A Hairy Discussion, With Auntie SparkNotes and Her Mom
It’s the second and final day of our Mother’s Day feature, with Auntie’s mom in the house! What are we tackling today? HAIRY THINGS.
I'm writing to tell you about a trivial, but seriously hairy problem. I am 16 years old, and my mom does not let me remove the hair on my legs. I have tried asking her and talking to her about this, but she reiterates that shaving makes leg hair grow thicker and faster, as well as Nair. Waxing is a no-no because of my low threshold for pain. She also claims that my leg hair is barely noticeable, since my hair is black and I am pretty tan. She says she regrets shaving (she did it twice, and then let it grow). I am allowed to shave my underarms, but my mom has remained adamant on this issue.
I am uncomfortable when I wear shorts in PE (I slather on a ton of lotion in the hopes that the hair will be disguised), when I have to swim in public, and I always wear hose or tights if I'm wearing a skirt or dress. I never wear shorts or capris outside. I know some people would just shave anyway, but I value my mother's permission, and I don't want to break her trust for something like shaving my legs. So...do I let the hair grow? Or just woman it up and shave?
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: Hi again, mom!
AUNTIE’S MOM: Well hello there.
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: We are just now coming together in a chat box to talk about this letter! And we were definitely not also talking about it on the phone just now or anything.
AUNTIE’S MOM: Of course not, I have no idea what you're talking about. What the hell is a phone?
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: Phone? I'm sorry, I only speak English. So, you were especially interested in answering this letter! Please tell me what about it was so compelling!
AUNTIE’S MOM: Well, I definitely felt I could relate to this letter writer, because when I was about 12 or 13 my mother also "forbade" me to shave my legs. And she cited that same old wives tale about shaving leading to thicker, coarser, faster-growing hair.
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: NOOOOOO! (And also, for the record: that is COMPLETELY not true.)
AUNTIE’S MOM: Not only is it not true, there are scientific studies dating back to the 1920s that repeatedly have proven it to be not true. SCIENCE! I'm really kind of amazed that in this day and age there are still mothers out there who are using this urban legend bogeyman to cow their daughters into not shaving their legs. And I'm also kind of amazed that LW bought into the whole bogus thing too, since it's so easy to research the truth these days.
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: I know. I’ll bet these are the same people who tell their kids not to masturbate because they'll go blind and turn into yetis.
AUNTIE’S MOM: This is probably a case of two crazy ideas becoming linked. The common thread seems to be that growing up and doing things that signal adulthood is only going to end in horrible hairiness.
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: Everyone’s worst fear! So, we have established that the shaving-leads-to-hairier-hair myth is bogus. BUT! This girl is still very torn.
AUNTIE’S MOM: Yes, she is. And it's all her mother's fault—she’s somehow drilled it in that the issue is TRUST. Whereas the real issue is CONTROL.
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: And isn’t it weird that these aesthetic conflicts between mothers and daughters always seem to be about the mom's own issues? "I shaved my legs and regretted it, so I'm not going to give you that chance!"
AUNTIE’S MOM: Exactly, that so struck me too. I worry a little that this girl doesn't see how ridiculous her mother's desire to control something like this is.
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: I think it's really hard to have that perspective at first. When you’ve always depended on your mom’s approval, it's strange and scary to imagine defying her—I even felt that way about shaving *my* legs! (Remember how you told me I should only shave up to my knee? But I went above it, and it was TERRIFYING. Even though I felt I was entitled to make that choice, I was still convinced that you were going to KNOW, and KICK down the bathroom door, and demand that I PUT THE HAIR BACK ON BECAUSE YOU SAID KNEE HIGH ONLY.)
AUNTIE’S MOM: Ha! But I just didn't like the idea that you would begin to feel that any hair anywhere except on your head was something you had to be embarrassed or ashamed of.
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: And that's so funny, because that was not my reason for doing it at all. ...And now, you need to tell your story about being forbidden to shave. Because it’s the best part.
AUNTIE’S MOM: Oh, yes: I was taking a bath and the razor was there on the edge of the tub, and I decided to just shave a little patch on one leg, which then turned into the whole leg. I showed my mother, and I said that it looked ridiculous so I was going to shave the other. And I was totally not afraid of her reaction to what I had done, because her forbidding me was not reasonable, and even at age twelve, I felt that it was not.
