Hairy Legs

by Daa Mahowald

While I was at the grocery store last week, the man in front of me in the checkout line turned to me. "You know, with all that hair on your legs, they really are ugly," he said.

This week, I can think of at least ten beautiful responses. You know how that goes -- after the fact, you figure out just exactly the perfect comeback -- things you should've said. For example, since we were both in shorts, I could have looked pointedly at his hairy legs and said, "You should know."

Or, since I haven't seen twenty for more years than I'll admit, I could've played on society's 'youth is beauty' attitude. I could've said, "Well, I'm not a teenager anymore."

I was thirteen the first time I shaved my legs. I'll never forget it. I hadn't discussed leg hair with my mom but I was fairly certain she wouldn't let me to do it. After all, wasn't this the ultimate ritual to womanhood? I figured that, if I didn't ask, Mom couldn't forbid it. And what could she do after the fact?

I planned carefully. With money I'd earned from babysitting, I bought a pretty pink Flicker, one of those round, women's shavers guaranteed not to gash my legs (I wanted to become a woman, not bleed to death). I waited until my parents went out for the evening then snuck upstairs and locked the bathroom door against my siblings. With the utmost care, I performed this rite of passage to womanhood.

When my parents came home that night, I proudly showed my mom the results of my daring deed, telling her, "Now I've become a woman!"

"Are you saying," she responded, "that females who don't have legs can't become women?" That was her only comment but I sure was deflated. Shaving my legs was never very important to me after that.

However, because I doubt this man could ever really understand that thirteen-year-old's frame of mind, I kept thinking about the perfect comeback.

Perhaps the feminist angle: "Hey, it's my mind that counts." How about an obvious lie: "Ooops, I forgot!" I could've even thrown in a little body-language and spread my hands over the offending hair.

Maybe flippancy would've been better: "The leg-waxer at my beauty parlor is on strike."

I could've tried tit-for-tat: "If you don't look at my hairy legs, I won't look at your beer gut."

Or: "I work for a hair transplant corporation, would you like to fill out an application for a mustache?"

Possibly, I should have tried logic. I'm a happily married working-mom, always busy, always on the run. The attractiveness of, let alone the hairiness of, my legs is seldom on my mind.

In fact, the first time I went out in public without shaving was an accident. It happened about two years ago on a day when it was a sweltering 106. My morning began typically, with me starting my toddler on breakfast then heading to the laundry room to start a load before jumping in the shower to wash, shampoo and shave. That morning, unfortunately, my clothes washer decided to misfunction.

I threw on some shorts and a T, threw my kid in the same and headed to the neighborhood laundromat before it could get even hotter out.

Near us, two teenagers were 'doing' their clothes. They were talking loudly to each other, laughing and having a good time despite the heat. Suddenly, one of them pointed to me and, in a stage whisper to her friend, hissed, "Look at the hair on her legs!" They laughed uproariously and returned to their previous conversation. I looked down. Sure enough, my legs were stubbled in public! Gasp!! I'd never done that before! Oh the shame, the guilt, the embarrassment!

But slowly, reality sank in. The laundromat was competing with the outside temperature. My kid and I were drooping, swiftly melting into pools of sweat. In that oppressive, revealing heat, I discovered something. Hairy legs are irrelevant to real life.

What's more, I realized, I no longer cared whether those hair follicles won our daily battle for ownership of my legs. Right then and there, I unconditionally surrendered. And ever since, hair has propagated on my legs.

So maybe I could have told that man the truth. A simple: "I don't care."

Yes, there were probably dozens of replies I could've made, maybe even should've made. Perhaps I could've enlightened that oaf.

What I did say, with a shrug, was: "Oh well."

Daa (pronounced day) Mahowald, born and raised in Minneapolis, is a Professional Tutor and freelance writer. She and her Electrical Engineer spouse, Matt, are raising their five-and-a-half-year-old in Lancaster, CA.

return to table of contents

© Copyright 1996 - Daa Mahowald. All rights reserved.