For the most literary, cinematic experience – outside of actually reading a book or going to the cinema, of course – you must take a bath. Like a shower (or a Michael Bay movie, or a Janet Evanovich novel), a bath has a plot: a redemptive narrative arc in which you, the protagonist, start out dirty, and—through a series of adventures and with the help of a product placement or two—come out clean. But, for a Lars Von Trier or Marcel Proust experience, the plot is hardly the point. The point is in the lingering, in the meditative moments, in the figurative (and in this case quite literal) navel-gazing. It was during one of these rare bathing experiences that I fully transitioned from one of my most wasteful behaviors into a more sustainable one: I stopped shaving with disposables and learned to love a safety razor.
This sustainable swap happened recently for me, almost two years into my journey toward zero waste living. I knew I wasn’t happy with how much plastic I was sending to landfill thanks to disposable razors – two of them made their way into my Plastic Free July Box of Shame, which, per my own advice in “The myth of all-or-nothing sustainable living,” should not have been labeled shameful at all. But there were plenty of other swaps for me to focus my attention on in the meantime; in the hygiene area alone, I ditched plastic toothpaste tubes, shampoo bottles, and tampons. I made swap after swap, but I just couldn’t quit disposable razors.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know what I would use as a substitute for my petroleum-handled, leg-smoothening blades. The choice du jour among zero waste celebrities (there are indeed famous faces in the low-impact world) is the safety razor, and I came to the same conclusion myself. Let’s look at a couple of the other options: the most sustainable thing to do would be to refuse the need for shaving in the first place and just let your body hair grow—which is a perfectly valid and awesome thing to do, and please grow on if you want to!—but I decided it wasn’t for me. Alternatively, electrolysis and laser hair removal, while pretty sustainable and appropriate for some, ultimately don’t suit my willingness to commit the necessary time or money. The best choice for me, then, has always been to acquire an old-fashioned safety razor, preferably a vintage one for the extra sustainability and hipster points. (Oh, you guys, we are going to talk about hipsters in a future post. Wait for it.)
But… I was scared.
Instead of taking the leap to try something new, I’ve been s t r e t c h i n g out my last pack of supposedly-disposable razors. I had two strategies: 1. Schedule shaving according to whether I’d be baring my legs, and, if so, the degree to which I cared to let my stubble be exposed. (By the way, in case you didn’t already know, it is highly unlikely that anyone even notices, much less makes a judgement based upon, whether or not you’ve recently shaved your legs.) 2. Repeatedly sharpen the blades by scraping them against a scrap of denim from an old pair of blue jeans, a trick I learned about on Instagram and highly recommend—in the short term. If you rely on this second strategy for too long, razor burn will ensue, and ensue it did.
And so eventually, as Anaïs Nin would say, “the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” (I’m pretty sure that quotation is for inspiring middle class white ladies to go out and buy something.) So I bought a safety razor. I put the blade in and immediately went for my shin and slid it up my leg, my hand trailing close behind to feel the results. But it felt like petting a peach. “It doesn’t work!” I proclaimed, and let my new treasure – and my hopes – fall heavily onto the bathroom floor.
The next day, I examined the whole thing again, thinking I must have improperly assembled blade onto handle. Nope. So I, with help from Google, consulted the approximately one million zero wasters who have gone before me, and the best piece of advice I found was to SLOW DOWN. As it turns out, I’ve been spending my entire adult life shaving like a madwoman—aka the modern-day career woman with only seconds to spare in her rushed shower routine—applying the same breathless, speed-walking, give-me-my-trophy-for-being-busier-than-thou attitude to hair removal as I would to a day of pointless meetings getting in the way of an important work project. Do you do that, too? Do you forget to pay attention to anything in the shower and just gloss over an entire leg without an ounce of mindfulness?
I slowed down – just a little bit, okay? We’re talking the difference between shaving in two minutes flat to five minutes tops – and it worked like a charm. I considered the angle of the handle. The disposable razors had become like wands I waved wildly, expecting magic, disconnecting me from how shaving even works. But now I was reminded of the process: the blade is catching a hair and slicing it off. Cognizant again of this very simply fact, I was able to position the razor and apply the right amount of pressure to get the job done. And let me just say: it gets the job done. I’ve never had a closer shave. Now, shaving with my safety razor is a luxury, and it’s extra special if I do it in the bath, where I can slow down and have that literary, cinematic experience. Unless I decide to stop waging war on my body hair sometime soon, the safety razor is making my life a lot less wasteful, a lot more self-sustaining, and, dare I say, more aesthetically and narratively pleasing.
Maggie Brown, the Editor-in-Chief of New Southerner, is an Associate Professor at Elizabethtown Community & Technical College, where she has taught writing, literature, film studies, and rock & roll lit. She resides in Louisville, Kentucky, and enjoys giving talks and leading workshops about her experiences with the zero waste and vegan lifestyles. Her philosophy is that sustainability for the planet perfectly aligns with sustainability for the self. She’d love to hear from you at maggie [at] newsoutherner [dot] com.