Body hair has long been a hot topic when it comes to gender norms, which is why, for one celebrity, a lesson in shaving became the perfect moment to break free from those expectations. In a new interview with Romper, Gabrielle Union shared how teaching her stepdaughter Zaya to shave turned into an honest conversation about the stereotypes and patriarchal myths surrounding femininity. The Bring It On star revealed that she was about to show Zaya how to shave her armpits when she realized that her stepdaughter shouldn't feel like it was something she had to do simply because she's a woman.
As Union told Romper, she was around Zaya's age — 12 — when her mom taught her how to shave, but she quickly realized that she didn't want her stepdaughter to follow in her footsteps because it was something she felt she had to do. "I got the razor in hand," she recalled, before taking a beat and thinking about what she was about to do. "I was like, 'Armpit hair isn't necessarily a woman thing and having it or not having it is an individual choice and having bare armpits isn't going to make you any more of a woman and I don't want to impose my thoughts about armpit hair on another woman, so if it's something that you're interested in, cool. If not, guess what, still a woman!"
In February, Dwyane Wade and Union revealed that Zaya had formally shared her preferred pronouns with them. And since sharing her coming out story publicly, the 12-year-old has become an activist for the LGBTQ+ community in her own right. Meanwhile, her parents are taking their lead from her as they learn how to be the best allies they can be.
For Union, that means stopping to think about perpetuating cultural stereotypes about what it means to be feminine, as well as always being open to learning from others. In a February op-ed for Time, Union and Wade opened up about having to consciously interrogate their perception of gender roles in terms of parenting not only Zaya, but also their daughter Kaavia, Wade's 18-year-old son Zaire, and their nephew, Dahveon. "There are lots of things we still argue about, like what it is to be a 'lady,'" they wrote. "Are we trying to teach Zaya a very specific and "traditional" way of performing "femininity," like shaving your legs and armpits? How many things that we do are rooted in misogyny, sexism and forcing women into these boxes?"
It seems those are topics that they're still working through as a family. Union told Romper that her family is a "team" first, and it's through teamwork that the parents and the kids are able to teach each other about everything from gender roles to growing up. At the end of the day, the actor and author knows that the only thing she can do is teach her kids as best she can and trust that everything else will fall into place.
"You can try to create them in your image, even if you are their stepmom, and the more that they reflect you back onto you, the more you feel like you're doing a good job…." she said. "All you can be is a great example."