On Lunchroom Conversations + Smooth-Legged Commercials: A Tale of Shaved Arms

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I can’t remember exactly how it came up at my middle school lunch table, but when someone said she shaved her arms, it was a major moment in my world.

I can’t remember exactly how it came up at my middle school lunch table, but when someone said she shaved her arms, it was a major moment in my world.

I glanced down at my own arms, my fair skin covered in dark, unrelenting hair. I can still feel the disgust bubbling up inside of me. A tale as old as time: I was a kid just trying to survive another day of middle school, wanting to hide under a rock in self-shame. I had been called manly and caught stares from the girls gifted with lighter hair. I sat at the table, equal parts curious about this new information and feeling grossed out by my own body. I hastily folded my arms, a desperate attempt to hide myself in plain sight.

My preteen mind could articulate my feelings of disgust toward myself. I could tell you I was “grossed out” by my own arm air. But what I couldn’t yet identify was the more basic human feeling: shame.

This was back in the early, early 2000s. Skintimate commercials blasted on my television every day and had done their work on me. I asked and successfully got that bubblegum pink shaving cream during a grocery shopping trip and could already feel myself become cooler, more attractive.

At my middle school lunch table, I felt like I had just been given answers to my prayers. My prayers to be beautiful. My prayers to fit in. My prayers to feel comfortable in my own body. And the answer, at the tender age of 12 or 13, was to validate my body shame by hiding myself some more.

So, for about 10 years, I shaved my arms. I spent an extra 2-3 minutes in the shower every single day carefully sliding a razor from almost-my-wrists to almost-my-shoulders, where the hair started to become more translucent, less thick, and therefore, more acceptable.

It was a vicious cycle, though. Hair grows, ya know. And quickly for some people. If I skipped one day of shaving, my arms became unnaturally prickly, with those dark spikes daring to expose me as the hairy person I truly was. Sometimes, my prickly arms would graze against a stranger while in a crowd or waiting in line, and my brain would essentially shut down as I looked at them and knew they were judging me. My self-disgust bulged inside of me, and I was desperate to just get home. Take a shower. Get rid of the hair. I stopped living in the real world and started breathing in the shame that I still couldn’t identify.

Sometime in my late twenties, somewhere in between getting married and having a kid, my desire to take shorter showers and have one less task to do outweighed my hair shame. Through many years of self-reflection, counseling, and devouring self-help books, I also started to feel my own confidence grow. When I finally made the decision to say “screw it” and stop shaving my arms, it took a few weeks for the prickliness to subside and for the short, coarse hair to look like normal arm hair again. During this transition time, the self-conscious middle-schooler version of myself bled to the surface as I hesitantly let my hair follicles do what they wanted for the first time in a decade. My eyes searched for bare female arms in public to judge how much hair was visible. My self-doubt ebbed and flowed as I figured out the new me. The one that wasn’t ashamed of such a very natural thing on my body.

And from those few brave weeks of prickliness, a new feeling bubbled up inside me: I loved myself more.

That’s how my Tale of Shaved Arms ends. In a place of self-acceptance and self-love, though it took many years to get there. By choosing to end a ritual that wasn’t at all for myself made me more confident in myself. It made me love myself that much more. And, if more of us just loved ourselves a bit more, I really believe the world could become a more beautiful, kinder place. (And I’d take a hairy-yet-kind world over whatever we have now any day.)

And, look, I still shave my legs and wear makeup. I color my hair to hide grays and I pluck my eyebrows once a week. This isn’t a feminist manifesto for the ages and I’m not asking anyone to toss their razors into a bonfire of new age thinking.

Instead, I’m simply saying: take stock in what you do and who you’re doing it for. Are you still doing things to nurse decades-old wounds? Are you engaging in rituals that you know, deep down, are steeped in shame? Do you have your own Tale of Shaved Arms that manifested in a different way? This is what I’m talking about.

So, shave your legs if you want. Wear bold lipstick if it brings you joy. Catwalk it into the office if you love your pumps. (And, yes, shave your arms if you want to!) But, if you find yourself in a ritual that you dislike, that you feel like is a ball and chain around your ankle, that is born out of a middle-school table chat from twenty years ago…

Now’s the time to change course. Now’s the chance to get a little uncomfortable to become more comfortable. Now’s your opportunity to choose yourself over those wounds from long ago.

Now’s the time to love yourself more.

And, finally, to the girls at my middle-school lunch table twenty years ago, swapping stories of how they coped with shame without ever once uttering the word: I hope you found love for yourself despite the smooth-legged commercials and glossy magazine pages. Life’s about so much more than that, though we couldn’t see it then.

Ten years and thousands of razors later, I can see it now.

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A content manager and writer, Laurie has a love of connecting with people through her words. She has a degree from UConn in History and Native American and Indigenous Studies and had the plan of working in a museum, but ended up teaching for nearly a decade instead! In addition, Laurie was a barn rat growing up, and has fifteen years of experience riding and training horses. While Central Florida has been her home for ten years (and loves it - hello, Disney!), she proudly identifies as a New Englander and will forever root for the Patriots and Red Sox. She’s the wife of a lawyer, mom of an elementary schooler, stepmom of a high schooler, and dog mom to a quirky Shepherd mix named Eleanor. Connect with her on Instagram @aladywholoveswords

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