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Yes, that’s right: when you spend your spare time thinking about the political significance of public hair, you never run out of fodder for party small talk. Nor do you ever run out of things to make you mad. Here’s the latest thing — send to me by a number of friends/readers/allies.

Seems besides having intimate bits that are too hairy, it’s also possible to have genitals that are “too brown.” At least that’s what the people who produce a new product aimed at Indian woman. Evidently, the product is some kind of intimate wash that also helps to make your vulva “many shades fairer”. Curious? Here’s the television ad:

http://youtu.be/9Tx9vVVMWw0

Predictably, our protagonist is sad with her ordinary vagina, but is radiantly happy once she’s doused it in chemicals. I’ve written before about the notion of the vagina as being “dirty” until all its protective hair is whisked away. This is a product that actually exactly embodies “your vagina is dirty” mentality. That graphic, with the product lightening an animated groin seems to say it all. Sigh.

Huffington Post’s got a good article on the top. Have a read here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/04/12/vagina-brightener-indian-feminine-hygiene-product-promises-to-make-genitals-many-shades-fairer_n_1420052.html?ref=canada-living&ir=Canada+Living

And as I’ve written before, I love it when readers get in touch. I had a nice little note from Emily recently, who got in touch to tell me about a recent experience she had reading Cosmopolitan magazine.

Here’s what she wrote:

I was at a friend’s house the other day and found something in a magazine that seemed relevant to The Last Triangle. 

Looking at Cosmo is like looking at a car crash. I know I’m going to be horrified by what I see, but if there is one there, I still look. The image I attatched is a snap of “99 sex questions answered”. I know not to expect much from Cosmo, but it was still upsetting to see that when one’s lover has a preference for pubes, this publication is encouraging her to leave him the bare minimum. Oh, the implications. 

She also sent along this snapshot:

As Emily points out, the problem with this is, of course, that at no point is the poor woman told that her boyfriend would probably be just fine with nothing more than a little trim. But the only option this mainstream mag can offer up is the landing strip: a (probably) salon-driven grooming practice requiring pain, money, time, effort.

As I’ve said a million times: I believe women should be allowed to do whatever they want with their bodies, as long as they know what the options are. Magazines like this would have all young women believe there are only a few ways of being in the world.

 

 

 

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According to this article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, “the vagina is becoming big business on American TV”. That’s right, people: turns out there is money to be made in yonder genitalia.

Apparently, those of us who grew up with “more graphic language and sexual images in the media” can talk openly about vaginas, rather than skirting around the issue with cute euphemisms (perhaps like generations past?). We are (apparently) also more relaxed about our bodies, so we’re less embarrassed about talking bodily-functions, etc.

But it’s the numbers that are most interesting. According to the article, “ad spending for feminine hygiene products, including tampons, panty liners and cleansers, was up nearly 30 percent to $218.9 million in 2010 from two years ago.”

That’s a lot of money.

I’m fascinated by that increase: what, exactly, has changed? Are we really that much more open about our bodies, or does one or two racy, boundary-pushing ads pave the way for a whole bunch more? (and now it’s been totally normalized. Or have we merely run out of ways to ‘shock’ audiences?).

Interestingly, the article (which explores pubic hair dye and Vajazzling) doesn’t mention the impact that the normalizing of pubic hair removal has had on women (nor the pot loads of money to be had in making them feel insecure about their untended, ‘natural’ bodies).

And at the end of the day, it’s kind of more of the same old thing. The last quote in the article is from Rhonda Zahnen, a principal at The Richards Group (the company responsible for this horrible TV ad), who says predictable things about how excited this is about the fact that people are now “talking about feminine hygiene”. “We just wanted to be sure that the conversation is focused on celebrating and empowering women,” she adds.

(I, personally, feel empowered to hate Zahnen’s ads).

To me it makes perfect sense that the vagina would be having its day: as we all know, the giant money-making machine is always looking for new targets.

The whole vag-spectacle is only empowering, however, if we use the attention for good — choosing to love our lady-bits, rather than feeling ‘empowered’ to subject them to hot wax, labiaplasty, or generalized body-hate.

 

 

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I may be on holiday at the moment, but it doesn’t mean I’ve given up thinking about pubic hair. In fact, I spent last night at a bar talking to a couple of smart women about that very topic. Every time I have such a conversation, I’m grateful for how much young women are willing to share when it comes to discussing their bodies and sex. I inevitably laugh or feel moderately horrified (though less-so these days) by what they tell me.

