Monday, 12 February 2018

The Right to Bear Legs, or Not...

I was thinking in the bath the other day...

...Being a feminist means wanting equality between the sexes. The point of equality is, I suppose, the freedom to have choices regardless of sex or gender. So getting to choose how I present myself is, in itself, a feminist act. So yeah...I was pondering all that as I shaved my legs last week(Warning - an honest and non-arousing description of my legs is contained in the following paragraphs. Don't say you weren't told.) 

Disclaimer: These are not my legs.
I HATE shaving my legs (and for shaving, read waxing, depilation, tweezing or any other form of leg hair removal. I've done 'em all!) It's a ball ache. The process is time-consuming, messy (you want to see the bath after I'm done - like a massacre of the entire world's spider community) and on top of that, rash-inducing. For me, anyway. Some women do not suffer from dotty red stingy-ness after running a blade over their pins. And they are lucky biyatches. 

An artful display of grooming
products, casually arranged
on my bathroom floor. 

I should be a window dresser.
The whole thing does my head in. And on top of that, I don't even like my legs. They are wide (I refuse to use the F word. They'd still be wide even if I were a size zero) and they're short. I'm short all over but my legs are shorter than the length of my body implies they should be. (I'm the same height as much taller people when I sit next to them.) The thing is, I accept this and don't care. I dislike clothes that showcase bare legs. As we all know, I ABHOR the summer, so floaty skirts and denim shorts are nowhere to be seen. I'm happy that my legs work and can walk me places. I'm happy that in an airplane or theatre seat, I have all the room in the world. I'm also happy that I don't have sciatica right now. With those happy and accepting thoughts in mind, grooming beyond a basic shower feels unnecessary. My legs are encased in denim, black lycra - or more usually, PJ bottoms - on a 24-hour basis. So why bother shaving them, right? Am I a crap feminist because I continue to play along with this societal expectation? Am I propping up the patriarchy's power structures by funding Gillette so generously?

Me, getting out of bed,
the day after a leg shave.
I suppose it's because I like my legs not-prickly. I like my legs not-hairy. I like the feeling of smooth shin-skin. I like the aftermath of the ball-achy process, even if the journey to get there takes time and energy, and wrecks the bath. Granted, this smoothness lasts about half a day before the prickles come back, but still. For that half day I feel lovely. I sleep with bare legs in cool, clean sheets - who am I kidding? As IF my sheets are clean! - and I wake up understanding what it is like to be an Amazonian goddess, rising from her slumber, legs up to her neck, striding about like she owns the place. (I am woman, hear me roar. Or something. I mean, WTAF is that about?) But for such a small window of shinned-smoothness, it can often feel not worth the faff of hacking through the thicket. But still I do.

As much as I feel no obvious external pressure to shave my legs (guys, they are literally cloth-encased, all the day is long. No one cares!) I am sure the world around me has contributed to this internal conflict on a subconscious level. If I'd grown up with non-smooth-legged women sexily advertising lipstick, I might feel differently. Or if Angela Rippon had done her Morecambe and Wise dance, emerging from the the news desk with week-old stubble, would I still feel like I want to keep up the shaving malarkey the way I do? If I'd seen any woman on any advert, TV show or film, positively depicted with hairy legs, would I have hit puberty with a different outlook? We'll never know for sure. But for now I tell myself it is a choice I make. One that I think I knowingly choose even if the reality is that I've been nurtured to think this way by a shaved-legged society. 

In related, but slightly different news, I watched Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri the other day. It was fabulous and there's a review here for those that want it. When I came back from the cinema, I googled to see what other people thought, to check if they agreed with me. (It's fine. They did.) But I also stumbled across a couple of articles about the lead actress, Frances McDormand. Happily, they were wholly positive in tone and referred to her recent Golden Globe win where she chose not to wear make-up for the awards ceremony. On the one hand, oh for the day when this isn't noted. But on the other, hurrah for Frances McDormand not giving a shit, and making choices that worked for her. She looked ace, by the way. Her face did all the acting in Three Billboards so I get why she wouldn't want to mask it with feature-altering coloured-grease. Plus she won! Her face was chock-full of expression and emotion. And her speech was witty, meaningful and sincere. Inspirational and aspirational in equal measure. Yet for all that marvellousness, this morning I spent twenty-five minutes applying make-up to my face, for a day spent largely alone at home. 

And this is just the everyday
stuff. You want to see me go
to town in a Sephora.
It's back to the internal struggle again. Do I wear make-up because society tells me I should? Is this really my choice? Do I want to waste twenty-five minutes of my day this way? I'll be honest, this one feels less of a struggle than the leg-shaving question. I've realised as I've got older that I actually quite like make-up. It's fun. It makes my eyes look bigger. I find the process relaxing and creative. I enjoy its application as well as its result. I didn't have to put any on today. No one forced me. It isn't a job requirement. It was a pleasurable experience. And on Sunday when it's my have-a-shower-then-put-on-clean-pyjamas-and-watch-Netflix day, I'll be barefaced and choosing that look just as much. I love that I get to choose, just as much as I love that Francis McDormand got to choose how she looked for her Golden Globe win. At the Cheltenham Literary festival of 2011, Caitlin Moran said that we'll know when feminism has worked, when a woman accepts a Best Actress Oscar in flat shoes*. I have no idea what shoes Frances McDormand wore to the Golden Globes, nor do I care as long as she was happy with them, but I'd bet money they were her choice and not the urgings of a bossy stylist, pushing this season's latest impractical offerings.

Classic Bond - late 90s to late 00s. 
So far I've (over) shared that I shave my legs and plaster on the slap. I choose to do things that, on first glance, look like I'm supporting the patriarchy, even though exercising the right to choose what I do, is enough. But when it comes to shoes, I am a million miles away from the patriarchal construct of high heels. (Although the appearance of longer, slimmer legs and a higher arse is something I could probably manage to accommodate, if pushed.) Regardless, I am so over heels. I'm currently on the look out for what to wear for my 40th birthday and it's going to be flat shoes all the way. I want to be able to walk, stand up all night, even dance if I get pissed enough. I do not want to be up on tip toes, carefully and deliberately placing one foot in front of the other, feeling the creak in my knees, worrying about the heel skidding from under me on a shiny floor, and taking twice as long to walk to the loo than I should. I don't want to feel the aching after-effects in my back for the rest of the week, I don't want to waste silly money on something I'll kick off after twenty minutes, and I don't want to fall arse over tit. Reader, I am no stranger to any of these experiences. I'm done with them. No more.

Unfortunately in my quest for the perfect pair of flats, I've purchased four that aren't quite right. They are very nice (and obviously I'll be keeping them) but they're not what I want for the event in question. By the time March comes, I'll be fully stocked in walkable, formal shoes for a life time of conscious and knowing feminist choices. 

Have a lovely week, folks.

* That was totally paraphrased. I'm casting my mind back seven years here. However, Caitlin has a whole chapter on fashion in How To Be a Woman, and a decent rant on heels. One of my favourite quotes about the topic is on p202.
"The very few who can walk elegantly in them look amazing, of course - walking in heels is a skill as impressive of being able to tightrope walk, or blow smoke rings. I admire them. I wish them well. I wish I could be them. But they are a tiny minority. For everyone else - the vast majority - we look as inversely elegant as we think we will when we purchase them. We waddle, we go over on our ankles, we can't dance, and we wince incessantly, whilst hissing, 'These SODDING shoes. My feet are killing me."
I hear you, Caitlin. I really hear you.


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