Newsflash: men have it easy. We’re paid more, we don’t get catcalled in the street and we can roll out of bed 15 minutes before work because no-one expects us to turn up in heels and a full face of makeup.
Yes, we get the easy way out in almost every walk of life – so much so that it’s easy to forget the little things we don’t have to put up with.
Like shaving, for example.
Women are expected to shave: society makes sure of that. Smooth, hairless bodies are held up in all corners of the media as the womanly ideal, and when a girl bucks the trend she’s called a “degenerate” or “disgusting”.
Sure, both sexes shave. But, unless you’re a banker or a soldier, rules around beards are pretty lax. Regardless, it’s easier to trim neck-up than shoulders-down. Why should I know? Because, against my better judgement, I’ve done both.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect shaving like a woman to be easy. I wasn’t charging into the idea as the big brave bloke, ready to finally let the rest of mankind know it’s actually quite hard for girls. The idea was more of a social experiment: I wanted to see just how different my life would be if I spent seven days doing what girls have to do all 365.
Before I started, of course, I’d need the tools of the trade. In my local Boots, at least five shelves are devoted to keeping women’s bodies hairless. From epilators to waxing strips to “lady shavers” to pre- and post-shaving gels, it’s easy to see how the cult of being clean-shaven is a multibillion pound industry.
While Veet would have been easier for me and waxing would have been more entertaining for my friends, I wanted to get a feel of most women’s day-to-day grooming regime: thus, I opted for a non-threatening Venus razor and some shave gel.
That night, I sat down in my bathroom and begun the mammoth task of making myself beach body-ready.
As someone who was much hairier than the average woman and not very well-versed in the art of leg-shaving, the process proved to be more difficult than anticipated. I had to trim all the hair first with an electric razor, then get to work with the shave gel and my pink Venus.
My only previous experience of shaving having been facial stubble, I made my first mistake when I went a bit too heavy on the shaving foam. I wanted to resemble the bare-legged sexy models in the Dove adverts, but instead I’d ended up looking like a budget albino version of Mr Tumnus.
An hour and a half later, I’d just about got to an acceptable point. I was still finding patches of stubble on my shins and knees, and blood was running down the back of my legs from the places I’d got impatient and paid the consequences.
That said, the difference I’d noticed was huge. I’d never actually seen my calves, and I had to admit I liked their shiny new look – even if the fact my legs hadn’t seen sunlight in about seven years meant they were looking more than a little anaemic.
After another half hour of clean-up and the wincingly painful ordeal of attempting to shave my armpits too, I was starting to wonder why I’d agreed to this. Then I climbed into bed and experienced the fabled freshly-shaven-legs-against-fresh-bedsheets, and for just a moment it all felt worth it.
That was, until I woke up the next day. My armpits were dry and raw, my shins were already stubbly and removing the carpet of hair I had before had somehow made my legs more sweaty.
It didn’t help, of course, that this particular day was the hottest day of the year so far: good in terms of the new breeze I could appreciate on my knees, but bad because I pretty much had to wear shorts and show off my glistening pins to the world.
I received a lot of strange looks on my way to work from passers-by in suits, but not as strange as the looks I received when I arrived in the office. Intermittently people would glance down during conversation, look back at up at me and spend the rest of the time I was speaking trying to deduce what it was that had made me to do it.
Streamlining was the most obvious choice – especially at the gym that night, where several people were quick to ask me if I was a swimmer or a marathon runner. Very practical applications, I’m sure: because when a man shaves his legs, there’s always a reason other than “that’s just what you’re supposed to do.”
It wasn’t until about halfway through the week that the enormity of the female body hair routine started getting to me: I opted not to shave on Wednesday as I’d “literally just done it,” and spent most of the day uncomfortably aware of how stubbly my legs were.
The fact is, girls don’t get nearly enough credit for how long shaving takes. It takes ages. I don’t know whether it’s just because I’m a novice, but I had to factor in an extra 15 minutes for my morning shower. Even then, I’d spend the day at my desk fixated on a clump of renegade hairs I’d missed on my ankle.
My armpits were unbelievably itchy by this point, and I hadn’t felt the benefits of “not even sweating” which that one guy at uni swore was meant to happen when guys shaved their armpits. Add to that the fresh sunburn on my tender calves and the fact that it was too prickly to wear trousers, and I was starting to have a pretty bad time.
That said, at least I had the benefit of wearing trousers: stereotypical men’s work clothes are much more conservative than those expected of women. Unless I went rogue and turned up in a vest, my armpits were never exposed. Even when wearing shorts, I didn’t have to worry about shaving anywhere north of the knee.
By Friday, scratchily shaving on top of tender armpits had become the bane of my life, an act of sadomasochism which I’d spend half my day dreading and the other half regretting. Luckily I was wearing jeans out on the Friday, so I embraced the stubble and gave my legs a night off.
Saturday night was a different story, however – I was going to a house party, and there was the ever-so-slim chance I might actually get lucky. With that in mind, I embarked on the most important part of the weekend beauty regime: the so-called “proper shave”.
It took ages, mainly because I was terrified of dragging a cut-throat razor across the “down there” area, but eventually I was left disconcertingly smooth from the waist down. My normal Saturday night routine involved a pitiful spray of Sure For Men and a clump of VO5, so I was equally impressed and horrified by what I’d had to do in the name of being pull-proof.
Of course, I left the party partner-less, filled with the simmering bitterness my female friends had warned me about. I’d manscaped like I never had before, and for what? I could see why being made to shave for the whims of the opposite sex could make one just a little bit resentful.
By the end of the weekend, my tenure as a smooth-skinned seductress was over – and thank God, because the thought of having to do it all again on Sunday night or Monday morning was almost too much to bear. Men tend to turn a blind eye to the beauty standards placed on women, and I was no different: it took me stepping into their shoes to actually appreciate just how high those expectations are.
I’m happy to be going back to my old unkempt self, but I’ve certainly learnt a lesson that all men could do with being taught. What I lost in body hair, I like to think I gained in respect.