Sex, friends and strangers: what to expect when you stop shaving

Contrary to what you've been told, the world doesn't end when a woman stops shaving.

In 2013, deciding to keep your body hair feels like a small revolution, a political rebellion: it sends a message, and is the equivalent of walking around with a placard saying “I’m a scary feminist, and almost certainly left-wing”. Not that I mind: I personally am both of these things, but had been told from the beginning of puberty that I had to remove everything apart from a vague triangle between my thighs, or face never getting laid and never having friends. In fact, it took me several months to get my head round the idea of throwing away my razor for a few weeks, and see where it'd get me. I am, however, very happy I did, and lived to tell the tale. If you're ever considering to stop shaving (and you should), here's what to expect:

I guess the most telling incident I had was, when walking around an estate in East London, a man walking behind me shouted that I had nice legs, “love”. I ignored him, as one does, but he felt the need to add “you should probably shave them though”. I instantly got angry, but as I was about to turn around and respond something not publishable here, he concluded “Yeah, actually I don’t mind”. I was so gobsmacked by his honesty (and his obvious tendency to just think out loud) that I simply walked off without saying anything. And if you ever stop shaving, this is exactly the sort of reaction you’ll come to expect from random people: surprise, possibly disgust, then realisation that it really is nothing. Heartening.

Sadly, friends can be a bit harder to deal with: I’ve heard absolutely everything on my apparently terrifying armpits – from feminist fistbumps to outright “I don’t want to be seen in public with you” – but the funniest probably is the hypocritical enthusiasm. It’s an easy one to notice: just take your jumper off, and the person will start with a shocked “Oh!”, feel guilty about said exclamation, and proceed to spend about fifteen minutes telling you “Yes! No ! Really! It’s great! I wish I could do that! In fact, YOU’RE great!”, when the only thing in their minds clearly is “ew”. You might also get an “ironic” razor for your birthday, or get asked “jokingly” if you’re really going swimming like that. You’ll want to tell them that it’s fine, they can be honest and stop pretending and that you’re not going to cry if you don’t feel validated by every single person you know, but chances are you’ll just smile politely and move on.

Now we’ve covered most social situations, let’s get down to more serious business: sex. The first time I got into bed with someone after ditching the wax, I panicked. I clearly remember thinking “Jesus, I’m going to take off my tights, he’s going to scream, jump off the bed, call his mum and start crying”. Except, well, he didn’t: in fact, I’m not even sure he noticed – and if he did, he didn’t mention it. Nor did any of the lovers that followed. When I quizzed a male friend on the subject, he told me that he was normally too happy to have someone getting naked in his bed that he sincerely could not care less whether she had some hair on her body or not. These wise words were echoed by nearly all the men I asked, which, when thinking about it, hardly is that surprising. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never brought someone back to mine, only to scream in surprise and run away because their chest was a lot hairier than I was expecting it to be. In fact, the conversation I seem to be having practically every time with women is whether men get terrified to go down on you. Newsflash: it doesn’t even really change anything – I’ve slept with women before, you can take my word for it. And pardon me for being crude, but if someone is disgusted by the idea of getting down on a woman who doesn’t wax, he probably doesn’t lick the right bits – all in all, it merely is a matter of personal taste (ha, ha).

On a more serious note, my point here is that throwing away your razor really isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be a big deal. Standing naked in front of a mirror and lifting my arms up felt weird at first: I felt a lot less attractive, and nearly ashamed of my body. Then I got used to it, and started wishing that other women would do the same.

In fact, I'd just like it if it could just become something a bit more normal. Just like wearing heels, dresses, or make up, shaving should become more of a personal choice again: something you do because you feel like it, not because the thought of having three hair on the side of your bikini would fill you with shame or uneasiness. Though sadly, I should probably warn you beforehand: your legs will not feel any warmer during the winter.


[Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images]

Marie le Conte is a freelance journalist.

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Q&A: What are tax credits and how do they work?

All you need to know about the government's plan to cut tax credits.

What are tax credits?

Tax credits are payments made regularly by the state into bank accounts to support families with children, or those who are in low-paid jobs. There are two types of tax credit: the working tax credit and the child tax credit.

What are they for?

To redistribute income to those less able to get by, or to provide for their children, on what they earn.

Are they similar to tax relief?

No. They don’t have much to do with tax. They’re more of a welfare thing. You don’t need to be a taxpayer to receive tax credits. It’s just that, unlike other benefits, they are based on the tax year and paid via the tax office.

Who is eligible?