Yesterday was particularly fun because of the ages of the two women I spoke with. One was 24, and a regular pubic-hair-remover. The other was 38, and non-remover (their body practices seem to be generally in accordance with my previous research). Our ‘interview’ was conversational, over snacks and wine… a fun discussion, more than anything.

The conversation was a follow-up to one I’d once had with the 24 year old (I’ll call her Angela) around the issues of body hair and body hair removal. She’d said something along the lines of “growing up, I always just understood it’s what women had to do: remove their leg, arm pit and pubic hair.”

Naturally, I was curious about where young women get those kinds of messages — and hence the follow-up chat.

Angela is funny and blunt, and one of the first things she said yesterday was “I remember I once saw pubic hair dye at Winners, and I thought ‘weird… who has pubic hair?”

Angela grew up in Halifax and works in the media. She recently broke up with a long term boyfriend and has been experimenting with more casual liaisons for the last year or so. With an undergrad degree in Cultural Studies, she also has the education and theoretical background to be able to think critically about the world. But when it comes to her own body, Angela knows what it takes to make her comfortable with it.

“No guy has ever asked me to get rid of (my pubic hair),” she told me, explaining that she started removing it herself when she was about 15 — six weeks into a relationship with her first boyfriend, and just before things got sexual.

“I had tried shaving it off before, but I’d never been consistent (until then). But (my boyfriend) wanted to go down on me, and I was like.. shit…I have to do something about this. And it wasn’t ‘cause he was like, you’ve got to clean that up. I just felt it would be cleaner, and more pleasant for him. And it wasn’t explicitly said, but it was for me to be more comfortable.”

She says it was pretty ubiquitous among girls her age by then — in fact, Angela says she can only remember one friend sporting full pubic hair when she cast her eyes about the change room after gym class in grade 10. “I was like…whoa.. surprised. Because nobody else in the change room was rocking that.”

But while it’s easy to imagine that the pressure to remove comes (explicitly or not) from men, Angela says that’s never been the case. As she explained it to me, “no guy has ever asked me to get rid of it.” She did admit, however, that she thought it would be “shocking” for a guy her age (24) to see pubic hair.

“I can intellectualize it all I want,” she laughed. “We can bring up Foucault…or any cultural theorist, but when it comes to shower-time, I’m hacking it off.”

It was the presence of the second woman (aged 38, who I will call Claire) who really helped illustrate the profound change in body practices between the two generations.

Claire laughed (for example) when Angela presumed that our generation had had thong underwear when we were young (I laughed, too). In fact, while Claire remembers growing up with the idea that pubic hair removal was an unusual practice (she remembers seeing a film as a young teenager that made her feel it was a little deviant), Angela knows it as normal.

When Claire and I asked her how she first understood that she was supposed to remove her pubic hair, she pointed to advertising.. especially ads for La Senza underwear and the like. “You buy the same panties as the girl in the ad, but they look different on you, because you’re packing something,” she explained. That’s when Claire and I laughed again, because we couldn’t think of many examples of women in their underwear that we would have seen growing up, except maybe those depicted in the Sears catalogue. Ours was, after all, a pre-internet world.

I’ve often wondered how age will impact things for young women currently growing up without ever seeing your pubic hair. Will they allow it to grow in when they’re older? Is it (as some have suggested) merely a youthful fancy that will pass like all fashions?

After talking to Angela, my guess is no.

“You get used to seeing yourself in a certain way,” she told me with a shrug. For Angela, removing her pubic hair is just another way of performing femininity. “Why do I put highlights in my hair, or why do I wear skirts? Or why do women wear high heels? I think women do a lot of things to ourselves that really don’t make sense.”

She’s definitely got that part right.

 

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Yup, here we go again.

This time it’s a commercial for Summer’s Eve ‘cleansing wash and cloths.’ This video has been raising a few virtual eyebrows in the blogosphere for being stupid, sexist and generally dumb (oh- and for perpetuating the idea that women should be buying extra products for cleaning their genitals, because in our hygiene-obsessed culture, apparently plain old soap and water won’t cut it.

