My oldest daughter shaved the hair off her legs the other night. She didn't ask my permission – probably because I've been telling her for years that she should wait as long as possible because "once you start shaving, it's hard to stop." (Kinda the same argument I use against smoking pot, drinking alcohol and sex. Maybe this is a sign I need to change my tactic.)
I was surprised, but more by my reaction than her smooth calves. I felt ambivalent. I wasn't horrified that she was subjecting herself to patriarchal standards of femininity or the Western World's objectification of women. (My concerns in college.) I wasn't alarmed that social and peer pressures were causing her to be embarrassed or self-conscious about her natural body. (My concerns as a 21st Century mom of two girls.) I was … OK with it.
The reaction I got from my female friends when I disclosed my daughter's latest act of independence was either :
1) So soon?! Isn't she too young for that?
2) What took so long?
Apparently, the age range (and amount of hair) for first-time shavers is so vast (8 to 15) that opinions about when it's appropriate are just as varied.
Is this what our feminist foremothers fought for – the right to choose whether to be hairy or hairless at any age? Has the act of shaving become personal, not political?
The truth is ambivalence is all I can muster because I'm a hypocrite. I've been shaving my legs since I was about her age – through my Gloria Steinem-Germain Greer worship years, through my subscription to Ms. magazine, through my current disdain of excessive plastic surgery and overly-provocative clothing. Yes, I'm one of those feminists, the kind that wears makeup and the occasional high heels. Heck, I even paint my toenails.
So do I talk to my daughter about the importance of self-esteem, how what other people think shouldn't matter … even in middle school? Do I show her photos of Amanda Palmer and Mo'Nique, two actresses who bucked red carpet pressures and bared their hair last year at the Golden Globes? Or do I nod in hairless, unspeakable solidarity, and buy her a BIC?