My husband and I had our first big fight after he shaved off his beard. We were on vacation in Vermont when he announced he was going to do it. At first I thought he was teasing—he knew I loved the soft forest of hair and its musky scent. But he took out his electric razor, and in all of thirty seconds he was clean-shaven. He stared at himself in the mirror, seeing his bare face for the first time in years. I looked on with a nervous smile, trying to hide my distaste at his boyish appearance.

At dinner that night I stared at my plate. “You look like a stranger,” I said.

The next day in the car we began arguing, and he pulled off to the side of the road, exasperated. “So it’s OK for you to change,” he said, “but not me.”

I was stunned by the truth of his statement. During our relationship I’d not only changed my hairstyle but also started therapy, which had helped me become more assertive. I looked at my husband again and saw how vulnerable and handsome he was. I loved this man, not his beard. When I kissed him, the new sensation of his smooth skin was thrilling.

We stopped alongside a river, and I took a photo of him there, looking like a model with a waterfall in the background. It hung on our wall for years as a reminder to me to make room for change in our marriage.

Polly Hansen
Asheville, North Carolina

I first became aware of women’s leg hair as a child, riding in the car with my mom, when the sun highlighted the dark stubble on her bare calves. Even at that age I knew her appearance didn’t meet the standard society wanted women to strive for.

When I reached puberty, I realized I had inherited her genes, and I started shaving as early as she would let me. Whereas other girls’ legs stayed smooth for days after shaving, I had dark, coarse hairs that seemed to sprout in triplicate.

My self-consciousness about body hair was not limited to my legs. My brother often pointed out the thick blond “mustache” on my upper lip. As I grew older, I developed a so-called happy trail between my pubic area and navel, peach fuzz on my butt, and dark hairs around my nipples. My response was to camouflage or remove it all with bleach, wax, tweezers, and razors.

My insecurity lessened as I adopted feminism, started dating women, and grew into my queer identity. In my thirties I came to love my armpit hair and stopped stressing so much about most of my other body parts, too, but my legs were the final battle.

One day my partner asked if I’d ever thought about not shaving my legs. I looked at her as if this were the most ludicrous thing I’d ever heard. She smiled and assured me she’d like it. After a few weeks of reflection, I decided to try.

Three years later my leg hair is brown, thick, and surprisingly soft. Though sometimes my confidence wavers—I hate the thought of being judged—most of the time rocking my hairy legs feels like an act of protest and power.

A few months ago, as I drove my seven-year-old daughter to a birthday party, she complimented me on my dress. Then she said something I never would have anticipated: “Your leg hair looks so beautiful.”

Heidi Frankenhauser
Ypsilanti, Michigan

When I taught English in South Korea, most of my friends had university jobs and spent summers in Thailand, Cambodia, or Laos, returning with tans and unkempt beards. After I completed my teaching contract in 2010, I had ten weeks before I would head home to California. My goal was to see the world and grow a travel beard. But I soon learned that in some places, when a person of my color has facial hair, authorities become suspicious. They see me not as an American but as a foreign national of a country subjected to extra security screening and inspection.

Soon after I arrived at the train station in Koblenz, Germany, I was approached by four policemen. One requested my passport and walked away with it. I asked the remaining officers what was going on.

“Random passport check,” one said.

I scanned the crowd and noticed that pretty much everyone passing by unquestioned was white. Random, my ass, I thought. After a long wait my passport was finally returned, and the policemen strolled off without a word. The delay made me miss my connection.

Two weeks later, at the Athens airport, I assisted an elderly Palestinian man with a cane who was struggling to pull his suitcase. For this I was interrogated by security officers and accused of aiding a suspected terrorist.

Wearing a beard when crossing the border from Egypt into Israel was probably not the best decision. My travel companions entered the country without any problems, but after the first checkpoint the contents of my backpack were strewn across a table for inspection while I was questioned by two huge security guards.

I guess travel beards only work for some people. If you’re brown like me, pack a razor.

Anthony Velasquez
Geneva, New York

I saw my husband for the first time as I looked out of my university-dorm window and into his apartment across the lawn. He was a gorgeous rock climber, surfer, and skier with a head of dark curls. When he did pull-ups with his shirt off, I peeked through my blinds and fantasized about sneaking into his room to make love to this stunningly handsome man. Eventually I did just that.

