“You are not allowed to shave until you are 16.”
“Because once you start, you’ll never be able to stop.”
“And never–no matter what–never shave above your knee.”
I know, from the unscientific surveying of my contemporaries, that I was not alone in receiving such cautionary wisdom about shaving. But it makes me wonder where our mothers obtained this advice. Was it from their mothers? From their own experiences? From some outdated, antiquated, musty teen etiquette handbook?
Having watched, with a mixture of amazement, pride, envy, and a pinch of dismay, my daughter’s rapid journey through the beginning phases of puberty, I knew that we were moving ever-closer to the shaving stage. And I did NOT want to screw this up. Especially after handling our first bra-shopping expedition with such skill.
At the beginning of the summer, I casually asked Lilly if she wanted me to have shaving equipment on hand for when she decides that she wants to shave or if she would prefer to wait and come with me at that point. She went for the latter option.
But as her departure to summer camp loomed, it was clear that she had reached that stage. Clear to me, that is. As if sprinkled with fertilizer, dark visible hairs had sprouted seemingly overnight. Lilly, however, had yet to notice.
Knowing that my approach might somehow tarnish her self-image, both current and future, I was hesitant to say anything. After all, if she hadn’t noticed, what would be the point of saying anything? Or maybe she had noticed and was unbothered by it. As Lilly’s mom, is it my role to guide her in following cultural norms? Or is it my responsibility to support her choices about her own body?
Shaving one’s legs and underarms has only been the cultural norm in the United States for just under 100 years. And still, not everyone shaves. Most do, but not everyone. And what if Lilly wanted to buck convention? Isn’t that her right?
In the end, however, my dilemma was for naught. Because three days before leaving for camp, Lilly announced that the hair on her legs was bothering her. Which is how I found myself, after a quick trip to Target, standing half-clad in the bathtub, shaving my legs. Then it was her turn. Letting out a nervous sigh, Lilly hesitantly smoothed shaving cream over her leg and had me make the first pass. “Why, that doesn’t hurt at all,” she giggled. And with that, she took over.
It was slow-going. But I didn’t want it to go any faster. Because there is only ever one first time.
And as with every first time experience in our family, Lilly and I recited the Shehechiyanu to mark the occasion.
Barukh Atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melekh haolam shehecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higianu laz’man hazeh.
Blessed are You, O Eternal our God, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this amazing time.
Which is really what the Shehechiyanu blessing is meant to do; help us hold onto those first time moments just a little longer.