I think most of us have shaving stories from our youth. Mine? My mom thought it would be stupid for me to shave since I was blonde, and she insisted no one could see my leg hair. She felt the "smooth leg" goal was a senseless standard put on women and said I'd regret starting. So, she did not teach me. There came a day when another girl made fun of my body hair, and then I found Mom's razor and did my best to teach myself.
Truthfully, shaving legs and armpits should always be a choice. If your child wants to do it, you should teach them. If they don't want to do it, that's fine too. But since these conversations are often an awkward dance, I asked a pediatrician for some advice.
At what age do kids sprout body hair?
Obviously, your kids' genes are going to drive how hairy they get — and how early. "In general, puberty can start as young as age 8 for kids assigned female at birth, and 9 for kids assigned male at birth," says Kathryn Lowe, MD, author of You-ology: A Puberty Guide for EVERY Body. "That's kind of the typical bottom age. Sometimes body hair will actually start before true puberty."
Middle school is often the prime time for all the body changes to begin. "That being said, just because hair is sprouting doesn't mean that kids are feeling pressure to shave," Dr. Lowe says.
OK, when do kids "typically" start to feel pressure to shave?
Before even asking this, I know it's dictated by circumstances. Do you live down south, where kids dress for hot weather, or up north, where everyone is in layers? Does gym class require shorts, or are sweatpants allowed? I was a majorette as a kid, so I wore a sleeveless bodysuit in front of my peers. I felt the pressure to shave early. Gymnasts and kids on a swim or track team might also feel like shaving is a necessity. Other kids might be part of more modest-dressing communities and aren't showing their legs in public. Still others might be the kind of kids who wear jeans every day and can't be bothered to think about shaving, and that's cool, too.
"The short answer is there's never a normal time for kids to first shave their legs. It's obviously a very personal decision for each child," Lowe says. They might find out that a friend shaved. Or they might start to notice smooth legs on their media peers; it's hard to find hairy girl legs on Nickelodeon, for instance. "Kids start to get exposed to media influence that puts out there this gender expectation that girls shave," Lowe says. "Kids start to have thoughts that maybe they should shave, even though, clearly, that's not a rule they have to follow." (My mom was right on that front.)
If your kid comes to you and asks to shave...
"If a child comes to you with a question about shaving, that's really a gift and a great opportunity to show that child that they can trust you to give them accurate, nonjudgemental information," Lowe says.
You may think it's early for them to shave, or you may think it's totally appropriate, but either way, you should give them the tools and a lesson. Remember, points out Lowe, "Some kids choose to shave even if others aren't going to be seeing their armpits. They just feel more comfortable knowing they don't have hair there. There are lots of different reasons why people choose to shave."
Take a trip to the store or see what you have in the bathroom. "I do think it's safest to start with a razor — regular razor or electric — and to teach kids the steps. They need to first clean their skin in the shower or bath, with soap, to get the bacteria off. That way, if they nick a little bit of skin, they're less likely to get an infection. Talk about using really light pressure and making sure the razor is new enough that the blade is sharp, because a dull blade is more likely to cause little nicks or irritations."
Shaving is also a great opportunity to talk about gender issues. "If you're at the drugstore, you can say, 'Look at how gendered this stuff is,'" Lowe suggests. "Skin is skin, and razors don't have a gender." It's also an opportunity to explain the maddening pink tax. "Show them the price difference between products that seem feminine and those marketed as masculine. It can open a lot of conversation," Lowe says. Importantly, let them use whatever gel and razor they want.
If your kid is hairy but not asking to shave...
Let it go — unless you feel like they are just terrified to bring it up, which is possible. Maybe you catch them looking at their leg hair or see that they're nervous about putting on shorts. "If you're sensing that they might have questions they aren't asking, you should bring it up and let them know you're happy to talk about shaving anytime if they want to. And if they don't want to, that's OK too," says Lowe.
Wait, you can use shaving as a gateway conversation?
"The pediatrician in me likes to point out that if your child is coming to you with shaving questions, the conversation is actually about more than shaving," explains Lowe. The subtext is that they're trusting you instead of texting friends or searching TikTok for answers to their questions about adolescence.
"Eventually, hopefully, they'll be coming to you with questions about sex and how to keep their body safe and healthy, and how to make good choices, instead of turning to the internet or just to their peers," Lowe says. "So it's really a great opportunity to build up to those bigger conversations."
Sounds terrifying. I mean, sounds amazing and great.