It took five years and having a baby together for my husband to find out that I shave my toes. I swear he was more shocked about that, than anything that happened in the birthing room. Years of diligence on my part and some hefty conditioning by the media meant it hadn’t occurred to him that my hairless big toe might not be God given.
Just over a hundred years ago, Gillette ran the first advert telling women they had a product ‘that solves an embarrassing personal problem’. The problem was any hair that grew below the chin of a woman and the solution was a regime involving an array of tools and creams that meant female body hair would never be seen again. And it wasn’t, at least not in the images we saw around us. Women’s body hair disappeared from the mainstream, if you spotted underarm hair on the bus, then she was probably an ‘activist’ or unstable.
But then this week, Billie, a new women’s razor brand, put an image of a woman with underarm hair on Time Squares biggest screen and the media went crazy. Keep your hair on guys! It’s just some normally functioning hair follicles.
‘We saw a huge disconnect between how hair removal brands were talking to women and how women spoke about their body hair.’ Georgina Gooley co-founder of Billie told me, ‘This is a category where the product is literally for body hair, yet no one was even acknowledging its existence.’
Adverts often portray women as stupid; we break dance while eating yoghurts, we manically laugh alone with our salads and we shave hairless legs. I worked in advertising for many years and saw from the inside how hard it was to push against cultural boundaries. ‘Advertising can so often fuel damaging narratives, which is why it’s important to champion an advert which intentionally tackles stereotypes head on and applaud companies like Unilever who are holding themselves accountable with their Unilever Unstereotype initiative’ says Karina Wilsher, CCO of global advertising agency Anomaly, ‘because the real win will come when you have big corporations creating change at a mass scale.’
It was only last year that we saw period blood in a sanitary towel advert with Bodyform finally acknowledging that women don’t in fact bleed blue liquid. This month Dove are launching a ‘No Digital Distortion Mark’ which will signify an image hasn’t been digitally altered to ‘ensure beauty is a source of confidence and not anxiety.’ Consumers are gravitating towards honest brands. We want to feel understood, represented and we don’t want to feel shamed into buying a product. As Billies Georgina said, ‘We celebrate the fact that women have a choice, if you do shave that’s fine and we are here, but if you don’t shave we still want to be a brand you can identify with.’ She’s right, we do have a choice, both in how we wear our body hair and in the brands we reward with our money.