So, I had to do an analysis of an advertisement for one of my classes this week and I picked this ad:
I like the colors, the representation and the message – that you don’t NEED to shave these parts of your body. I was also interested in analyzing how structures of power work within razor ads – and the fact that I had been thinking about writing a blog about body hair. However I will admit, readers, that I was hesitant to write on this subject. In the book our ShoutOut class has been reading, “Hood Feminism,” the author Mikki Kendall writes:
“As debates over last names, body hair, and the best way to be a CEO have taken center stage in the discourse surrounding modern feminism, it’s not difficult to see why some would be questioning the legitimacy of a women’s movement that serves only the narrow interests of middle- and upper-class white women.”
And I agree, I think that body hair is something we can contemplate as feminists, but it’s not what should be within the main political feminist discourse. And of course I would recommend you read Hood Feminism because it provides a great critique of mainstream feminism and patriarchy. However, I still want to talk about the expectations for women’s bodies and how it culminates with hair….
History of Hair Removal
This website goes over the history of hair removal and hair aesthetics – which goes all the way back to the Stone Age! The article describes how the first women’s razor was produced in 1915, yet the standard for women shaving their legs wouldn’t arrive until WWII era when there was a shortage of nylon, meaning that women couldn’t wear stockings.
However, when they arrive at the modern era, they describe how the expectations for hair on women’s bodies have been eliminated by women like Julia Roberts or Amandla Stenberg. I was surprised by this ending of the article, because this was in no way my experience.
Hairy Experiences on Instagram
Recently, I have seen some of the women I follow on Instagram talking about their experiences with body hair.
I’ve also seen gender-neutral or non-binary people talking about hair taboos.
My Own Body Hair Journey
Recently, I have delved into my own hairy journey as well. I have stopped shaving my legs (I tried to stop shaving my armpits too, but the hegemony is just too much and so they are currently shaved). It began with a trip to the lake with my mom and her friends, where I forgot my razor and was too scared of germs to borrow anyone else’s. So, my unseemly hair grew and when I returned home to my razor I thought, Why am I even shaving anyway? We’re in a pandemic, the only people seeing me are my family and I certainly don’t care if they see me hairy.
And thus it continued. I feel I have to mention that this was the first time I have let my leg hair grow out since I began shaving my legs (which was probably in late elementary to early middle school years – my family is very hairy and I was very self-conscious). Even in the winter, when my friends would show off how long their leg hair had grown, my legs were smooth and soft (This has to do with my insomnia and itchy legs keeping me from falling asleep).
So, my legs are hairy and as we near short-wearing season, I am glad for ads like Billie’s for showing that it’s okay not to shave always. Billie’s ad was released in 2018 and was the first razor ad to actually show leg hair (let alone refer to pubic hair and show other places that women might shave… like their toes and “happy trails”). Since then, as far as I can tell from my research, no razor ads have followed suit. Brands like fur have capitalized on actually recognizing that people have hair and don’t shave it all off. But razor brands like Gillette or Venus have continued to show razors gliding over already shaved (if not waxed), perfectly smooth legs, for their commercials.
I don’t think that the expectations for women and their body hair can be fully put onto the backs of razor companies, and I think that these expectations cannot solely be traced back to the shortage of nylon for stockings during the WWII era. For one thing, the expectation for women to be hairless below the neck, like a child before puberty, can be tied to the pedophilic ideologies that are within our culture. Additionally, we can look to patriarchal beauty standards and how the media portrays women and beauty.
All in all, if you do shave your legs (or other parts of your body) this is a call to get you to think about exactly why you shave your legs. And if you don’t shave, welcome to the club!