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: And can we just get a general consensus from you, a mom, that your teenage daughter's personal grooming regimen is not worth this much conflict?
AUNTIE’S MOM: It’s not! Especially with the language involved—I can see voicing the following kinds of things in the "I regret" department: I regret not finishing high school. I regret starting to smoke when I was 15. I regret not spending time with my grandmother while she was still alive.
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: But "I regret shaving my legs"?
AUNTIE’S MOM: “I regret shaving my legs” is as absurd as "You cannot eat chocolate cake because I once ate a piece back in 1992 and it went straight to my thighs."
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: "You cannot cut your hair because I once cut mine back in 1974 and was immediately mauled by bears."
AUNTIE’S MOM: LOLOL.
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: And this girl says she doesn't want to "break her mom's trust" over something as silly as leg-shaving, but this is exactly the kind of thing that a teenager should be deciding herself!
AUNTIE’S MOM: I agree—if a kid isn't permitted to make these sorts of minor decisions, how will she ever be able to negotiate the much bigger and more important issues she'll encounter in growing up? And if I were this girl, I would especially resent that my mother was denying me the opportunity to make a choice which she (the mother) was apparently allowed to make for herself.
Also, it’s a little awful for a mother to insist on something that makes a kid feel so uncomfortable about herself and her body. It’s exactly the opposite of what parents should want to do. Mom should want her daughter to do whatever (within reason) would make her feel confident and pretty, whether it's to shave her legs or have a certain haircut or wear makeup.
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: And at the very least, she shouldn't insist on her doing something that makes her feel as awful as the letter-writer is feeling. She’s so uncomfortable about this! I feel so terrible for her!
AUNTIE’S MOM: Ugh, I know.
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: So, in summary: letter-writer! Shave your legs! Because you want to! (And because not shaving is clearly making you miserable and insecure to an exhausting degree, and also because pantyhose are AWFUL.) But what's more important is starting to understand that your choices are yours, and that learning to navigate the world on your own means recognizing that you don’t need your parents’ approval, or even their guidance, for everything. And especially not every little thing, which this really is.
AUNTIE’S MOM: And I’d like to say something, as a parent, to fellow parents.
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: Go for it.
AUNTIE’S MOM: I'd like to say, "Parents, please stop using the Regret Card for Trivial Stuff." Because otherwise how will your kids take you seriously when it's actually important? I think sometimes parents indulge in these little tyrannies with their teens—they're so little that the parents convince themselves that they're no big deal. Like, this mother could think, “Leg hair isn't a big deal. Daughter can just do what I want in this case. It’s minor.”
But it's not—both because of what lies beneath the urge to dictate these minor matters, AND the fact that all these little tyrannies add up to something much bigger for the kid.
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: That is such a good point. And I'm going to pick it up where you’re leaving off, by saying that this letter is such a good example of how it does become something bigger. Because look at what happens: suddenly, it's not just about shaving or not shaving for this girl. It's become about BREAKING TRUST and REJECTING HER MOTHER. This has, for the letter-writer, become a really big deal.
AUNTIE’S MOM: I agree absolutely. It's very warped that leg shaving now equals Betrayal of Mother and Mother's trust. So here's the question—does she need to talk to her mother about this? Or should she just start shaving and see whether her mother even notices?
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: I think it’s up to her. Actually, I think deciding whether or not to discuss it ties right in with her need to decide for herself to shave her legs.
AUNTIE’S MOM: But if she does want to talk to her mom about it, I think she should start with the fact that her “reasons” are an urban myth. Being able to point to science might be easier than saying something that amounts to "I don't want you to control my choices."
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: Right. Because science! You know, my favorite scientific study disproving this myth was one executed by a guy in my class in tenth grade.
AUNTIE’S MOM: Really?
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: Yes! He shaved his (utterly hairless) chest in an attempt to make the hair grow back thick and coarse and manly. It didn't work, and everyone laughed at him.
AUNTIE’S MOM: Are you just making that up for the purposes of this column?
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: No! It was Eric! Remember him?!
AUNTIE’S MOM: OMG! HAHAHAHAHHAHA.
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: Uh. Sorry, Eric.
Got your own shaving stories to share? Leave ‘em in the comments! And everyone say thanks to my mom for being here, because she’s the BOSS! And to submit your own hairy question, email firstname.lastname@example.org!