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Hairy Larry. That's what the boy in my fifth grade class called me, the same boy I'd had a crush on all year long. He was pointing at my legs and the black hair that covered them like a soft blanket.
I didn't wear shorts or skirts for the next year and a half, even in summer—even when it was too hot to wear pants.
Finally, the summer before middle school, my parents relented and let me shave my legs. It didn't come easy, though. I snuck Nair, my mom's razors, and even a weird scrub pad that promised smooth legs and instead gave me what looked like road rash. I was willing to risk punishment if it meant I could remove the hair that caused me so much humiliation.
To this day, I still have issues with my leg hair. I am embarrassed by it, and won't let my husband touch my legs unless they've been recently shaven. I also can't shave in front of him. It makes me feel strange, even dirty. We've been married nearly 17 years. I've obviously got body hair acceptance issues.
Latino families are notorious for not allowing their daughters to shave their legs, believing a razor to be a metaphorical condom. If they say yes to shaving, they're practically saying yes to teen sex and pregnancy. ¡Ay, dios mio!
At the same time, they're forcing their daughters to feel the same mortification I felt as a young girl.
It's like telling a girl she can't wear deodorant because she'll smell nicer, or she can't brush her hair because her locks will be smoother and shinier. It's time to step into the modern era and stop sexualizing feminine hygiene. Shaving our legs is about growing up and making decisions for ourselves, not about sexual intercourse.
Boys are encouraged to shave their faces from the first sprout of a prepubescent moustache. There's ritualistic pride when a father takes his son to the bathroom sink, shows him how to lather up and teaches him to shave.
Yet, for many Latinas, shaving is still seen as taboo or somehow risqué. How unfair, and unfortunate.
Once a girl is old enough to safely hold a razor and expresses a desire to shave her legs, she should be given the autonomy over her body to do so. Forcing her to wait and suffer through taunts and teasing from her peers does nothing to help her fragile self-esteem.
What not being allowed to shave taught me was that I was behaving in a sexual manner when I removed my leg hair, and that it was something inappropriate and even shameful. Girls don't need yet another issue or reason to struggle with their sexuality as they grow into adults.
There are plenty of young girls and women who are perfectly happy with their natural state of body hair. I salute them. I even envy them. This message isn't about being ashamed of body hair. Rather, it's about honoring the wishes of any girl who can safely remove her body hair and has expressed a desire to do so, but isn't allowed to because her parents feel it's inappropriate.
Honestly, parents, you're being too uptight.
If you've raised your daughter to have self-respect and to use good judgment, shaving her legs won't be a gateway drug to teenage sex. Rather, it will be a way to empower your daughter, help her feel better about herself, and teach her that her choices are valid.
I promise you, your daughters won't lose any of their youthful innocence when they remove their leg hair. They'll just be happier to wear shorts and skirts, even on hot summer days, and they won't confuse hygiene with sex as they grow.