At last it seems that spring has sprung, with beautiful sunshine and relatively warm temperatures all over Britain. For some women, mainly those of us who haven’t required to expose their legs to another human being for a while, it means that the summer ritual of leg hair removal is about to begin. After months of encasing our Grufflo-style pins in some form of black lycra, the time to flash an ankle or even more daringly, exposure up to the knees, is upon us. Sigh…
It’s a pain in the arse, but despite my feminist credentials, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Only the most liberal minded of people would be able to avert their stares if I let these legs go the way of Chewbacca. And I would probably never have sex again, which would be a terrible thing. But the constant removal is tiresome and fraught with challenges: shaving is fast but stubbly and itchy. Waxing is bloody painful. Cream depilation is smelly, messy and almost pointless. Double sigh…
At the end of the day, we women just pick our weapon and get on with it. So I was rather bemused by a brief ‘news’ story I came across earlier about the latest scandal to hit the world of professional cycling. No, it’s not another doping story. The issue is that the world road race champion, Peter Sagan, has begun the 2016 cycling season with unshaved legs, which has caused a storm within their two-wheeled world.
I should start off by pointing out a couple of things. Firstly, I know sod all about professional cycling. I was of course, aware that most male racing cyclists shave their legs, but I had no idea that it’s not so much of a choice: it’s been an unwritten rule that they do so for years. Apparently the reasons range from the (scientifically unproven) idea that it makes them go faster, to the fact that it’s easier to clean up all the gashes from accidents on a hairless leg. Some say that it makes the post-race massage easier, although I would imagine an extra dollop of oil would take care of that problem. Sport therapists presumably perform leg massages on men from plenty of other, hairier, sporting fields without too much incident.
Even more interestingly, some say that it’s an aesthetic thing: cycling shorts just don’t look good on a hairy leg. News flash: men look terrifying in Lycra shorts, whether they are shaven or not. Quite frankly, no-one wants to see that. I know some people who would insist that men shouldn’t wear shorts full stop, but that seems a bit harsh, particularly for sport. And given that men wear shorts for a number of sports, including those where they need to be fast (athletics anyone?), I don’t see the problem. From reading a couple of articles about this, it seems that the cycling men just do what is expected of them within their sport, without thinking about it too much.
Secondly, this story is really more of a non-story. After all, who really gives a stuff about the body hair of professional cyclists apart from other professional cyclists? However, the fact that the story was even on the home page of The Guardian says a lot about the internet’s ever-increasing obsession with bodies and body shaming. Usually, this aimed at women, even in the world of sport e.g. is Serena too muscley? Is Jessica Ennis fat? (the answer to both questions is no). The bodies of male athletes are rarely discussed in the same way.
On a side note, I will also confess that I find some cyclists highly irritating, with the get out clause that some of my best friends are cyclists. They are fine. Most of them are. Obviously cycling is good for the planet and for health and well-being. And of course, it is better for humans and the planet than driving a car. No question. My ire at cyclists is mostly as a pedestrian. At cyclists who whizz through no-drive zones, racing up quietly behind, terrifying people with the swoosh of air as they almost collide, running red lights and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Grrrrrr….
Despite this lack of empathy, as I read the article, I still managed to get annoyed. Mostly at the quote from the former Tour De France winner Stephen Roche, who decided to pitch in on hairgate as follows:
He’s wearing the world champion’s jersey, and he owes it to be respectful and to be clean and presentable.
Sorry Stephen, but you’re a dick. I completely fail to see how a man not shaving his legs makes him either disrespectful or dirty. Or indeed a woman, although it would certainly raise more eyebrows. Hopefully the eyebrows would be plucked and groomed, otherwise she would be a disgrace to humanity and some kind of unclean harpy.
The whole notion that there is only one way to be presentable and professional pisses me off. If Sagan was willing to take the chance of his leg hair slowing him down in a race, whose business is it? I didn’t notice anyone worrying about whether Bradley Wiggins sideburns would act like face weights and cause him to lose a race. And this is never going to happen, but if a female swimmer wants to rock up to the Olympics with a few days leg stubble and spider’s legs poking out of her swimsuit, then good luck to her. Of course she wouldn’t be able to concentrate on winning, such would be the ensuing furore in the Twittersphere.
Perhaps Sagan was trying to make a point about the unspoken rules of competitive cycling; a maverick bent on breaking convention. Or more likely, he just woke up in the morning and couldn’t be faffed with doing all the body maintenance that society requires of us. We’ve all been there: on many an occasion I’ve skipped the annoyance of moustache removal, only to regret it at the glint of a white hair in the mid-morning sunshine. By then, it’s sadly too late to hide my disgrace, however I only have my own laziness to blame. Currently I am sporting about half an inch of grey roots in my hair, which I just can’t be fucked to get round to dyeing, even though I’ve got all the stuff in the house to do it.
It’s clearing up the mess that’s the worst bit of all these procedures. Sagan has already tweeted a picture of his legs covered in shaving foam, so he’s about to go baby smooth again. Maybe he was in a rush before, and now he’s in the mood for a soak and a shave. Everything doesn’t need to be a statement, waiting to be judged. Or maybe he bowed to the naysayers.
Any job, ANY job is easier when we want to do it. If we all faced a bit less opprobrium from the world at the choices we make, life would a hell of a lot easier. If it was easier to be more comfortable in our skin, hirsute or not. If we accepted that even though most of the time we want to put our best selves out there, other times we can’t be bothered.
Until next time,