What would you do if your 11-year- old daughter had long hair growing from her armpits and dark hair on her legs? Would you encourage her to shave? That’s the dilemma facing a mother on UK website Mumsnet.
She says her daughter has had pubic hair since she was nine, and now has an increasing amount of hair on her legs and under her arms.
“I have never suggested it’s anything other than natural and nothing she needs to worry about,” the mother, calling herself Tobleronemonster, explains.
The mother says her daughter hasn’t asked to shave, but now, she’s becoming worried that her daughter will be targeted by bullies.
“I don’t want people to be mean to her, but I don’t want her to feel ashamed of her body, in any way.”
For a lot of people who responded, the question brought up painful childhood memories.
“I wasn’t allowed to shave until about 16,” one remembered.
“It was awful. I was bullied so much and it made me hate PE lessons. I don’t have a daughter (yet) but if we do have one I’ll be allowing her to shave when she feels ready.”
“I was a promising swimmer as a child,” said another. “I dropped it when I was 11 as my mum wouldn’t let me shave my armpits. I stayed hot in long sleeves in the summer. I dry shaved with my dad’s Bic and gave myself terribly painful rashes.”
Several women explained that they already happily helped their daughters with hair removal.
We discuss the best way to talk to young girls about body hair, on our podcast for imperfect parents. Post continues after audio.
“My seven-year-old had hairs under her arms,” said one. “I told her that if and when she was unhappy with them or worried about them to come and talk to me. At eight she said she wanted to get rid of them and didn’t want to be teased so I shaved them
“I pluck my daughter’s eyebrows,” said another. “She’s 11. She asked, and if it’s something she’s self-conscious about that can easily be fixed, then why wouldn’t I?”
Psychologist Sarah McMahon, the director of Bodymatters Australasia, says she doesn’t think there’s any particular age that’s “too young” to shave, especially in the case of a child who’s going through puberty earlier than their peers.
“My opinion is that we need to protect our children from standing out too much in some instances because playground politics can be so cruel and really scar kids for the rest of their lives,” she tells Mamamia.
“That’s not to say that bullying is ever acceptable, but at the same time, that’s the world that kids are growing up in.” McMahon says it’s something that parents should start discussing before it becomes a big issue – and before children start seeking that information from somewhere else.
“We need to be taking the lead as parents to normalise the changes in the body and what most people do about those changes. We’re not shaving our armpits because we’re embarrassed about armpit hair. This is something that we choose to do in Australia, often perhaps because it’s considered to be more hygienic or maybe there’s certain aesthetics around it.”
She says parents shouldn’t let their own embarrassment stand in the way of them having these discussions with their kids.
“As awkward as it might feel for us to talk to our children about this, they are growing up.”