insists women groom themselves in a certain (often time consuming, expensive, and painful) way in order to be seen as acceptable while requiring practically nothing of men.
While I think I have the fortitude to wear “real” shorts in public with shaved legs and face the judgment (real or imagined) of my righteousness from Church members OR to wear knee shorts in public with hairy legs and face the judgment (real or imagined) of my femininity from the public at large, I’m having the hardest time potentially offending both groups on both fronts at once. It’s one layer too many of nonconformity for my already anxious self concept.
It’s easy to say, “Who cares what other people think?” and “No one will even notice!” But while I know this on an intellectual, rational level, fighting against a lifetime of immersive religious and cultural conditioning to be pretty, to conform, to cover up, to view my body as an object, is exhausting. Even more exhausting than spending days of my one wild and precious life resentfully shaving or sweating through summers in jeans. But as with bringing about any cultural change, there must be those who are willing to break ranks to push the needle forward.
So when you see me in Costco pushing an embarrassingly full cart with my face mask, shorts, and hairy legs, know that I am saying to you and to myself with my body, I can wear shorts and be moral. I can have hairy legs and be feminine. And so can you.