Anyone aged over 16 (for child tax credits) and over 25 (for working tax credits) who normally lives in the UK can apply for them, depending on their income, the hours they work, whether they have a disability, and whether they pay for childcare.

What are their circumstances?

The more you earn, the less you are likely to receive. Single claimants must work at least 16 hours a week. Let’s take a full-time worker: if you work at least 30 hours a week, you are generally eligible for working tax credits if you earn less than £13,253 a year (if you’re single and don’t have children), or less than £18,023 (jointly as part of a couple without children but working at least 30 hours a week).

And for families?

A family with children and an income below about £32,200 can claim child tax credit. It used to be that the more children you have, the more you are eligible to receive – but George Osborne in his most recent Budget has limited child tax credit to two children.

How much money do you receive?

Again, this depends on your circumstances. The basic payment for a single claimant, or a joint claim by a couple, of working tax credits is £1,940 for the tax year. You can then receive extra, depending on your circumstances. For example, single parents can receive up to an additional £2,010, on top of the basic £1,940 payment; people who work more than 30 hours a week can receive up to an extra £810; and disabled workers up to £2,970. The average award of tax credit is £6,340 per year. Child tax credit claimants get £545 per year as a flat payment, plus £2,780 per child.

How many people claim tax credits?

About 4.5m people – the vast majority of these people (around 4m) have children.

How much does it cost the taxpayer?

The estimation is that they will cost the government £30bn in April 2015/16. That’s around 14 per cent of the £220bn welfare budget, which the Tories have pledged to cut by £12bn.

Who introduced this system?

New Labour. Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor, developed tax credits in his first term. The system as we know it was established in April 2003.

Why did they do this?

To lift working people out of poverty, and to remove the disincentives to work believed to have been inculcated by welfare. The tax credit system made it more attractive for people depending on benefits to work, and gave those in low-paid jobs a helping hand.

Did it work?

Yes. Tax credits’ biggest achievement was lifting a record number of children out of poverty since the war. The proportion of children living below the poverty line fell from 35 per cent in 1998/9 to 19 per cent in 2012/13.

So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s a bit of a weird system in that it lets companies pay wages that are too low to live on without the state supplementing them. Many also criticise tax credits for allowing the minimum wage – also brought in by New Labour – to stagnate (ie. not keep up with the rate of inflation). David Cameron has called the system of taxing low earners and then handing them some money back via tax credits a “ridiculous merry-go-round”.

Then it’s a good thing to scrap them?

It would be fine if all those low earners and families struggling to get by would be given support in place of tax credits – a living wage, for example.

And that’s why the Tories are introducing a living wage...

That’s what they call it. But it’s not. The Chancellor announced in his most recent Budget a new minimum wage of £7.20 an hour for over-25s, rising to £9 by 2020. He called this the “national living wage” – it’s not, because the current living wage (which is calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, and currently non-compulsory) is already £9.15 in London and £7.85 in the rest of the country.

Will people be better off?

No. Quite the reverse. The IFS has said this slightly higher national minimum wage will not compensate working families who will be subjected to tax credit cuts; it is arithmetically impossible. The IFS director, Paul Johnson, commented: “Unequivocally, tax credit recipients in work will be made worse off by the measures in the Budget on average.” It has been calculated that 3.2m low-paid workers will have their pay packets cut by an average of £1,350 a year.

Could the government change its policy to avoid this?

The Prime Minister and his frontbenchers have been pretty stubborn about pushing on with the plan. In spite of criticism from all angles – the IFS, campaigners, Labour, The Sun – Cameron has ruled out a review of the policy in the Autumn Statement, which is on 25 November. But there is an alternative. The chair of parliament’s Work & Pensions Select Committee and Labour MP Frank Field has proposed what he calls a “cost neutral” tweak to the tax credit cuts.

How would this alternative work?

Currently, if your income is less than £6,420, you will receive the maximum amount of tax credits. That threshold is called the gross income threshold. Field wants to introduce a second gross income threshold of £13,100 (what you earn if you work 35 hours a week on minimum wage). Those earning a salary between those two thresholds would have their tax credits reduced at a slower rate on whatever they earn above £6,420 up to £13,100. The percentage of what you earn above the basic threshold that is deducted from your tax credits is called the taper rate, and it is currently at 41 per cent. In contrast to this plan, the Tories want to halve the income threshold to £3,850 a year and increase the taper rate to 48 per cent once you hit that threshold, which basically means you lose more tax credits, faster, the more you earn.

When will the tax credit cuts come in?

They will be imposed from April next year, barring a u-turn.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.