Published in Freezine's second issue, April 2019.
“I feel repulsed by the whole #januhairy thing. Obviously women can do as they please in todays world and rightly so. But hairy women is VERY unattractive and im sure 99% of men will agree”: a tweet from @jonnyuk88 in reaction to #januhairy, the movement started by 21 year old drama student Laura Jackson. Despite hair on women being just as natural as hair on men, people still seem to feel that hairy women are “lazy & revolting” (thanks Piers) perhaps because it blurs the socially accepted line between male and female. In a similar way that a man wearing makeup might threaten people’s notion of gender, a woman with visible body hair evokes disgust from those who haven’t been regularly exposed to it. Since its beginning, society’s insistence on women shaving has always been a means of disempowerment, reverting our bodies back to a prepubescent state.
As clothing styles began to expose more skin, Gillette released the first female razor in 1915 along with brazenly sexist and body shaming ads. While an emphasis on sexiness and social acceptance were the main stars of early hair removal advertising, it wasn’t until the 70s that the fetishisation of young girls really came into play, one example being Love Cosmetic’s 1974 campaign for their perfume ‘Baby Soft’ with its disturbing tagline “because innocence is sexier than you think”. Companies and advertisers play into women’s anxieties of being unattractive, aging and powerful by perpetuating the girl-like woman image to sell their products.
Of course it isn’t just advertising that pushes these ideals on women. In mainstream films and television, hairy women are usually depicted as the unattractive foil for the lead character, ‘excess’ hair serving as an easy device to convey ugliness. Hair is used to transform a female character during makeover sequences in films such as ‘Miss Congeniality’ and ‘The Princess Diaries’. With eyebrows, leg hair and facial hair comedically removed, the protagonist is allowed to become the sexually attractive woman the film intends her to be. In Laura Mulvey’s book ‘Visual and Other Pleasures’ she describes how “unchallenged, mainstream film coded the erotic into the language of the dominant patriarchal order”, suggesting that as the media have manipulated what is supposed to be attractive to a heterosexual man, it has become what is considered to be attractive for everyone. Of course, easy access to pornography has perpetuated the stereotype of a completely hairless, submissive woman making this an expectation.
And yet advertising is clearly a major cultural player: in June 2018, Billie became the first women’s razor brand in 100 years to show actual body hair in an advert, and the campaign quickly went viral. But Billie are still playing into the childlike image of a woman, as if to counterbalance the overt use of natural female bodies. The minute long ad, art-directed by Noemie Le Coz, was themed around ‘fuzz’, forming direction for the campaign's styling, props, location and wardrobe. “From pom poms and fluffy socks to prickly plant life and brushed out perms, we made 'fuzz' a little more fun”. This styling screams young girl, with the fluffy, cutesy props closely resembling cuddly toys and dressing-up costumes from childhood. The light-pink hue that dominates the ad is another example of this, on trend for 2018 but also definitely a stereotypical colour for young girls. The models are beautiful, young women, many of them sporting bright, multicoloured nails, mirroring the Billie logo which Le Coz describes as “90s nostalgia reimagined for a new audience”. She is therefore catering the established girl-woman image for Billie’s target audience; women currently in their 20s who would’ve been children in the 90s. Words silently appear over the film; “Hair, everyone has it, even women, the world pretends it doesn’t exist, but it does, we checked, so however, whenever, if ever, you want to shave, we’ll be here”.
Even though brands like Billie and movements like #Januhairy are moving us in the right direction, it still feels like a long way to go before it is normal for women (and men) to embrace female body hair. Studies have shown that the vast majority of women remove some or all of their body hair, across various demographics in western countries, with some studies claiming that it’s as high as 99%. It’s clear that exposure to mass media has had a huge influence on the idea that the natural female body is a project that’s unattractive unless it’s ‘improved’ upon. Although it’s easy to blame societal pressures and manipulative advertising, it’s up to us as well to reject the ideals that we are fed. It is only when a woman chooses to take control of her own body that she can claim back the power taken from her.
Written by Zoe Oswin