Standing before the array of shaving products made and marketed especially for women is astonishing. Who would believe that there were so many types of razors, not to mention the creams and lotions to be used pre, post and (I guess) during the shaving process. The products all claim to result to silky smooth legs and underarms, as well as keeping one safe from nicks and cuts. I stand before the expansive display and finally walk away without making a selection.
My dad largely left the child raising to my mother. He was the breadwinner and mama was the keeper of house and kids. Most especially where we girls were concerned, he did not have much to suggest. He did have one rule that he was firm on and that was the first year that we girls decided that we were old enough to wear hose was the year that Easter baskets stopped. That threat kept me in anklets until I was in danger of being shunned at the weekly BTU meetings. For those Methodists, etc. among you, BTU stands for Baptist Training Union, where we were preached to about the evils of dancing, alcohol and Jews. We sat in chairs in a semi-circle and waited for the end when we were generously plied with cheap cookies, chips and Kool-Aid. In other words, it was punishment, with one redeeming quality. The boys and girls attended together. In Baptist Sunday school the genders never mixed, even into adulthood. But in BTU it was boys and girls together. I cannot speak for the boys but for the girls that was reason enough to endure.
There were always those precocious girls who went from anklets to hose while in the later years of grammar school but I held out. I wanted that waxy, cheap, chocolate bunny. Then came junior high and the pressure was just too much. I had to ditch those anklets and fast. My mom took me to Belk’s and the saleslady fitted me out in a garter belt and some silky hose that she took from a box behind the counter. They were pressed flat and smooth and had perfectly beautiful feet shaped at the bottom, complete with heel and toe reinforcements. They were a marvelous suntanned shade that did not match any natural skin on a living human. She wrapped them in tissue paper and handed them over. I have since enjoyed many extravagant purchases but none has been more exciting than the promise of glamorous womanhood in a blue Belk’s bag. Here was the key to a kingdom where champagne, caviar, and Ricky Nelson waited for me. Surely when I slipped these sheer confections of nylon over my calves I would be transformed. I expected, at the least, to become as willowy as Laurie Partridge or as adorable as Hailey Mills.
Finally Sunday arrived. I put on my garter belt and stretched those precious hose over my calves and looked in the mirror. It was me looking back. Still taller than everyone else and still just as ungainly. And when I looked down at my legs the real horror set in. Those lovely hose had caused the hair on my unshaven legs to curl and bunch up into whorls and to look more profuse than ever. The longer hairs poked through the delicate nylon like a feather escaping a pillow. It looked like someone had stuffed a muskrat into a tight, nylon tube. And that garter belt? If you have never experienced wearing one, let me explain. Those dangling strips of elastic with hooks on the end for the hose to be attached dig into the thighs like a monkey clinging to a tree. The hose eventually begin to twist and to pull the monkey claw straps with them. Stretching only causes them to dig deeper into that tender, and in my case, ample thigh skin. It is as if the wind is blowing the tree and making the little monkey dig his claws in to hold on tighter. And those rubber coated hooks? The rubber adheres to those sweaty, suffering thighs and leaves marks will that take days to go away.
Shamefaced, I went back to anklets. Womanhood could wait until I learned to shave those hirsute appendages. My mom tried to give me directions but I had seen those Doris Day, Rock Hudson movies where she sat in a tub of bubbles, raised her leg in the air and daintily swept her legs clean. Oh, the lies in those movies. But since I was so nervous and careful there was no injury that a few Band-Aids couldn’t patch. A few months later, feeling like Doris Day herself, I confidently swept the razor up and stripped the skin off along my shin bone, ankle to knee. You know how the scene unfolds. The first drops of blood start welling up, slowly at first and then the blood bath starts. Literally. Not to be unshaven on one side, I quickly shaved the other leg. Yes, I stripped it. Ankle to knee. I went to school with ace bandages on my legs to hide the gauze. Back to anklets.
For me, leg shaving long ago faded in importance and the glamour likewise waned. A prelude to a big event is more likely to be composed of getting an afternoon nap in anticipation of being up past 10, searching for the tickets or making sure we know where we are going before we leave home. The last time I shaved my legs with purpose was probably before a doctor appointment. My own eyesight as well as my husband’s is so bad I can let the hair on my legs grow long enough to braid and neither of us is likely to notice. I actually thought that diminished leg hair growth was an unsung benefit of aging until I happened to glance down at my legs in the sun. Country singer Deanna Carter wrote the funny and sad song “Did I Shave My Legs For This?” The song laments her preparations for a promised night out that never happens. A night at home is just fine with me. Although the threat of BTU and Kool-Aid no longer exists there are plenty of gatherings that are equally unappealing. In fact, I think I will just sit here with my hairy legs and watch a Doris Day and Rock Hudson movie and see if I can count all the lies.