Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Shave Your Armpits and Talk About It

Oh My God! 

"You can get away with it," she says, "-they're not rough at all."

My roommate of three days just glided her fingers on my "virgin" leg, examining the hair that covers the area. Minutes ago, my new group of friends had just asked if I was a feminist. This happened in 2010, when we were all naive high school students who just met at a pre-college summer program. That day, I hit a lot of firsts. It had been the first time a girl had touched my leg, the first time I had been called a feminist, and the first I had ever talked about fuzz with friends.

Three years later, I would have a similar, yet less candid experience with my high school best friends, girls whom I've known since 2009, girls with whom I spent hundreds of lunch breaks with.

"Do you shave?" one asked, hesitantly as she cuts her meal.
"Shave where?" the other answered. I am awed by the sudden shift from eyebrow waxing to hair trimming.
"Yeah, you need to be more specific or we might get into dangerous territory here," I said in between bites, trying hard not to drop any awful puns.

We spent another ten minutes on the subject, perusing different methods of "hair-care" from shaving to waxing to lasers. Though we kept a healthy distance from the entire Brazilian fiasco, we did glaze over armpits, upper lip, eyebrows, and legs.

Legs! Shaving! Girls! 
As I sat, drinking avocado juice stirred with chocolate and whip cream (a huge no, no amongst my friends), I wondered why it took so long for the topic to even emerge. A common subject amongst many of my American friends, shaving appeared to be taboo for so long that I, perhaps, even forgot to bring it up. Also, I had created my own regimen and therefore did not require any guidance or recommendations from my friends. Was it just a coincidence, or did culture get in the way?

During my time in the U.S., I realized how women's revolution and sexual liberation impact the most minute details of our lives. First, my roommates at Brown interpreted my untouched legs to be an expression of feminism. Second, it didn't take much bonding for us to actually get to the heart of the matter and explore much more intimate subjects, such as a shaving. In contrast, I think that Indonesians are much more reserved about these subjects. What we do in the morning, in the bathroom, or in front of the mirror, is off-bounds.

The contradiction on the theme of shaving is neither good or bad. To me, it just proves how different cultures can be, despite controlling for certain variables, such as age, gender, education, and socioeconomic status. Lack of boundaries often instigates the building of walls or bubbles, whilst the existence of an invisible wall, requires the extraction of certain bricks. Being too close to comfort is as equally inconvenient as being barricaded from one's small tendencies. Both can be the foundation of a long-lasting friendship, as well as a fight.

Perhaps, a little thing such as shaving proves how different we can be, depending on time, geography, family upbringing, and so on. It also demonstrates the dangers of generalization and stereotyping. Not all teenage girls bond over shaving or waxing together in the salon. Yet, not all teenage girls keep silent about the subject. Some are much more explorative and comfortable about it than others. Critical thinking is salient to understanding these minute, yet interesting phenomenon. But at the end of the day, as funny as it is, little differences such as these are what makes the world a colorful, exciting arena.

 * Author owns rights to all photos above

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