Reader S. W. asks:

You’ve talked about men’s hair and “hair down there”… what about us ladies and our leg hair? What do you recommend for getting rid of the fur on my ankles?

Dear S.W.:

It's a Bear!

You want me to do WHAT? Image: Michael Elliott / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While a bit less contentious than a discussion of removing pubic hair, the issue of  hair on our legs and under our arms is still … uh… hairy… for most women. We don’t tend to think about it, but shaving your armpits is basically tantamount to shaving your cooch, minus the total assurance of razor burn: they’re both expressions of prepubescence, whether we realize it or not.

Nevertheless, we are much more willing to shave our under arms and legs than we are our snatches (maybe due to that razor burn thing), and the quest for hairlessness continues.

Here’s a run down of the things I’ve tried or heard of, including pain factor, cost, and necessary time.


Pain factor: Close to nil

Cost: Cheapish (you can get a cheap razor; we fancy ladies tend to like the Venus Vibrance and its exorbitant refills)

Time: Minimal

The trick to shaving is to take it sloooow. Also, I highly recommend exfoliating beforehand. I use “scrubby gloves”, which you can get at a local drug store for, like, $5 or less, with a very moisturizing body wash. My sisters always used shaving creams. I often shave outside of the shower, because then I’m less likely to fall down and hurt myself.  The upper end of razors can get pretty pricey, but sometimes they really work better.

Depilatory Creams (e.g. Veet, Nair)

Pain factor: Nil

Cost: As much as shaving

Time: Slightly more than shaving

Creams are a fantastic alternative to shaving, because they won’t cut you. However, you do have to wait a few minutes for the cream to do its work. Furthermore, they can burn you. It’s chemicals, ladies and birds. Chemical burns are nasty things. And these creams do not smell fantastic at all, regardless of what “flavor” you get. According to their claims, the depilatory effects last longer than shaving, but I’ve never known this to be true.


Pain factor: Highish

Cost: Expensive unless you do it yourself

Time: More than shaving

First off, with waxing, you’ve gotta’ wait three weeks for it to grow out ’til it’s long enough to rip out of your skin. However, the waxage does last longer than shaving, once you get past the raised redness. (Word to the wise: get your wax job done at least 2 days before whatever even would necessitate smoothness.) Waxing yourself is damned near impossible, from what I can tell, and you will be shilling out top prices at a salon that won’t give you cooties.


Pain factor: Higher than waxing

Cost: One-time investment, basically

Time: Slightly more than shaving

I was introduced to the Epilady by an Australian exchange student in college who had the softest, smoothest legs I’ve ever seen. (I realize now that some of that was due to genetics.) It’s an Australian tool that is basically row upon row of rotating tweezers set to an electronic beat, ready to pull your hair out at will. Like waxing, it’s painful (perhaps moreso because it goes one hair at a time, rather than all at once), and you probably ought to wait til your hair is long enough to wax (e.g. 3 weeks) before you let this beast loose on it. My mantra when using the Epilady is: “I run it over the skin until it stops hurting.” So there you go. It’s about as effective as waxing, although I have had some bumpy reactions when my hair was too short to use it.

Laser Hair Removal

Pain factor: Pretty high

Cost: Pretty damn high

Time: A lot, mostly

Okay, I’ve never tried this myself. It’s way too pricey for my blood. But I have a friend who is going through with it, and in spite of the cost and the time and the pain, she is thrilled. It is PERMANENT. You will not have hairy ankles ever again. That is, if it works on you. Apparently it doesn’t always work, and they’ll do a test section. I’ve seriously considered it for my armpits. (Anyone want to donate to the cause, I will gladly accept.)

Au Naturel

Pain: Nil

Cost: Nil

Time: Nil

According to (my favorite feminist blog) Salon.com’s Broadsheet, refusing to shave or depilate at all may not be a capital-F Feminist Statement anymore. Your comfort is apparently the highest priority these days. Although, in my experience, no girl, feminist or otherwise, wants to be the Hairy Girl at the party. (Trust me. At my sister’s bridal shower, I was letting my underarm hair grow out for a wax just before the wedding, and her friends all asked what was wrong with me and when I was going to shave, and if I’d given it up for some weird political reason.) Norms are norms, and if you go against them, be prepared to explain your reasons. Or you could do what my friend Elizabeth recommended: just wear long skirts and pants.


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