My Philosophy, An Open Letter

Dear Dad,

I feel like you’ve asked me a few times about, as you put it, “the philosophy on my body hair,” and I’ve tried my best to explain it. But I want to see if I can articulate my “philosophy” a bit better.
I stopped shaving in high school. I was, as you know, pretty involved in punk rock, specifically hard core and riot grrrl, both of which were anti-commodification and anti-consumerism. Punk rock was all about the community: community in music, community around creating art, be it zines or spoken word, or more. Riot grrrl was (is?) a specifically feminist version of this, an attempt to assert women’s place in that community, not just as girlfriends, but as central creators of music or art or politics.
Riot grrrl and feminism in general helped give me a place and helped me name my sadness and anger that I had felt as a girl growing up. I am sure that lots of people experience this—I don’t claim to be unique in this, but, for whatever reason, growing up I never felt “pretty” in the standard or cool way that the popular girls were. Perhaps it was because I was jockish; perhaps it was because I went through puberty early and was tall and gawky in that awkward way that all preteens are earlier than everyone else; perhaps it was because I was smart and more interested in books than in fashion, or perhaps it was because mom didn’t see any value in spending money on expensive, designer clothes, and so I never was as stylish as a lot of my classmates. Whatever…Kids picked on me, on both Stacey and me, not as badly as they picked on other kids, but they did. Perhaps they were just jealous of Stacey and me, that we were twins and therefore had a certain amount of fame and “coolness” automatically conferred on us. Or perhaps they were just being kids. Again, I claim no specific uniqueness in this.
But I went through periods of wanting to be cooler, wanting to be prettier and feeling sad that I wasn’t. I also, at the same time, felt critical of this. No one wants to feel sad, so there was that, but I also had some consciousness that no one should feel sad in this way.
I’m pretty sure that my playing sports and being sporty early on was instrumental in my feeling like a feminist long before I had a name for what I felt. Growing up, I was angry when we’d play softball, and the boys wouldn’t let me or other girls pitch. I was angry when anyone asserted that girls “don’t do that,” whatever “that” may be. I was annoyed by anyone who tried to tell me what girls “should” be or do.
So then when I started hanging out in the punk rock and riot grrrl communities and seeing girls who didn’t shave, it made me suddenly aware of all the ways that ideas of beauty are so limiting, so prescriptive, and so rooted in social convention. This is true for men and women, but in the world we live in, women are more often expected to strive to be beautiful. It’s easiest to see this in the makeup and fashion industries for instance, but the social convention of shaving is just one other way women are taught that their natural bodies are not beautiful. And it’s one other way our status becomes about what we look like rather than who we are inside.
You said that shaving is not a social convention, but, again, the very fact that we, as mammals, grow hair naturally, shows that something in society has decided this (not nature). No other mammal has any kind of hair removal for beauty. It’s also obvious if you look at other cultures—shaving is less common in Europe or parts of Central America, and it is a relatively recent cultural phenomenon.
Anyway, I was inspired by the fact that I could feel beautiful in my natural state, but more importantly, I was inspired by the fact that the girls I knew in punk rock weren’t just interested in being considered beautiful; they recognized that there are so many more important things to be: strong, smart, politically active, creative.
And I had always hated shaving. It took a lot of time, grew back prickly and irritating, cost money, and sometimes hurt. I started to realize there was no reason for me to do something I didn’t want to do just because society said I should.
And this has generally become my ethos: I’m not interested in consumerism despite relentless attempts to get me to buy, buy, buy. I’m not someone who ever just accepts the political party line that would rather I didn’t think critically about policy choices of our leaders. I don’t follow fad diets or spend my money on makeup. Sure there are social conventions I do follow; I’m not saying that I’m a complete social renegade, but I would like to think I choose the things to follow because I care about them or enjoy them. (For instance I care about being fit and healthy in part because I enjoy working out and in part because I feel better when I do.)
I would like my son to grow up believing women can be whoever they want to be. Heck, I’d like him growing up believing he can be whatever he wants to be: Maybe he’ll be into sports and such, but maybe he’ll be bookish or into fashion or art. Maybe he’ll want to wear princess dresses as our neighbor did, or maybe he’ll wear nothing but jeans and sneakers. Maybe he’ll want to shave his legs and armpits! Regardless of what he chooses, I want him to feel like he has a choice in creating his identity, that he doesn’t just have to follow what is expected of him. I hope that I can model that for him in the choices I make myself.
I hope all this makes sense. I really am happy to talk more about it if you want; you don’t have to feel embarrassed to ask me.
I love you,
Sara

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