Here’s the commercial, followed by a transcript I’ve lifted from Melissa McEwan’s post on the Shakesville blog.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxW_ZCd64tg

A woman of color in an animal skin dress holds up a baby swaddled in hide against the backdrop of the aurora borealis in a night-scape on a mountainside as “primitive” drums play. “It’s the cradle of life,” says a female voiceover. The music takes on a male chorus as the scene changes to a Cleopatra-like character lifting her arms into a V atop a pyramid over a cheering crowd. “It’s the cradle of civilization,” says the voiceover. The music takes on an action beat as the scene switches to a fight between two Asian men in a bamboo forest, as a mysterious Asian woman watches them. “Over the ages and throughout the world, men have fought for it,” says the voiceover, as the scene segues to a jousting match in Merry Olde England as a princess gazes on, “battled for it, even died for it.” One knight knocks the other off his horse, then raises his faceguard to look at the princess, who smiles at him. “One might say, it’s the most powerful thing on Earth.” The music crescendos, then immediately dies to muzak as the scene cuts to a grocery store, where a modern woman of color is standing in an aisle, holding a Summer’s Eve product in her hand. “Hmm!” she says, as if it’s a revelatory new product, looking at the bottle, then putting it in her cart. “So, come on, ladies,” says the voiceover, now in a conversational tone. “Show it a little love!”

Cut to a screen showing the products, labeled “Hail to the V.” “Cleansing wash and cloths, from Summer’s Eve,” says the voiceover. “Hail to the V!”

(Definitely read McEwan’s writing on this for more interesting stuff)

There’s nothing capitalism likes better than selling people (especially women) products they don’t need. A particularly effective way to do that, of course, is to make them feel really insecure about their bodies so that they feel obliged to buy stuff (what do you think the quest for the perpetual quest for the perfect pair of jeans is all about?).

And since these ads selling us ‘intimate cleansing products’ have been around for awhile (anyone remember this one?) you’d think we’d all be up to speed on the this-is-dumb-we-don’t-need-to-buy-products-to-make-our-vaginas-more-fresh-thank-you-very-much arguments.

But advertising and popular culture is powerful, and we’re surprisingly good at internalizing the messages we get.

American philosopher and cultural theorist Susan Bordo writes about these kinds of ideas (and because I’m writing an academic paper at the moment, I’m going to use some of her ideas here). In her 1993 text Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body, Bordo talks about the body being a “medium of culture.” She references Michel Foucault’s ideas about the body as a “direct locus of social control” — a “docile body” (ie. not a raw, natural body, but one that is “regulated by the norms of cultural life).

A douched body is most definitely a “docile body”. So, too, is a perpetually waxed one.

Bordo points out (and remember, she wrote this book in 1993, so things are probably more extreme now), that women are spending “more time on the management and disciplining of our bodies than we have in a long, long time.” She draws a connection (as others have) between the fact that as more opportunities for women open up in the public sphere, our body practices become more and more rigorous.

Through the pursuit of an ever-changing, homogenizing, elusive ideal of femininity — a pursuit without a terminus, requiring that women constantly attend to minute and often whimsical changes in fashion — female bodies become docile bodies — bodies whose forces and energies are habituated to external regulation, subjection, transformation, “improvement”, writes Bordo.

“Through the exacting and normalizing disciplines of diet, makeup and dress — central organizing principals of time and space in the day of many women — we are rendered less socially oriented and more centripetally focused on self-modification. Through these disciplines, we continue to memorize on our bodies the feel and conviction of lack, of insufficiency, of never being good enough.”

Loving our bodies, we are not.

(Cut to the black woman shopping for Summer’s Eve products in a grocery store)

So while the Summer’s Eve commercial may be singing “Hail to the V”, the actual message that’s being internalized is (again, predictably) your untended vulva is gross and disgusting.

And it’s working.

And it’s extremely applicable to normalized pubic hair removal:

A young woman (a regular waxer) recently told me about her reasons for pursuing a practice that was painful and that she couldn’t afford.

“I guess I feel cleaner,” she said. “I like having no hair.” And then she paused. “I guess…vaginas are really…”. She struggled to find the right words. “When you have no (pubic) hair, it’s just less embarrassing. I feel like vaginas are…weird.”

(And yes, I did point out that keeping it bare might make it seem MORE weird than if it were blanketed in hair).

Vagina insecurity = 1

Body confidence = 0

Once again, waxing wins.

 

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Although I did have a couple of great talks with Vanessa Willson, the founder of Julyna, earlier this month, I have to rant a little again today.

That’s because I just found this ‘Julyna’ PSA online:

I find it so dumb and so problematic, that I hardly know where to begin!

