Shorts, Garments, and Hairy Legs: Taking Ownership of My Body

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.

ElleK is a foodie, gardener, and writer. Women’s issues in the church are not a pebble in her shoe; they are a boulder on her chest.


  1. This is great ElleK! For me I hate it when my leg gets to that itchy, sharp stubble phase and have never had the patience to let it grow out until it’s soft. Maybe one day!

    I stopped wearing garments about 7 years ago. We were on a road trip coming back from a family reunion and ran out of clean garments. I ended up going to a Target somewhere in the midwest and bought regular underwear. I remember how physically cool I felt in that humidity without two layers of clothing and never went back. It took me a while before I felt comfortable wearing tank tops and shorter shorts around family and friends who are active members, but now it’s been so long I don’t even notice.

    • I hear you! The stubble phase is the worst. It’s hard for me to imagine I’d ever feel comfortable or not notice wearing shorts/tanks around family. So far, I just always pack pants. Maybe someday.

  2. I feel so much of this on a personal level, too! I always think about how my husband can get presentable and out the door, including showering, in less than ten minutes. I have to remove old makeup, shave my legs and armpits, dry my long hair with a blow dryer, put on lotion, foundation, blush, eye makeup, lip color, style my hair, pick out clothes… it takes me so much longer! What on earth would I do with all the hours and hours of extra time I’d have on my hands if I lived in society and culture where I wasn’t expected to look fancier than a man does – enough so I’d feel comfortable doing it. I need to get older and care less, I think!

    • Yes! I often wonder what it would be like to have my face and body be acceptable to society as they are instead of as a practically caricaturized version of themselves. I can admire the beauty of my husband’s and other men’s natural faces; why can’t society do the same with mine?

      At the beginning of my marriage, my husband used to give me a hard time about taking up room in the suitcase with all my “stuff,” and I finally told him that being a woman just requires more “stuff” than being a man does.

    • And you have to take care that for all that time spent grooming that you don’t look too DONE, because then you’re vain and preoccupied with appearance.

  3. Yes! When I was in high school I calculated out how many *days* of my life I would spend shaving my legs. I decided I would prefer to simply enjoy my long showers, so I stopped shaving my legs. I nearly lost my tennis doubles partner over it (it grossed out the whole team, I think). It took me over a decade to get comfortable with showing off my hairy legs (particularly in formal settings like church), but at this point, I figure if God wanted me to have hairless legs, my leg hairs would fall out and not grow back.

  4. Agree with so much here (including the bit about reclaiming your moral authority—pretty crazy to be a grown woman trying to learn about underwear after wearing garments nearly 20 years, which is where I’m at right now). Except, I still love Bermuda shorts ;-).

    I’ve dramatically cut down my makeup since I’ve started working from home during Covid (I didn’t wear a ton to begin with) and am making that a permanent change. I also remember how liberating it was to stop wearing board shorts or swim skirts at pools / the beach to cover my thick thighs. Now I just focus on being comfortable.

  5. I love these stories of you reclaiming your body. It is truly an intellectual exercise until I am out in public, and then, I feel all this fight and flight in my body.

    When I was in graduate school, I stopped shaving my legs, and I realized I like the feels of them smooth. (I also really have a thing about having my hair in my face so it’s almost always pulled back.) But, it was a great exercise to do and for me to learn that shaving was something I choose for me.

  6. I bought my first pairs of not knee length shorts this summer and I’m so happy. I feel comfortable. I feel good about how I look. And they actually fit. I’m someone who carries no excess fat in the bum or thighs, but store for a hungry day around my middle. Thus anything that fits my gut is insanely baggy on my legs, and anything that fits my legs is painful at the waistband. Knee-legnth shorts rarely have drawstring or eleastic and if they do they are loose and look awful on me.

    This year I have comfortable shorts that are flattering. I feel good about myself day after day. I was scared too but then I realized that a) I rarely see anyone and b) most people don’t think about my body and c) I’m happy. And most peole I know might privately wonder but would feel too anxious to ask such a personal question.

  7. I have always hated shaving my legs (and armpits). One of the reasons I like wearing pants to church. I kinda wish your accompanying picture had some really hairy legs!

  8. When I was a freshman in college my roommate’s mom was staying over and saw me early in the morning, pre-make up, and then later when I was ready to leave for class. She introduced herself to me again, not realizing that I was the same person. My roommate thought it was hilarious, and I was mortified. I became pretty vigilant about always wearing makeup in public (so they could recognize me?). Now that I’m 50, I decided to let the gray grow out in my hair and I chopped it all off. And I’ve stopped wearing makeup now. I’ve had some Zoom meetings, and for the first one I did all the things I’d do if I were going to a work meeting in person. Now I’m taking classes online and as the time passes I went from the first day having some makeup to at least using a little BB cream, to today realizing I didn’t even put concealer on the zit on my chin. I do feel pretty with makeup on, but I don’t really like the way it feels on my face. When this all ends, if I decide to go back to wearing it, I want to find something that feels less mask-like.

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