Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

To shave or not to shave?

June 18, 2014

Q.When should a girl shave her legs? My mom says I’m too young, but all my friends already do. I feel gross. My mom’s Greek, and my dad’s heritage is Russian. I’m a hairy girl. It’s just embarrassing. And summer’s coming. What really hurts is I go to middle school in the fall, so I’m not just a little kid. Right? I could just shave and not tell her. I think I should get points for being honest. My mom’s going to email you, too. Good luck figuring us out! I’m tired of fighting with her. What do you think?

Almost sixth-grader

Mary Jo’s response

No, you’re not just a little kid.

Shaving a woman’s legs is very cultural. Culture refers to the way a group of people act, and may include anything from language, religion, food, music, the arts and social habits. Whether or not a woman shaves her legs is a social habit. In the United States, many women spend a lot of time and money on hair removal. Go to a drugstore and walk down the beauty aisle. You’ll find displays of shaving creams, razors, waxes and bleaches. Many women in the U.S. do shave or wax their legs and underarms. Not all American women shave.

I taught for two weeks in Russia in 1995; I was surprised to discover most Russian women did not remove underarm or leg hair. Many other cultures consider our obsession with hair removal bizarre.

Your mom’s cultural heritage and parental influence may make her believe shaving legs is unnecessary. She may also link shaving with adulthood. In her mind, you may be a child; shaving may mean you’re growing older. Realizing a daughter is becoming a young woman can be frightening and sad to a mom.

Your mom’s email is below. I think you’ll be pleased with my response to her. Entering middle school is a big transition. If shaving your legs helps ease your anxiety and remove embarrassment, I agree – you’re old enough. Although peer pressure can lead a person into risky behavior, the act of shaving your legs isn’t one of defiance.

A couple of hints:

1. If you shave, you may feel a weird prickly feeling when the hair grows back in. You’ll need to include shaving as part of your hygiene routine. You may grow tired of shaving. The idea that hair grows back coarser and blacker is an old wives’ tale (meaning it’s a myth).

2. Experts suggest shaving in the evening when skin is less sensitive. Be careful around ankles, knees and shins, where bone is closer to the surface. Shaving also exfoliates (removes dead skin cells).

3. Hair usually grows back within a day or a few days (depending on your genetics). Some women wax for hair removal. Waxing only needs to be done every four to six weeks.

Please consider how important honest communication with your mom will be as you become a teen. Keep talking with her, even if you disagree. Listen to your mom and respect her. Your mom can help you make good choices. She’s on your side. No one will be a better ally through adolescence than your mom, even when you argue. Give her a chance.

Question 2

My daughter told me she is writing to you to ask about shaving her legs. I’ve decided to listen to your advice. I tried to explain my reasoning to her, but I don’t think it made sense to her. My parents are very old school. When I was her age I accepted whatever they said. It bothers me that she’s fighting me on this so much. What if she won’t listen to me when things are really serious? Thank you.


Mary Jo’s response

Parenting in 2014 can be challenging. I hear your concerns – will supporting your daughter’s wish to shave her legs mean you’re giving in to her? Is she going to be influenced by peer pressure? Why can’t she simply accept her parent’s point of view as you once did?

Drawing a line and standing strong on vital issues like academics, respect for elders, waiting to have sex and avoiding drugs/alcohol is a huge parental role. Making a small issue into a big one can be a problem. Your daughter was honest and shared something important to her. She genuinely feels different from other girls. Middle school girls can be brutal. Not shaving can make her stand out in a negative way.

It’s important to listen closely to your daughter’s point of view. Encourage her to talk with you about anything. Respect her feelings and ask her to respect yours. Explain your culture. Share your concerns. Do you see shaving as a rite of passage signifying adolescence? Childhood is changing; sixth-graders often act like the eighth-graders I taught a decade ago.

If you decide to compromise, help her select beauty products and teach her how to include shaving her legs as part of her hygiene routine. Model healthy choices. Communicating will get you through her teen years. Listening is a two-way street. I advised her to not only listen and respect you but also to consider you her biggest ally as she grows. If she’s talking with you about shaving I think she’ll continue honest communication when the issues are serious. Good luck.

Youth Champions

Congratulations to all seniors and graduates! I send you wishes for joy, health and a wonderful future. All life decisions don’t need to be made at 18. Special congratulations to all our Peer Educator and Adolescent Advisory Board graduates, especially John Berdine, Katey Brock, Spencer Bryner, Shelby Dague, Katie Dessert, Dalton Fonner, Caitlyn Hanna, Caleb Harrington, Jared Hess, India March, Halee Novak, Esperenza Patterson, Amber Paul, Mariah Taylor, Daniel Shaffer, Sarah Smith and Logan Weakland.



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