So presumably, a bunch of (young, fit, mostly white) men and women are playing Red Rover. The men, moustached (presumably in a tribute to ‘Movember’) are playing on one side, fully clothed. The women are, we eventually realize, naked from the waist down (Women naked? In our culture? say it ain’t so!). The two teams call out to one another using their ‘hair styles’ — (ie. “Red rover, red rover, we call handlebars over”. Guy with distinctive facial hair then triumphs across the space between the two lines). Things get gross and weird, however, when the men call out “Red rover, red rover, we call LANDING STRIP over” and a semi-naked woman (the details of their lower halves have been digitally obscured) runs across the field.

Seriously, people: I know you’re probably just trying to be funny with your little PSA, but a whole generation of young women have already internalized the cultural expectation that they sport little more than a landing strip in their day-to-day pubic hair practices. These young women already hate their bodies and already feel so pressured to look and act a certain way in the world.

(In fact, one very bright and beautiful 23-year-old woman recently tried to explain the weight of looking the way she does to me by calling it ‘the package’.. It is her way of describing the expectations people have of her because of her looks. “The Brazilian wax or bikini wax is part of the package,” she explained. When I asked her what else was in the package, she said “not being fat, being pretty… you know.. having the right attitude”.)

Is this little PSA really the most effective way to push your campaign? (and isn’t it weird to pit ‘Movember’ against ‘Julyna’, as if the two were in competition with one another?)

I recently spent some time rereading Naomi Wolf’s classic text, The Beauty Myth. Though it was first published in 1991, it still feels so relevant in so many ways. I can’t help but recall Wolf’s thoughts on what she calls the “officially endorsed double standard for men’s and women’s nakedness in mainstream culture,” which she says “bolsters power inequalities.”

A few thoughts (from Wolf) on the impact (for example) of normalizing naked breasts:

“The practice of displaying breasts, for example, in contexts in which the display of penises would be unthinkable, is portrayed as trivial because breasts are not “as naked” as penises or vaginas; and the idea of half exposing men in a similar way is moot because men don’t have body parts comparable to breasts. But if we think about how women’s genitals are physically concealed, unlike men’s, and how women’s breasts are physically exposed, unlike men’s, it can be seen differently: women’s breasts, then correspond to men’s penises as the vulnerable “sexual flower” on the body, so that to display the former and conceal the latter makes women’s bodies vulnerable while men’s are protected.”

Wolf later writes this (seems pretty apt right about now – hence the bold font):

“To live in a culture in which women are routinely naked where men aren’t is to learn inequality in little ways all day long.”

On that note, I recently spoke with a vivacious, pretty young woman (age 19) who broke my heart when she told me this:

“I hate my body. Every five seconds I’m thinking about how much I hate it. And when I eat something I’m like…Oh my gosh…What is this going to do? So I feel like when I get (Brazilian) waxed, I feel like it’s something I can control like, really easily. It’s an automatic response.”

I asked her if it was fair, then, to say that she was doing the Brazilian waxing for herself, rather than for the guys she has sex with.

“Yeah,” she answered, “but I think it’s both. It’s a little bit for the guys, because having them like it makes me feel good about myself. So…I guess it’s for me, too.”

Enough said, no?

‘Julyna’ is a silly campaign that has, rightfully, generated lots of criticism, even it’s founders were well intentioned and still say they just want to promote a good cause.

But making a video that not only plays on female nakedness and vulnerability, but actually has men calling out for the ‘Landing Strip’ (a woman reduced to her pubic hair style) in a world where many women already face so many inequalities (and spend so much time and energy on body control) is just plain problematic.

 

 

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Well, unsurprisingly there’s been lots of buzz about “Julyna” these last few days. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? See my last blog post). Seems there is nothing the media likes more than an opportunity to talk about pubic-hair-shaving when it’s in a “awww…but it’s for a good cause!” context.

In fact, yours truly even got to discuss the issue with a reporter from The Globe and Mail, Canada’s ‘national’ newspaper (I’ll post the article when it is published).

I found out about “Julyna” when I got a flurry of emails and Facebook posts from friends who figured it was something I might be interested in (and indeed, I was!). That’s because when you study something like pubic hair, it’s easy to back yourself into a tidy (well-groomed?) little corner. Anytime anything vaguely related to the hair the grows in the nether regions of the adult human body comes up…I spring to mind.

Last night, for example, I got a great message from a friend (thanks, Pia!) drawing my attention to a new publicity stunt that Gillette is trying out in Germany.

(Ah yes, another day, another marketing campaign…)

According to Bella Sugar, Gillette’s marketing people in Germany have apparently left thousands of beach towels lying around on the grass in public places in that country. The towels feature silhouettes of distinctly male and female figures in striking hues.

What’s odd is the cut-outs.

