I think most of us have shaving stories from our youth. Mine? My mother thought it would be stupid for me to shave since I was blonde, and she insisted that no one could see my leg hair. She felt that the “smooth leg” goal was an insane standard imposed on women and said I would regret starting. So she didn’t teach me. There came a day when another girl made fun of my hairthen I found mom’s razor and did my best to learn on my own.
As a matter of fact, shaving your legs and armpits should always be a choice. If your child wants to do it, you have to teach him. If they don’t want to, it’s good too. But since these conversations are often an awkward dance, I sought advice from a pediatrician.
At what age do children have body hair?
Obviously, your children’s genes are going to determine how hairy they get – and when. “In general, puberty can begin as early as age 8 for children assigned a girl at birth and age 9 for children assigned a boy at birth,” says Kathryn Lowe, MD, author of You-ology: A guide to puberty for ALL bodies. “It’s kind of the typical bottom age. Sometimes hair actually starts before actual puberty.”
Middle school is often the time when all body changes begin. “That being said, just because hair grows doesn’t mean kids feel pressure to shave,” says Dr. Lowe.
Okay, when do kids “usually” start to feel pressure to shave?
Even before asking this question, I know that it is dictated by the circumstances. Do you live in the south, where the kids dress in hot weather, or in the north, where everyone is in diapers? Do gym classes require shorts or are sweatpants allowed? I was a cheerleader as a kid, so I wore a sleeveless bodysuit in front of my peers. I felt the pressure to shave early. Gymnasts and kids on a swim or track team may also feel like shaving is a necessity. Other children could be part of smaller communities and don’t show their legs in public. Still others might be the kind of kids who wear jeans every day and don’t bother to think about shaving, and that’s cool too.
“The short answer is that there’s never a normal time for kids to shave their legs for the first time. It’s obviously a very personal decision for each child,” says Lowe. They might find out that a friend has shaved. Or they might start noticing the smooth legs of their media peers; it’s hard to find hairy girl legs on Nickelodeon, for example. “Children are starting to be exposed to the influence of media that expresses this gendered expectation that girls shave,” Lowe says. “Kids are starting to think maybe they should shave, although clearly that’s not a rule they have to follow.” (My mom was right on that front.)
If your child comes to you and asks you to shave…
“If a kid comes up to you with a question about shaving, it’s really a gift and a great opportunity to show that kid that they can trust you to give them accurate, non-judgmental information,” says Lowe.
You may think it’s too early for them to shave, or you may think it’s totally appropriate, but either way, you should give them the tools and a lesson. Remember, Lowe points out, “Some kids choose to shave even though others won’t see their armpits. They just feel more comfortable knowing they don’t have hair there. There are many different reasons why people choose to shave.”
Take a trip to the store or see what you have in the bathroom. “I think it’s safer to start with a the razor – regular or electric razor – and to teach children the steps. They must first clean their skin in the shower or in the bath, with soap, to eliminate bacteria. That way, if they nick some skin, they are less likely to get an infection. Talk about using very light pressure and making sure the razor is new enough for the blade to be sharp, as a dull blade is more likely to cause small nicks or irritation.”
Shaving is also a great opportunity to talk about gender issues. “If you’re at the drug store, you can say, ‘Look how gendered this stuff is,'” Lowe suggests. “Skin is skin, and razors have no gender.” It is also an opportunity to explain the maddening pink tax. “Show them the price difference between products that look feminine and those marketed as masculine. It can open up a lot of conversations,” says Lowe. Above all, let them use whatever gel and razor they want.
If your child is hairy but does not ask to shave…
Forget it, unless you think they’re just terrified to talk about it, which is possible. Maybe you catch them staring at their leg hair or see that they’re nervous about putting on shorts. “If you feel they might have questions they aren’t asking, you should bring them up and let them know you’re happy to talk about shaving anytime they want. And if they don’t no, that’s OK too,” Lowe says.
Wait, can you use shaving as a conversation gateway?
“The pediatrician in me likes to point out that if your child asks you questions about shaving, the conversation isn’t just about shaving,” says Lowe. The implication is that they trust you instead of texting friends or searching TikTok for answers to their teenage questions.
“Eventually, hopefully, they will come and ask you about sex and how to keep their bodies safe and healthy, and how to make good choices, instead of turning to the internet or just peers,” says Lowe. “So it’s really a great opportunity to develop those bigger conversations.
It sounds terrifying. I meanlooks amazing and awesome.