I'm of a generation where girls, starting at some point in (pre?)adolescence, were supposed to shave their armpits and legs, but where mons and vulva shaving was not considered.

I remember discussing armpit shaving in the geek summer camp cafeteria at one point. All of us were roughly 14 or 15. One girl argued that it's just more hygienic that way, and didn't have a good answer to my question of whether boys should be doing it. Since then, I've repeatedly seen bodily shaving referred to as a hygiene issue. Occasionally people will describe it as a hygiene issue for both sexes, but often it's just for women/girls.

I think shaving-for-hygiene is just the same sort of social delusion (?) or polite fiction (?) that wearing-shoes-for-hygiene is. I don't actually know whether shaved armpits interact with sweat better than unshaved armpits, but there's an area of my body that is far more deserving of hygiene-inspired shaving: my scalp. I have thick, oily, slightly dandruffy hair, which I usually wear long. It is easy for me to build up skin flakes, or oil, or (especially in the summer) sweat on my scalp and the first inch or so of my hair. It itches. It probably smells bad (there are obvious mechanical obstacles to me smelling my own scalp), at least when I've just been exercising. It looks grungy. It's been hard to get lice out of on the occasions when I've gotten lice.

And yet, nobody has ever suggested that I shave my scalp in the name of hygiene. Not even when I was trying to transition to a low-shampoo lifestyle while biking everywhere.

Armpit shaving is absolutely part of expected grooming for women in my current culture. It's not hygiene-driven, though. Nor is leg shaving (which, to be fair, many people don't even try to argue).

I have vague thoughts about why hygiene and grooming are lumped together like this, but they haven't gelled yet.

(Oh, and to be clear, I have no problem with other people's grooming choices, as long as they're not expecting my choices to be the same as theirs. Your body (follicles, pores, skin evenness, etc.), your choice.)



June 2014

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