The areas on the otherwise silhouetted bodies that would normally bear hair (on the female body: armpits and pubic area / on the male: armpits, chest and pubic area) have been cut out, allowing the grass to push through in fresh, green defiance.

The towels also features the logos for Venus and Fusion, gender-specific brands of shaving gel/cream.

From what I understand, the sight of all that grass rearing its unkempt head through the strategically placed holes is presumably supposed to compel you into self-grooming action. After all, you don’t want to risk looking like you’ve got…uh…GRASS growing on your body.. uh… right?

It’s a truly bizarre campaign being foisted upon a country that’s generally been kinda cool about women flashing the odd au-natural armpit.

More than a few people have noted the absence of grass-leg hair on the towel-woman’s body (though one supposes it was easier to be selective and create three holes, rather than cutting away the entire silhouette in a statement of you-know-this-is-all-supposed-to-be-hair-free-right?).

As Bella Sugar’s Associate Editor, Miriam Lacey, put it, “I mean, the fluffy grass looks so nice and fresh that it almost makes me want to stop shaving…”

(And if anyone in Germany is reading this, please let us know how the campaign is going! Have you seen any towels? What’s the response been? Are people, inspired by these towels, furiously mowing their ‘lawns’? Send word…)

 

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So I’ve been thinking about periods – and no, not the punctuation kind.

That’s because I spent some time on the weekend thumbing my way through an interesting little book on menstruation. Called ‘Capitalizing on the Curse: The Business of Menstruation’, the book explores the impact that capitalist forces have had on our monthly periods. It’s by Elizabeth Arveda Kissling, a professor at Eastern Washington University.

I know, I know – I can hear you now: “this is a blog about pubic hair — why the period talk?”

Here’s why: because reading Kissling’s book about periods actually made me think a lot about women and their relationships to their own body hair.

Kissling’s interesting premise is that though it’s a regular phenomenon for half the world’s population, periods are typically seen as icky and gross — a troublesome interruption in the month that must be dealt with (ideally) in secret (god forbid your males friends should catch a glimpse of a tampon in your purse!).

What Kissling argues is that our periods have been sold back to us by corporations who capitalize on those negative attitudes in order to “sell us solutions for nonexistent problems.” She argues that although the hygiene industry has been good for women in some ways (ie. we have readily available, inexpensive and easy-to-use products which allow us to function ‘normally’ even as we’re shedding our uterine lining), the commercialization of an otherwise normal bodily process has also done us a disservice.

That’s because the capitalist agenda has women compelled to be constantly in pursuit of “freshness” — the preferred state, we readily learn, for women to exist in. I’ll quote Kissling here (from her conclusion):

“In the commercial world of so-called feminine hygiene products, menstruation is portrayed as a literal and figurative stain on one’s femininity. Women are urged by advertisements to “stay clean, stay fresh, stay free,” as if their freedom depends upon their freshness. The freedom (if not freshness) in women’s everyday lives enabled by modern menstrual products is truly transformative, but freedom is never really free, at least under consumer capitalism. To enjoy the liberty granted y products that reduce discomfort, relieve pain, and increase freedom of movement, women must participate in the construction of their own Otherness. In using these products, women are compelled to buy into the idea of the menstruating woman as one of tainted femininity.” (p. 124)

Kissling uses existentialist Simone de Beauvoir to investigate this idea of Otherness — something she describes as being an artifact of a male-dominated society wherein women learn to feel “an alienation from their own bodies.” As Kissling writes, “a properly socialized woman develops a sense of herself as object, an Other that is both venerated and feared, as she internalizes her society’s dominant ideologies about women.” (p. 3)

It helps explain why women feel such shame and disgust at the idea of their own periods. Our monthly bleeding is marketed to us as a “hygienic crisis”. Talking about ads for menstrual products, Kissling writes:

“It is a hygiene crisis that one must clean up, in secret, so that one’s public projection of ideal femininity is not damaged or polluted.” (p.12)

Kissling quotes another scholar, Tomi-Ann Roberts, who makes this wise observation:

“One of the obligations that women have in a culture that sexually objectifies their bodies is to conceal the biological functioning of their bodies.” (p.20)

And that’s where we come back to pubic hair.

Women learn early on to treat themselves as objects. And getting rid of body hair, whether it’s on our legs or between them, is just another way of doing that.