Our fling turned into a relationship, and I introduced him to my parents. He and my father bonded over their passion for the perfect shave. They had long conversations about the advantages of wet versus dry shaving or the best beard oil and aftershave. For Christmas my father gave his favorite shaving soap from Germany to my future husband. It came in a white porcelain dish that I had seen in our family bathroom for most of my life.

Now I look at that dish every day in the home that I share with my husband and our son. My father is almost eighty, his body and mind destroyed by Parkinson’s disease and dementia. My mother cares for him at home, and shaving him is a low priority among the many tasks she must perform. His cheeks and chin are often covered with thick gray hair, making him look even older, sicker, and more helpless.

Every time we visit my parents, my husband collects my father’s German shaving soap, a bowl of warm water, a razor, and a towel, and he carefully shaves my father’s face. During this ritual my father manages to engage in lucid conversation, a rare gift these days. Watching them together, I could not love either man more.

Name Withheld

When I was seven years old, a fourth-grade boy told me I had a mustache. He said it as if he was making a discovery: that a girl had more facial hair than all the boys combined. Embarrassed, I dashed to the restroom to hide my tears.

That night I sat in front of my bathroom mirror and examined myself. I’d liked my hair until a classmate had told me it was too black and pin straight. I’d liked my thick eyebrows until a friend had pointed out how they came together in a unibrow. I’d liked my face until a boy had told me he didn’t.

I rummaged through the bathroom closet until I found what I believed to be the cure to my self-loathing: my mother’s pink razor. I drew the blade across my lip and watched dark wisps fall to the floor. When blood pooled on my skin, I yelped and grabbed toilet paper to cover the nick. All I’d wanted was to be beautiful. Instead I was left with a scab I had to conceal with a band-aid. When kids asked about it at school, I said I’d gotten burned leaning over a pot of boiling water. People remarked on my carelessness, but the truth was I cared too much.

A year later there was a new girl in school. She had thick black hair, much like my own. One day I sat with her at lunch. The shadow on her upper lip was barely perceptible from across the table, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off that feathery darkness. She seemed so unbothered by her appearance. How did the shadow not haunt her like it haunted me? I told her what I saw so I would no longer be alone.

Emma Sordi
Huntington Station, New York

In my early fifties I was diagnosed with cancer in both breasts—a different type in each—and was quickly swept up in a tidal wave of treatments. I had three surgeries in five weeks, including two mastectomies, followed by a six-month chemo regimen. In the third week I woke up to find my pillowcase laced with strands of hair. By evening it was coming out in handfuls.

I was a single mom of a high-school sophomore. Trying to keep the situation as light as possible, I let my daughter shave my head with electric clippers. She went little by little, taking pictures of each look: a mullet, a fade, a Mohawk, a forehead tuft. We laughed a lot. When we got to the cue ball, I pulled on a T-shirt that read, “No Hair, Don’t Care.” I did care, but the hair loss seemed small compared to the other insults my body had endured.

I sometimes wore a hat but mostly rocked a bald head and big earrings. I got double takes from strangers who couldn’t figure out if I’d shaved my head by choice. Men in bars thought I was a tough biker chick. One day my daughter and I pulled a prank at the salon in the mall: I walked in with my bald head and asked for an appointment. Without missing a beat, the stylist replied, “What time?”

Something you rarely hear about chemo is that you can lose all of your hair. There were some benefits—no more leg and armpit stubble—but I also had no eyebrows or eyelashes. No pubic hair either. I felt like a middle-aged woman in a fourth-grader’s body.

Within six months of the end of my treatment, my hair grew back, and I gave away the “Don’t Care” T-shirt. I never wanted to shave my head again.

Jennifer Shoals
Grand Marais, Minnesota

My former husband was a cycling fanatic. He had all the equipment: three bikes, repair tools, extra tires. He even shaved his legs. Cyclists claim this improves aerodynamics and keeps hair out of leg injuries like road rash, but I think it’s just a way of proving you’re part of the club.

I, on the other hand, have never had to shave, having been blessed with virtually no leg hair. So when our daughter turned twelve and asked me to teach her to shave her legs, I told her, “Go ask your father.”

Catherine Wald
New York, New York

After starting my transition, I counted the number of hairs on my chin almost as religiously as I counted the weeks and months I’d been taking testosterone. At first there were just two, my loyal sidekicks that I’d shave with a cheap razor I kept in my closet. I’d taught myself to shave from YouTube videos and wikiHow articles and practiced it as often as my body would let me.

