These days, I shave most of my body hair by choice. On the days (or weeks) that I don't, that decision is just as much my choice. Image: Thinkstock.
I tapped the razor on the side of the sink and inspected my smooth legs for any missed spots. Then I rinsed the blade, washed my hands, and put on my outfit: a long-sleeved black top, a knee-length denim skirt, tall black boots, and a silver dragon necklace for good measure.
I guess I thought I looked goth or grunge or something equally cool and “alt girl.”
Only a couple inches of my bare legs actually showed.
“You shaved your legs for that?” my mother asked incredulously, as she really looked at me for the first time that morning. “You're all covered up!”
I muttered something in reply as I got out of the car, slung my backpack over my shoulder, and reluctantly kissed her good-bye.
I was about to enter the dark and menacing bowels of my high school where all the freshman lockers were, but that day, I would be doing so with shaven legs.
Not normally one to walk with confidence at that age, I did exactly that.
The edge in my mother's voice was a reminder of our recurring arguments from the past year.
Even though I was mere weeks from my 15th birthday, I was shaving my legs for the very first time — and I had to fight for what seemed like the privilege to have control over my own body.
“You're too young for that.”
“You're still a kid.”
“Don't worry about that.”
“Do your homework.”
I knew she was trying to protect me, but I couldn't quite suss out from what.
All I knew was that I was the only girl in my gym class who wore sweat pants, and the reason had nothing to do with comfort. I hadn't worn shorts since sixth grade, when the teasing started.
Instead of embracing my body, I hid it.
Over the years, I came to understand my mother's reasons for steering me clear of razors. She didn't want me to grow up because she had grown up too fast.
The questions immediately started. Even girls I had never spoken to before began asking why I never wore shorts in gym class.
I just lied and said I had very sensitive skin that prevented me from shaving.
Most of them shrugged and didn't bother challenging that.
Over the years, I came to understand my mother's reasons for steering me clear of razors: She didn't want me to grow up because she had grown up too fast.
She didn't want me to worry and fret or be objectified and sexualized. She wanted me to enjoy childhood and not be burdened with everything that being a woman in our society brings.
She also wanted me to focus on my studies, writing, and art, so I could nurture my talents and have opportunities she could only dream of when she was my age. Like most parents, my mother just wanted her children to be happy, be healthy, and reach higher than her particular circumstances ever allowed her.
While her intentions were good, her execution was less than perfect and the result was that she often infantilized me to a much greater extent than other moms did their daughters.
In our house, sexuality was forbidden. I wasn't allowed to date in high school. I couldn't go to parties. Any time a sex scene came up on TV, she pressed “mute” and instructed my younger sisters and me to turn around.
Yet my mother loved me — and I cannot fault her for that.
I have had some amazing opportunities because she pushed me to achieve.
But I am also very happy to be an adult who has the power to make decisions over her own body and about how I express my sexuality. These days, I shave most of my body hair by choice. On the days (or weeks) that I don't, that decision is just as much my choice.
Whether I shave or not, I am now the only one who has say over my body.