Hairy Legs: To Shave or Not to Shave…

DSCN8227In 1970 I went on a commercial raft trip down the Grand Canyon. There were more than 30 women on this trip and very few men, mostly river guides. Didn’t look like I was going to meet the man of my dreams this time. It was a ten day trip in July- broiling hot during the day. Because the canyon walls soaked up the sun all day, they radiated heat all night. Sleeping out in the open, a sheet, stitched together, is all one needed, basically to keep the mice and scorpions from walking across your bare skin at night.

This was the first year the Park Service required outfitters to have a toilet system. Years before that, people had been going  behind every rock and bush-right up to the canyon wall. No campsite was exempt.The TP and haufens  were still there, petrifying in the desert sun. An unquestionable scent still remained, wafting here and there, especially at night.

After several days on the river, I would see these women get up at the crack of dawn, heading down to the river- toiletries in hand. I thought they were bathing in the cover of darkness. But no. They were busy shaving their legs, perching on rocks as they dangled their feet into the water.

This was just after the ‘60’s, right? so I, who had burned my bra a few years back, thought, “How silly. They could be hiking up the river or sitting on a rock, feeling a cool breeze blow against their face, or watching the sun working its way down a canyon wall.” That time of day beautiful pinks and oranges appear and reflect in the mirrored surface of the river.

This got me thinking, what a waste of time shaving my legs was. I threw my razor in the trash and for seven years I just had hairy legs. And they were quite hairy. I loved the way it felt when a breeze blew against them. It’s such a soft sensual feeling. Men have been experiencing this and we didn’t know it. However, I wasn’t completely comfortable about their appearance. The only skirt I wore in all those years came down to my ankles.

I did, though, save a lot of money on panty hose.

At that time I was teaching First Grade. Dress standards were beginning to change.  It had just become ok for teachers to wear pants instead of skirts and dresses. Jeans were out but pant suits were acceptable. I rushed out and bought a new wardrobe of ugly two piece, polyester pantsuits, a pale yellow and a washed out blue.

Well, I know six year olds. Wearing my old dresses exposing razor free legs would get them started saying things about my hairy legs. They were already commenting about a few hairs on my upper lip, informing me, “Teacher. You have a mustache.” This alone got me to start a painful regimen of electrolysis.

I got out the Yellow Pages and looked under Hair Removal. There on San Mateo Blvd. near my school was Electrolysis By Sophia, convenient for an appointment after work. I went in looking forward to an unnoticeable mustache, not realizing how much this was going to hurt.

As I lay on my back she swung a powerful magnifying glass over my face. A bright light focused on my upper lip.  I was to hold against my chest a matchbox sized metal devise, covered with a wet rag and attached to a long wire. This was to ground me or zap me while she inserted a needle into each pore, frying each hair follicle. Wow. Did that sting. I gritted my teeth and shut my eyes as tight as I could, waiting for my 15 minutes to be up. My face was then swabbed with some astringent, which stung even more.

When I got into the car I pulled down the vanity mirror to see my new look. What I saw was little red pinpricks, some of which were bleeding. By the next day it looked like a case of the pimples. Now what were the kids going to say?

To continue with another child’s honest words, one morning during show-and-tell, Debbie, a shy first grader, got up and told us excitedly that last night she stayed  at the Blue Sky Motel and her parents were going up to a cabin in the mountains and they were going to get rich and they were going to pick her up after school and they were moving to San Diego.

Turns out the police found the missing, kidnaped Doctor. She was tied up in a cabin in the  Manzano Mountains. and a week or so later a couple from Albuquerque were arrested in San Diego.

I wasn’t going to expose my legs to that kind of truthfulness.


My Aging Thighs Deceiving Me, Part II

A real thigh shocker came after I decided it was time for me to start stretching every day so I could remain young and flexible.

For my birthday a friend gave me a book on yoga postures. What caught my attention was the Salutation to the Sun, a sequence of stretches I could do first thing in the morning and feel I got most of the muscle groups. I started this routine in late fall and continued into the spring. Because it is fairly cold in my house I had been wearing my sweats. Then the warm weather hit in May. It was now “shorts time.”

Warning! If you’re over 30 and you’re doing “downward dog”, never, and I repeat, never look up at your thighs in that position. Your skin hangs down like a deflated balloon, exposing creases and wrinkles you had no idea were there. And then they all jiggle in a most shocking and unflattering way. This realization caused me to change the wardrobe in my exercise drawer. So now, when I go to Curves or do stretches even at home, I always wear black tights—the tighter the better.

Some aging you can make disappear from view.

Having this experience got me thinking: “What does my face look like when I’m looking down at someone?” you know, like CPR or something. I quickly got out a mirror, put it on the floor, got down on my knees and took a peek. Not a pretty sight. Horrifying might better describe it. Hmmm. Hopefully could I remember if I was ever in this situation to hold my head up and look straight ahead as much as possible? Just in case, perhaps I should always keep a paper bag handy.

Another event happened one day in my late forties. A spider vein showed up on my upper thigh. Again, “What the hell?”

Of course I was devastated. My great thighs, ruined for life.

The next dermatologist appointment I promptly asked what is it and what can I do about it? Well, a little vein breaks and it spreads out. If you press down on the area and move your thumb in the right direction, all the little weblets disappear—until you let up on the pressure and the blood comes roaring back in.

I thought about getting rid of it. I could spend a lot of money for a small surgery and be stuck at home, vein free. Or… I could wear shorts when hiking or canoeing. The sun could do its part to camouflage the disfigurement, and that fix would be free.

I chose the later.

Bite Me copy-1 copy     “Bite Me” photograph by Sondra Diepen

My Aging Thighs Deceive Me, Part I

I have a big mirror in my bathroom. For the last 10 years I’ve been scrutinizing my body on a daily basis. First thing in the morning, before a shower, after a shower, before a date, after a haircut. Staring into the mirror one morning I thought about getting a new swimsuit.  I was in my early 50’s at the time and was about to take a July trip to Egypt where I knew it would be very hot. A new suit might come in handy.

Twelve years earlier when my friend Linda, from way back in college, and I were backpacking in Grand Gulch, we took photos of ourselves in bikinis. We had a feeling that now at age 40, this might be the last time for exposing ourselves, wearing a two-piece bathing suit. So we lived it up, goofed around taking shots of ourselves with a backdrop of orange sandstone cliffs and  cobalt blue skies. Chest out, hands on hips, one knee bent. No nudie shots. Back then someone at the pharmacy actually looked at the photos and censored such images. ???

So back to the bathroom mirror and a trip to exotic lands.

I drove off to a department store where they would hopefully have a large selection of bathing suits. It was just my luck they were having a end-of-the-season sale on beach wear. I chose several bright Hawaiian prints to try on. They were all of course, one-piece. No skirts, though, or high cut thighs. I pulled and wiggled on the first suit and stood back to take a look.

Now what? Those can’t be my thighs. They had dimples and ripples, on the front, on the sides and in the back. Something I associated with the Fat Lady at a carnival. I knew I had only gained 3 or 4 pounds in all those years, so it couldn’t be fat cells. How come I hadn’t noticed?

Twisted Tree
“Twisted Tree” photograph by Sondra Diepen


Well, back at home, the bathroom the mirror ends at the counter. My thighs had been hiding from view for all these years. Time had been having an impact.

I then began to wonder- what else I had been unaware of?

-To Be Continued: Part II