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20 Feb 2015 00:00
Hairy experience: Jessie Cohen, complete with unshaven legs and the cream of feminist literature, weighs up the challenge of smooth legs or her flawless self. (Madelene Cronjé)
Over the past few years I have come to feel content with the hairs on my legs. They are not especially long or thick or dark but if you look directly at them, if you scrutinise them, you will find that I do not fit the bill of ideal womanly beauty in this regard.
After seeing this guy for about a month I notice that he notices my leg hair.
Later that day I ask the question no self-respecting woman should ever ask: “Would you prefer it if I waxed my legs?” He doesn’t skip a beat.
Drawing on my most articulate capabilities, I explain this is not just “a feminist issue” but part of my personal quality of life.
He retorts: “If you asked me to wax my back I would. It’s the same thing. I can’t change what I feel attracted to.” He assures me this is not a “deal-breaker” (how kind), but refuses to budge from his initial position: “You asked my opinion; that’s my preference. I can’t just change that.”
With the look of a self-proclaimed maverick, he offers to play guitar while I do it – a suggestion at once sick and sweet. Questions rush through my mind: Would it be a one-time thing? (Probably.) How might making this decision into a shared event influence the power balance in the relationship? Then I picture it: a man coming to serenade me while I rip fine hairs out my legs for his pleasure. Isn’t that sadistic?
On the one hand, I am not averse to the idea. Part of the problem with women’s beauty regimes is that we slave away in private and perform a sense of easy perfection in public. The line in Beyoncé‘s song Flawless – “I woke up like this” – which she ironically performed at the video music awards in front of a giant neon feminist sign, precisely exemplifies this problem.
I think: “Let him see the labour of the process, let him see how red and spotty my legs get, let him pay for the equipment.” I fantasise about a feminist music video with him belting some Jack Johnson tune in the background while I suffer in silence in the foreground. I picture making him do it for me and then doing it to himself and introducing this on a monthly basis to see how long he lasts.
Despite the numerous artistic possibilities the situation presents, I know the reality will ensue much more mundanely. Because our relationship is new and exciting and because he has probably never dated a feminist before (and nor have I dated someone while identifying as such) he will make an effort the first time. He’d come and sing and strum.
In the best possible scenario he’d pay attention to the process I’d undergo for him and he’d get a shiver down his spine at how unnatural the whole thing is.
He’d feel internally rotten that I am doing it because he, and only he, wants me to. He’d start to slur his words and drop his guitar in horror at having to watch me belittled, curled over my body, stripping myself of a natural part of myself because he just likes his women smooth. He’d think: “Fuck, I don’t want to make my partner do this, look like this, feel like this.”
But the problem then is this: He’d pipe up, “Stop!” Dutifully, I’d stop, relieved that the experiment would be over. He’d seen the light. But then the decision whether I wax or not becomes his call.
That is why, unless he arrives with a lifetime supply of painless wax strips and accepts my offer to paint his portrait while he gets his tattoos removed from both legs, I will not be waxing any time soon.
Jessie Cohen writes on gender issues for the Mail & Guardian
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