Eventually those two were joined by fifteen more strands of wispy brown fuzz. Facial hair is often one of the last effects of testosterone therapy to fully develop, and as I waited for more of it, I told myself I would never get tired of shaving my face. It was an important ritual that connected me to my body.

Sometime around the two-year mark I lost count of the hairs. That’s the best part of transitioning: when you stop waiting and start living. Your voice drops, your jawline sharpens, and you no longer subject your body to such intense scrutiny.

These days my razor sits on my bathroom counter, and I’m incredulous at how often I have to shave. It’s tedious. It’s mundane. And it makes me feel like the luckiest guy in the world.

Iowa City, Iowa

As I walked past the airport baggage carousels, I spied my parents on a bench in the distance. They’d come to meet me. It was no surprise to see my father; even at eighty-six, he still got around remarkably well. But I wasn’t expecting to see my mother, who struggled just to get off the couch. Though I was happy she’d made the effort, I knew that it was more than my visit that had inspired her. She was there for the big reveal.

For decades, whenever anyone had asked if I would ever shave off my beard, my answer had always been “Sure, when the Cubs win the World Series.” The last time my beloved Cubbies had been champions was 1908.

My mother, however, wouldn’t smile at my pat reply. She’d gaze at me forlornly and ask, “Am I ever going to see my baby’s face again?”

Just a few weeks before my flight, the Cubs had won the 2016 World Series in a heart-pounding Game 7. Afterward, staring at my clean-shaven image in the bathroom mirror for the first time in thirty-two years, I remembered why I’d grown a beard: I had a baby face. Only now the baby was fifty-six and spawning jowls.

I walked down the baggage-claim corridor feeling self-conscious. Why was Mom laughing? Had my father said something funny? As I bent to give her a hug, she whispered in a sweet, motherly voice, “You can grow it back now.”

Scott Fleming
Eugene, Oregon

In August 1966 I arrived at Arkansas State College (now University) on a football scholarship. First-year players were hazed by the upperclassmen, mainly by being forced to perform tasks for them: getting snacks, folding their laundry, even doing their homework. But there was one serious ritual: at some unspecified point the varsity players would shave our heads.

I’d heard homecoming was the traditional time for this event, but it came and went without incident. For a while I thought we’d dodged a bullet. Perhaps the novelty of the practice had worn off.

The week before the last game of the season, my roommate and I entered the dorm and saw several varsity players in the hallway. One tapped electric clippers against his hand, and two others held razors and shaving cream. This was it.

I decided to get it over with and surrendered to my would-be barbers without a word. They began with the clippers, and I watched as my hair fell in clumps at my feet. Next came a layer of shaving cream and the hiss of the razor across my skin. When I looked in the mirror, I had to admit I had a pretty good head for baldness: smooth and symmetrical. This could not be said for many of my teammates, who had lopsided craniums or scalps as pockmarked as the moon’s surface.

A surprising advantage of walking around campus without hair was the response we got from other students. The status of college football players in the South ranges from royalty to deity, and our chrome domes identified us as athletes from hundreds of feet away. Guys wanted to shake our hands, and girls wanted to meet us.

I still have a decent head of hair, and, thanks to that experience, I know if it abandons me, what’s underneath isn’t too bad.

Michael Griffin
Lakewood Ranch, Florida

My son is fourteen, clinically depressed, and having trouble sleeping. Pimples gather at his temples like storm clouds. Early puberty and genetics have combined to make him shorter than society expects men to be. His father would tell him he was chubby at the age of eight, then play it off with “I’m just teasing” or “Man up, it’s just a joke.”

My son examines himself in the mirror more often these days. Before he leaves the house, he asks me, “Is this outfit all right?”

“Looks good to me, bud,” I say. What I really want to tell him is I love him so much my heart hurts, and I wish I could protect him from his own thoughts.

When I see him leaning in close to his reflection, peering at the new hairs darkening his upper lip, I ask if he wants to shave. He tells me his father gave him an electric razor, but he doesn’t know how to use it.

I spend the evening on YouTube, watching shaving tutorials. In the morning he and I squeeze into our tiny bathroom. I change the blade on a razor I rarely use anymore (age has thinned my own body hair), give him a towel, and run the water until it’s warm. Then I mimic shaving my own face, demonstrating the methods I learned the night before, pushing my tongue against the inside of my cheek to create a smooth surface.

He does the same. As the weeks pass, he finds his own way of shaving.

