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The hairy parenting issue I’m not about to get tangled up in

“So, why do you shave?” she asked me as we walked back to the coffee shop from the beach in our swimsuits. I struggled to find an answer other than “because it’s what women do.” I didn’t want her to think that my silky, smooth legs were nothing but a product of blind adherence to the status quo.

After all, I was different from other women. I didn’t like the color pink, rarely wore heels and cringed whenever I heard the word “fashion.” I rebelled against prescribed gender roles whenever I had the chance, but somehow, despite all of this, I’d blindly purchased razors and ritualistically removed even the tiniest hairs from most parts of my body since my tweens.

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“Because I like the way it feels,” I finally responded with uncertainty in my voice. I was told my whole life that women love the feeling of being hair-free — were my baby-smooth legs really a personal preference? Did I really prefer being hair-free? I honestly didn’t know. I never even thought of it as a choice.

I never want my daughter to think there is no choice when there really is one. I don’t want her to blindly follow down a path to being the woman society tells her she should be. Instead, I want her to follow the path that leads to her being the person she really is.

So I won’t be buying her a razor and shaving gel until she asks for them. Nor will I be teaching her how to avoid razor burn as if it’s a rite of passage. And I definitely won’t ever tell her she needs to shave.

Of course, she might still wind up feeling like she should or like she has to. She’ll still be bombarded with all the messages we all were growing up. The commercials for razors, the adverts for shaving gel and the swimsuit models waxed from head to toe will act as constant reminders that most women remove their body hair.

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And her peers might tease her if she chooses to keep her body hair. Or maybe they’ll just talk about it and make it sound like a cool part of growing up. Either way, there will probably be a lot of peer pressure.

But there will never be pressure from me. I’ll remind her that she has a choice and ask her to question her reasons behind her choices. I’ll ask her if she feels pressured, and if she does, we’ll examine the sources together. I’ll make sure she knows being hairy is an option even though it doesn’t always feel that way.

I’ll tell her how I came to decide shaving wasn’t for me anymore. I’ll explain why it took someone questioning me in my early 20s for me to even realize I had a choice. We’ll talk about gender roles, the media and sexism.

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But most important, she’ll know that every hair on her body belongs to her. Only she can decide what to do with them. If she chooses to shave simply because she doesn’t want to stand out, I will still support her. Her reasons don’t have to be good enough for me — or anyone else. They just have to be good enough for her.

And then I’ll let her decide for herself. And if she chooses to shave, I’ll buy those razors and show her how to use them. I just hope I still remember how.

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