Leg Work: Body Hair Is Not Always A Statement


Apropos of Mo’Nique’s legs and Amanda Palmer’s pits, the Times has written a piece on what it means for women to be hairy. But does it mean anything at all?

Catherine Saint Louis writes:

On the red carpet, if a woman has hairy legs or armpits, it is assumed to be an accidental misstep — a failure of time management, if you will. But that hasn’t been true lately.

Stop the presses! Women are actually choosing not to shave their bodies! Of course, women about to be photographed on the red carpet have probably already been subjected to enough appearance analysis that they wouldn’t simply forget to shave (although it would be nice if we lived in a world where they could). But a choice isn’t the same thing as a political stance, as both Mo’Nique and Palmer make clear. Mo’Nique quit shaving because she cut herself (a totally reasonable response), and Palmer says, “People assume you’re making a statement, but I’m not.” To explain:

For Ms. Palmer, the singer, the point is to free yourself from caring what others think. (Easier said than done, of course.) Still, she tells young fans who mistake not shaving for authenticity: “You know what’s really cool? Wake up every morning, decide what you feel like doing, and do it.”

But Palmer’s Twitter tells a slightly fuller story. In response to our recent post on her, she wrote, “this jezebel-is-“over”-me blog just landed me an interview about feminism w the new york times tomorrow. life/lemonade!” And later: “just finished ny times interview re: feminism, choice,hair, the fuckin’ paradigm. killed it. should apearr later this month in style section.” Personally, I would have been interested to hear Palmer’s thoughts on feminism, choice, and the fuckin’ paradigm (especially since my criticism of her attracted plenty of criticism of its own). It’s a shame that the Times chose focus on perhaps the least consequential part of the interview: hair.

Not that this is surprising. Hairy legs, like bra-burning, have long been used as a metonymy for feminism by lazy social observers, and the mainstream media often seems more concerned with how women adorn — or don’t adorn — their bodies than with what goes on in their heads. This isn’t to say that not shaving can’t be a political choice, it’s just to say that there’s a lot more to feminist politics than leg hair, or than appearance in general. Here’s Palmer’s final tweet about the Times interview, which is perhaps more apt than anything that actually made it into the paper:

my favorite quote from the interview, and i hope they use it: “i don’t abhor shaving, I abhor rules.”

Unshaven Women: Free Spirits Or Unkempt? [NYT]
Amandapalmer [Twitter]

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