I know growing up is his journey, not mine, and I understand the dangers of trying to protect your child too much. Still, all I want is to get under his depression and push it up to create a smooth surface.

Name Withheld

In 1977 I began midwife training at a maternity hospital in the East End of London. In those days, when a woman came to the hospital in labor, she was given a full pubic shave—an unnecessary and humiliating experience. I was not at all nervous about managing my first birth, but I was terrified of giving my first shave. What if I nicked the woman by mistake?

On my first day in the labor ward a young, anxious mother-to-be arrived. I tried to make her as comfortable as possible as she lay on the intake-room table having painful contractions.

My supervising midwife, an old battle-ax, asked me, “Is this the first time you’ve given a shave?”

Thinking how scary it would be for this young mum to hear that I had never done this before, I replied confidently, “Of course not. I’ve done it many times.”

Despite my nerves the shave went fine. I quickly realized there had been no need for anxiety. I also learned that I could mask my insecurity behind bravado, a trick that helped me overcome many fears later in life.

Mary Weisnewski
Seattle, Washington

When I was twenty-six, I moved to Japan and entered monastic training, desperate to meditate my way out of a lonely, directionless life. While my friends had found successful careers and partners after college, I lived in a rented room and worked as a mentor to troubled teens, even though it was obvious I was more lost than they were. It had never occurred to me to ask for emotional support; I was too busy trying to hide my shame.

The monastery taught a form of Zen that had been practiced by the samurai, and the teaching metaphors about swords and battle fit perfectly with my aspiration to slash away everything I didn’t like about myself. I enthusiastically set about following the roshi’s instruction to kill my ego, eager to outdo my peers.

Male residents were required to shave their heads, but women could decide whether to keep their hair. Seeing an opportunity to prove my lack of ego, I spent the next three years shaving my head with a Bic razor every four days. I hated everything about it: nicking my protruding moles, stabbing my vulnerable scalp on branches in the forest, the cold morning air against my uncovered ears during meditation, being mistaken for a man by locals. When I looked in the mirror, I felt a profound sadness at the sight of someone so removed from the happy, ponytailed, soccer-playing girl I’d once been. Yet I endured all of it, because I believed shaving my head was the best way to get rid of the self that I disliked so much.

Several years into my training, my confused heart and I had a reckoning, and I gave up battling my ego and left the monastery. Ten years later I have found a satisfying career and a loving partner. Thinking back to those head-shaving days, I see how I only added more self-hatred to an already hard time in my life. But sometimes, especially when a stranger calls me “ma’am,” I miss the fight.

Leah Riedlinger
Eugene, Oregon

The incarcerated man had an unkempt Afro and a long, ragged beard. All he wanted was a haircut and a shave so he would look presentable before a judge the next day. Yet none of the prison barbers would touch him because he couldn’t afford to pay.

“I’ll cut your hair,” I said, violating the prison rule of minding your own business.

I spent the next three hours trimming his hair and shaving his beard with a razor blade attached to a plastic comb. I had no experience as a barber, but I was determined to humanize this man to the judge, to himself, and to the barbers who had dismissed him. My childhood experience in foster care and my prison sentence had taught me how it felt to be written off.

When I was done, he shook my hand and expressed gratitude. I was blessed to get a glimpse of a part of me I hadn’t realized was there, the kind of compassionate and courageous man I wanted to become.

I’ve been cutting hair and shaving beards for free ever since that day fourteen years ago. Every shave comes with a conversation that draws me deeper into our shared humanity. Every haircut stirs within me an ever-growing sense of remorse for the harm I once caused other people, who I now see were just like me.

Chris Moore
San Quentin, California

My dad was an Italian immigrant who ran a neighborhood bar below our apartment. He used an electric razor twice a day to keep his dark whiskers under control, shaving once in the late morning before relieving Howard, his longtime bartender, and once after supper before going back downstairs to work until closing.

Near the end of my freshman year of high school my father was killed when two drag racers plowed head-on into his Cadillac. When I began to shave, soon after his death, I didn’t use his electric razor. Somehow it didn’t seem right. For Christmas that year my mother gave me a shaving mug, a safety razor, and a packet of Gillette Super Blue blades. I loved the ritual of warming the soap in the mug with hot water; using the brush’s long, soft bristles to swirl it into a lather; painting my cheeks, chin, and throat; and scraping off the whiskers.

In my senior year I began dating a girl in another town. Whenever I drove to see her, I stopped at a small beer-and-wine store owned by Howard, who had left the bar. Once, he noticed I had missed a patch of hair on my neck.

