There’s no doubt about it: dating can be a minefield. Here, freelance journalist Jessica Furseth reveals the one piece of dating advice her mother gave her – and how it changed her perspective on relationships forever.
I can count on one hand the number of times my mother and I have talked about dating. Sex has come up exactly once, in a brief and awkward moment that was never to be repeated. My mother and I get on very well, but this stuff just isn’t in our vocabulary – I hear other women describe their mothers as their “best friend” but I’m baffled by the idea of seeing her as that kind of confidante. I love my mum and admire her a great deal as a person, but we aren’t friends – she’s my mother.
However, there was one notable time that she let the maternal mask slip and gave me a singular piece of advice about dating. I was around 20 years old, and we were sitting at the kitchen table when I mentioned something about shaving my legs before seeing my boyfriend. My mother chuckled: “But you do know good guys don’t care about stuff like that?” I stared at her, startled. It was such a departure from our usual topic of conversation that it seared into my mind.
That little nugget of advice has turned into something of a guiding light for me, ringing in my ears whenever a partner has tried to make me change anything about my body. My mother, however, doesn’t even remember saying it. When I called her to ask about it, she said, “But yes, it sounds like something I’d have said”. It would be a very superficial thing for a man to complain about, she noted, presuming you keep clean and take basic care of yourself.
“I was young during the Seventies, during a time when you weren’t supposed to shave or even really wear a bra,” she reminded me. “There wasn’t the same body focus as there is today. I’ve mellowed over the years, but still, my immediate response to so-called ‘good advice’ about my appearance is to feel insulted.”
We should never comment on someone else’s body without invitation – that’s what I learned from my mother’s throwaway comment all those years ago. It’s pretty clear what she would say about the study that found 40% of men have asked their partners to shave their pubic hair. Making these types of demands about a partner’s appearance goes both ways, I should add – 23% of women have made the same request. The survey, run by Cosmopolitan, also found that 30% of men said the style of their partner’s pubic hair might make them reconsider whether or not to date them.
Well, if someone told me to shave my pubic hair it would certainly put me off dating them.
If someone tries to push you into changing your body then it’s not a slight on you, but on them. I think what my mother would have said, had we had that kind of relationship, is that the good people you date will care more about your brain, and also, if they let a stray hair get in the way of f**king you, you should go and find someone who has their priorities in order. Judgement and squeamishness is the absolute opposite of hot.
I know I am fortunate to have been furnished with this kind of resilience from a young age, because women are so often unhappy with the way they look. Only 63% of women aged 18-34, and 57% of women aged 35-49, are satisfied with their appearance, the 2014 British Social Attitudes study concluded. When the 2016 Dove Global Beauty and Confidence report surveyed over 10,000 women from 13 countries, British women had one of the lowest body confidence scores in the world, with a whopping 80% saying they’re unhappy with the way they look. And when you feel like this, it’s hard to stand firm if someone tells you they would like you a little better if you changed something about your appearance.
Of course, I’m not immune to feeling bad about my body – I once went on a prompt diet after a woman gave me her seat on the Tube assuming I was pregnant (I was not). And I know what it’s like to realise you’ve spent so long ignoring small warning signs in a relationship that you’ve suddenly lost sight of yourself.
“I was with a guy who made very subtle comments about what I did, and didn’t, do in terms of looking after my body,” a friend said to me. “Four years later I woke up and wondered where my self confidence had run away to.” Another friend told me her least favourite boyfriend was the one who complained she didn’t shave her pubic hair: “In a relationship I want to be respected and loved as a full human being, not some porn-inspired idea of what a woman should look like. We broke up eventually. I hadn’t been happy for a while.”
Over time I’ve added my own interpretation to what my mother said all those years ago about shaving my legs, but I credit her words with planting the seed for a resilience that’s served me well – not as a stunner who can have anybody she wants, but as an average, able-bodied girl who wears a size 12. Telling me I look better without make-up isn’t a compliment but negging, I told the male feminist who tried to convince me otherwise. My grooming routine is my own business, I told the guy who suggested that maybe I could shave my pubic hair. I’m happy with my decision to wear jeans, I told the man who said I’d look better in more feminine clothing.
When my partner (a good guy who doesn’t care) heard about my mother’s advice, he understandably had a question to ask: so why do I still shave my legs? I think my answer would have made my mother proud: for no reason other than it’s my body, and I’ll shave if I want to.