I'm Teaching My Tweens That Having Body Hair (Or Not) Is Their Choice

by Jenn Jones
A tween girl checking if she has body hair under her armpits

My daughter decided that it was time to shave her legs. She was ready, especially now that most of her friends were showing up to school in shorts and freshly-shaven legs. I told her that I supported her decision and would help her, but I also reminded her that she could do what she wanted with her body hair. If that meant delaying—or never—shaving, that was her choice to make.

She chose to proceed, and I shaved her legs for her, both of us sitting on the ledge of the tub. That was weeks ago, and she hasn’t asked to do it again. Either it wasn’t all that life-changing or she’s decided she just doesn’t care. Whatever the reason, it’s fine with me.

When I was in middle school, one of the hallmarks of becoming grown was shaving your legs. You made sure everyone knew you did it, opting to wear shorts or a skirt no matter how cold it was outside. This wasn’t considered socially optional. If you were a girl, you were expected to shave your legs somewhere between fifth and seventh grade.

I barely had any leg hair to begin with, but I caved to the pressure of fitting in. If you didn’t own a silk, button-up shirt and shave your legs, what were you doing with your life? I ended up with nicked legs and the occasional hair-removal lotion burn from leaving it on too long. It turned out, shaving my legs wasn’t at all what it was cracked up to be. In my middle schooler mind, I thought that somehow the glide of the razor would magically turn me into someone more popular, more beautiful, and more grown up.

Not shaving your pits or legs was something only hippie-types did when I was a kid. Now, there are plenty of people who forgo shaving, waxing, and removing-with-lotion in lieu of going au natural. It’s quite liberating to have the option. No more torturous stints with hair removal lotion, like the time I tried it for the first time. There’s a reason the packaging says to carefully follow the directions. One day, I applied Nair all over my legs, let it sit extra long figuring it’d be more effective, and then waited. Soon, my legs felt like they were on fire. I frantically rinsed all of the lotion off in the shower, emerging with hair-less legs covered in red splotches.

My social media feed now includes images of women who are choosing not to shave their arm pits, many sharing that if guys don’t have to shave, why do we? When did taking a blade to our bodies, removing hair no matter how painful or itchy, become a good idea?

I’m teaching my children that if they are responsible enough to shave, they can, and I’ll show them how to do it safely and properly. But if they don’t feel like it—for whatever reason—don’t bother. They can always change their minds later—or never.

The idea of body hair positivity extends to other choices, as well. What our kids wear, how they style their hair, their hobbies—these are all ways that kids learn to express themselves. As long as what they’re choosing is appropriate for the occasion (ahem, school dress codes) and safe, what’s the big deal? Childhood is the prime time to try new things, explore, and create.

There have been times my kids were the only one of their gender in a particular extracurricular. My daughter was in roller hockey one year. Another one of my kids plays the drums, the only girl among a slew of boy students. It’s awesome to watch them flourish in areas that have typically been stereotyped for others—because they could have missed out on so much learning and joy by choosing something else.

Like many parents, we were raised in a time when girls played with dolls and, of course, shaved their legs, and boys played with trucks and wore blue. Watching the walls between the boy’s and girl’s clothing department come crashing down has been beautiful and long overdue. Why did we ever subscribe to division and rules?

I’ll never forget the agony of wearing tights to church and special occasions, such as Easter, as a child. They were hot, itchy, and uncomfortably snug. Meanwhile, the boys got to wear khaki pants with pockets for things like gum and toy cars. Having to “sit like a lady” was miserable. I don’t want my kids to experience that—at any capacity.

Body hair can stay, if that’s what makes them comfortable. Or it can go. Their reasons why don’t have to be affirmed or denied by anyone. Though adolescence is certainly the time to simultaneously fit in and stand out, it’s also no time like the present to figure out what works for them. This is also a season in which they can choose to have healthy boundaries in place, where they protect their peace and understand that they don’t have to justify their body choices to anyone.

I hope that more and more parents choose to not only embrace body hair—and all body—positivity, but also to educate their kids on the fact that it’s okay to not alter their bodies if they don’t want to. No matter what my own children choose, I want them to also learn that they don’t have the right to critique a peer’s choice. We’d all be much happier if we minded our own body business.