“Here,” he said, pulling out an electric razor. He steadied my head with one hand and shaved the patch smooth. “Now you’re ready for your date.”

I kept in touch with Howard while I was at college and continued to see him after I married and relocated 250 miles from my hometown. He was like an uncle to me.

Twenty-five years after Howard died, I discovered he was more to me than an honorary uncle. revealed he was my biological father. Howard and my mother had had an affair throughout the 1940s and ’50s.

I wasn’t bitter to learn the truth. I loved both my fathers. I loved my mother too. And at sixty-nine I knew enough about human nature not to judge.

Tom Romano
Oxford, Ohio

As a seven-year-old tomboy I was fascinated by the sight of men shaving. On my beloved 1960s cowboy shows there was always one broken piece of mirror the cowpokes stared into to clean up their faces for a Saturday night in town. On weekdays I sat on the toilet seat in our aqua-tiled bathroom and watched my father shave. His ceramic-handled brush clinked as he dipped it into the mug of shaving cream. Then he’d dot his cheeks and chin and smooth the fluffy suds into a white beard. After each stroke of the razor he’d rinse the blade in the sink full of water, leaving little floating islands of cream with tiny black whiskers attached.

One day I asked if I could try shaving.

He looked down at my smooth little-girl’s face. “Sure,” he said. “But you can’t use this razor. You could cut yourself.”

Even at that age I knew my request crossed gender boundaries. I didn’t want to get my father in trouble with my mother, who wanted me to look and act feminine. I played with dolls to appease her, but I also begged for toy pistols, played soldiers with the neighbor boys, climbed trees, and wore shorts and corduroys. We’d recently established something of a truce, but she still insisted on dressing me when company came over.

The next morning my father had an old, bladeless razor waiting for me. I used his brush to put cream on my face, and we shaved elbow to elbow while Mom made breakfast downstairs, unaware that Dad was letting me be myself.

Janet Smeltz
Needham, Massachusetts

I was making out with a guy I’d just begun dating when he put his hand up my skirt and under my panties. After a moment he said, “You need to shave all that off.”

I stopped kissing him. “What are you talking about?”

“Your bush,” he said.

On the verge of laughing in his face, I said good night.

Driving home, I wondered if my resistance to Brazilian wax jobs was a sign of the sexual rigidity that sometimes comes with age. It frightened me. I was only in my thirties, and I wanted to date. Did I have to succumb to the trend of hairlessness to find a companion?

I thought back to a man I had been with for several years. We were young and heavy into sex. At one point he asked if he could shave me “down there.” It took him several days to convince me, but I gave in. The act of letting him shave me was quite erotic, but when I saw how touching the bare skin excited him, I felt confused, vulnerable, and angry. Why didn’t it thrill him for me to look like a grown woman? I let the hair grow back.

Before I got married at the age of forty, one other man I dated asked to shave me. I said no, not wanting to feel like his fantasy child bride. I’m a woman, and I want my body to look like it.

Alisa Gaston-Linn
Loveland, Colorado

My late husband was meticulous in his morning routine. First I would hear the buzz of his electric shaver, sometimes accompanied by his whistling. Next, the shower. After that, he combed his full head of black hair, ending with a spritz of hair spray. Finally, teeth brushed and nails cleaned and filed, he emerged from the bathroom in his pin-striped suit, paisley tie, and shiny loafers, as handsome as a man could be, the crisp scent of his cologne floating on the air behind him.

All this changed when he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Our days were filled with doctor appointments, radiation, and chemotherapy. Instead of dressing for the office, he wore khakis, sweaters, and sweats (which he abhorred). Worst of all, because the tumor was eroding his cognitive abilities, he didn’t understand why he was not on his way to work or why I was home with him.

I tried to help him maintain his morning routine for as long as possible. After an hour or more of encouragement, he would make his way to the bathroom, where I’d posted a list on the mirror: 1. Shave. 2. Shower. 3. Comb and dry hair. 4. Brush teeth.

He’d often get stuck on the first step. I would hear the shaver running for much longer than necessary, so I’d knock and ask how it was going.

“Oh, fine,” he’d say, and the buzzing would continue.

Finally I would open the door and gently suggest he put the shaver down. Sometimes this irritated him; other times he easily acquiesced.

One morning I realized that, because he used an electric shaver, he had no way of knowing when he was done; there was no shaving cream to show where the razor had been. He would have shaved the same cheek for an hour if I’d let him.

After he died, I kept his cologne under my pillow, inhaling his scent before falling asleep. I gave his shaver to his brother. I missed hearing its buzz behind the bathroom door for a long time.

Cathy Beres
Evanston, Illinois

Try this: shave your whole body—legs, arms, back, neck—and jump in a pool. It is an explosion of sensation, every nerve alive. You feel slippery and sleek, and you never want to come to the surface again.

That was our women’s swim team’s ritual. I’ve described it to nonswimmers over the years, trying to capture the feeling, but words aren’t enough. Perhaps it’s because there’s so much more to the story: Hundreds of thousands of yards in the pool. Long hours in the gym lifting heavier and heavier weights. Tears at falling short of our goals. Cheers of encouragement as we tried to become faster than bullets in the water. And leg hair—so much leg hair among the fifteen of us. We grew it out for months during training to create extra drag when we swam. Then, after the last practice before our conference meet, we would go to the locker room, strip off our suits, and pull out the razors.

You worked on your legs first, grabbing a fresh razor when the first grew dull. You’d laugh with your teammates about how much hair was stuck in the blade after one swipe of your calf and complain about those damn knees, which could never escape without a cut. You’d move on to your arms, pulling the blade perfectly straight, your freckles seeming brighter. Then you’d hand the razor to a teammate and turn around so she could gently draw it down your back, following the contours of your muscles, careful not to catch it on your shoulder blades or spine. The touch felt gentle and intimate, like someone combing your hair. She would lather up your neck and do it again.

And then you would all jump into the pool together, letting the liquid silk slide around you. You’d finally come up for air and laugh. Your hair would have been standing on end from joy, if you’d had any left.

Sandi Phinney
Anacortes, Washington

My nurse, Jenny, smiled at me sweetly and said, “I’ll be very careful.” Then she moved my penis to the side with a tongue depressor, applied warm shaving cream to my groin, and carefully shaved the site where my femoral artery came closest to the surface.

A week earlier I’d been on a bike ride and had felt tightness in my chest. An EKG had revealed a 99 percent blockage in the largest artery of my heart, which can cause the notorious “widow-maker” heart attack. I was only forty-two. I rushed to the hospital, fearing I might create a widow and two fatherless sons that very afternoon. But Jenny wasn’t having any of it.

“We’ll get you into the cath lab and fix you up quick,” she promised. Then she sat me in a recliner with foot pads, shaved clean the surgical site, and discreetly put my hospital gown back in place.

What do you say to a person you’ve known only a few minutes yet who has just skillfully denuded such an intimate place?

“Thank you,” I told her.

Jenny wheeled me off for the groin puncture and stent that would grant another twenty-five years and counting of fatherhood and spousal devotion.

Peter Moore
Fort Collins, Colorado

Upon arriving at Camp Pendleton in California, each female Vietnamese refugee was given a hygiene kit containing a pink disposable razor, a deodorant stick, and a sanitary pad. I was just thirteen at the time, in 1975. Puberty and grooming had not been open topics of discussion within my Vietnamese household. I was particularly intrigued by the razor, as coarse tufts of hair had begun to appear on my body.

My mother diligently collected the sanitary pads, but she was dismissive of the deodorant and razor, which she deemed “typically American: unnatural and presumptuous.” Later, after we had moved out of the refugee camp and into our own home, I watched TV ads in which blond women shaved their long legs in softly lit bathrooms, their movements sensuous, their thighs shiny and smooth as amber mirrors. My aunt warned me that my cousin had shaved with a dull razor that left scabby patches on her legs.

High school was bewildering. I didn’t know why I had to shower after gym, as I rarely sweated. My ESOL teacher snickered when I told the class, during our lesson on quantifiers, that “most, if not all, Vietnamese women do not need to shave.” I was both ashamed and curious when I saw other girls shave in the locker room and heard them talk about “going all the way” with boys.

On the Saturday before my fifteenth birthday, while my parents took my siblings on a day trip, I stayed home to read The Great Gatsby for sophomore English. (By then I had been weaned from ESOL.) After finishing the book, I decided to shave my armpits and legs for the first time. By the light in my parents’ teal-blue bathroom, I showered and shaved with great care. In my adolescent fantasy I was both a sleek-limbed Vietnamese beauty and blond, odorless Daisy, the supreme object of Gatsby’s desire.

Thuy Dinh
Oakton, Virginia

The Gillette double-bladed razor dragged across my father’s chin with an audible scrape. The sound had seemed industrious to me as a kid, watching my tall, strong dad shave in the mirror, but now he was gaunt from his fight with pancreatic cancer, and it was my hand holding the razor while he sat propped up in a hospital bed. I dipped the blade into a mug of warm water and squirted a dollop of shaving cream into my palm. It smelled like my youth, reminding me of the affable, gregarious man my dad had been.

The loose topography of his cheeks and chin was hard to follow. I pulled the skin taut, trying to make a smooth path for the razor, but I wasn’t giving him a clean shave.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” I said, despising my constant self-doubt. I wanted to be as self-assured as my father, a surgeon who’d never questioned the why of things, only the how.

I took a breath and focused on my task: a hesitant hand makes for a bad shave. Resolving to appear confident, I held his jaw and moved the razor in steady strokes.

“You’re doing a good job, kiddo,” my father said quietly when I leaned back to study my work. It was the last time I would ever see him smile.

Ty Sassaman
Minneapolis, Minnesota

In the spring of 1973 I had just finished a one-year gig playing piano for a dance school in Oslo, Norway, when I decided to hitchhike to a jazz festival about two hours from the city. I’d thumbed my way across the US several times, but on this rural Norwegian road the cars and trucks rumbled by without stopping. I got the feeling that my hippie look—a full beard, long hair, and granny glasses—was the reason I wasn’t getting any rides.

As fond as I was of my facial hair, I didn’t want to miss the festival. I scurried down the embankment to a stream, pulled a pair of scissors and a razor from my duffel bag, and barbered myself as best I could without soap or shaving cream.

Reasonably clean-shaven, I returned to the road and stuck out my thumb again. The first vehicle that came along pulled over. I hopped in and took a look at the Good Samaritan who had rescued me: a young man with a beard every bit as long and scraggly as the one now floating downstream.

Seth Wittner
Worcester, Massachusetts

I started shaving the day Brian Brooks called me “Teen Wolf.” I was sitting on the blacktop, trading celebrity magazines with my friends, my long leg hair poking through my tights. That afternoon, as soon as the bus dropped me at home, I borrowed my mother’s pink plastic safety razor and never looked back.

Twenty years later and seven months pregnant, I found myself barely able to see my legs in the shower, let alone shave them. Just bending to retrieve the soap had me leaning against the tile to catch my breath. I set my razor down and with it the dream of being some sort of hairless nymph. Instead I would grow as furry as the mama bear I was meant to be.

Kate Hubbard
East Haven, Connecticut

When I was seventeen, I had an altercation with an off-duty policeman and received a wound in the corner of my mouth that required seven stitches. Ever since, I have had to be careful not to nick the scar when I shave. I often do anyway.

One morning about forty-five years after the incident, I cut myself yet again. Looking in the mirror at the blood dribbling down my chin, I thought, Enough is enough.

I tracked down the phone number of the policeman and called. When he answered, I apologized for my role in our confrontation and for taking so long to contact him. He said he was sorry as well and told me my call had made his year.

When he asked what had motivated me to reach out to him, I mentioned the scar. His response was so pained that I felt compelled to reassure him it was a trivial inconvenience and a helpful reminder of my youthful folly.

Now, whenever I shave, I am reminded of the grace that policeman and I found through forgiveness.

Name Withheld

In the thirteen years I had with my father, I never felt his bare cheek. My mother told me that after their wedding he’d gotten a rash or pimple on his face—something that kept him from shaving. She liked the way he looked with a beard, and he never got rid of it.

He was still alive when I shaved the fine hairs above my lip for the first time in middle school. It was my last rite of passage I would experience with him beside me. In pictures of the moment, my brother and I wield razors crossed like swords.

I saw an HBO show that said ancient Romans grew their beards in times of mourning, and I couldn’t forget it. Years later, when my girlfriend and I broke up, I showed my grief by concealing my jaw, as if it might draw in some other woman.

Months passed. I bought oils and combs and conditioners. Every day my beard was the longest it had ever been. Every day I spent more time in front of the bathroom mirror grooming it. Every day I showed up for work almost late, whiskers glistening.

One morning I spit toothpaste into the sink, toweled the blue flecks from the corners of my mouth, and caught my profile in the mirror. It was him for a moment. Then he was gone.

John Penola
Butler, New Jersey