 

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Someone sent me a link to this fascinating little advertisement over the weekend. In it, our weary, satin-clad protagonist must rip up a dusty grey carpet and haul it down an impossibly long flight of stairs. Got a minute? Watch it here:

The ad, we soon learn, is for laser hair removal. The suggestion is that unless we get our hair permanently whisked away by lasers, we women are forever doomed to drag hugely heavy, dusty shag carpets down impossibly long flights of stairs for all eternity… uh.. I mean are forever doomed to shave and wax and pluck away our ‘unwanted hair’ until we die.

The things we do in the name of beauty…(at least this ad acknowledges that hair removal is a drag…)

 

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There were some great comments in response to yesterday’s blog — thanks to everyone who contributed to the conversation (see comments). I am so fascinated by this conversation about (as Amy L. writes) “how we internalize both the experience of being viewed AND the knowing that we are socialized to being viewed.”

The notion of being-looked-at-ness is so interesting when applied to pubic hair, because it raises all kinds of interesting questions. There is a tension (as Lara writes) to being aware of the “constructed, objectifying and demeaning expectations on female bodied people,” but then feeling emotionally vulnerable lest we not comply.

It is a conversation that lends itself so readily to discussions around body hair grooming, and particularly to pubic hair (because of its association with a part of the body women may already feel vulnerable about).  It’s a real chicken-vs-egg situation. I talked to an esthetician recently who said that though many women initially start having their pubic hair whisked away because it’s what their partners (predominantly male) prefer, they eventually learn to prefer their bodies that way and then start doing it “for themselves” (more from that interview will be posted here soon).

Now young women who resist the call to do away with it all are being seen as strange, old-fashioned and (possibly) dirty and unkempt. Even though humans have been tending to their body hair in some form or another for eons, it’s interesting when things seem to shift dramatically at once in a particular way.

Body hair removal is such a fascinating topic because while it is ubiquitous among North American women, it is so rarely commented upon (except in the case of women NOT complying — and then it’s headline-making, isn’t that right Julia Roberts?)

Julia Roberts at the 1999 premiere of Notting Hill -- her armpit hair nearly upstaged her work on the film

But the fact is, that North American women didn’t always shave their armpits. Nor was leg-shaving always de-rigeur.

In fact, according to an article by Susan A. Basow called “The Hairless Ideal: Women and Their Body Hair” (1991), body hair removal wasn’t commonplace among American women until after 1915. That’s when “The Great Underarm Campaign” began. Gillette was marketing a new razor specially designed for women: the “Milady Decollete”.

A 1915 advertisement for the Gillette "Milady Decollete"

As Basow writes:

“Most ads were instructional and informed women that the new dress styles (sleeveless or very sheer sleeves) made removing underarm hair important since visible hair not growing on the head was “superfluous,” “unwanted,” “ugly,” and “unfashionable.”

My presumption is that until Gillette started to tell them that their bodies as-is were problematic, most women were perfectly fine with their armpit hair.

Psst. Anyone need a bikini razor? You sure? (see my previous blog post for more).

 

 

 

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Just because this blog is about pubic hair doesn’t preclude me from writing about other kinds of body hair, right? After all, the forces that encourage women to remove their leg and armpit hair are more-or-less the same as those that are, increasingly, marketing pubic hair as unkempt and dirty. We’ve constructed body hair as masculine — which means that women are required to remove that hair in order to define themselves as feminine (ie. in contrast to men).

One of the things I’m interested in is how young women learn what is required of them when it comes to partaking of these body practices. Obviously, a young woman doesn’t start her depilation practice with her pubic hair. Presumably, she crosses over from girl to woman with each newly adopted body practice. She learns from her mother, her peers, and from the media (where she is bombarded with hundreds of images of ‘perfect’-looking women every day) about what is expected from her.

I remember the day one of my friends showed me her newly shorn legs. I was in grade seven and, at the time, hung out fairly regularly with a couple of vaguely nerdy girls. One, Eleni, was Greek. As such, the hair on her legs was relatively dark and coarse. At this point, it was still the late 1980s. We didn’t yet have the Internet. In some ways, the way we lived our lives was still relatively sheltered.

But one day, Eleni showed up at school with hair-free legs. We were a little in awe. What had it been like, we asked? How had she known what to do?

Interestingly, rather than making me go out and do the same, Eleni shaving her legs raised all kinds of questions in me, the budding feminist. Before I could shave my own legs, I wanted to know WHY I was supposed to. WHO decided that I needed to shave my legs? Why did I need to shave mine when the boys weren’t expected to do the same?

Back when I was a kid, we didn’t have the Internet to help us answer those kinds of questions. But things are different now.

I recently came upon a fascinating (though kinda horrifying) series of videos geared at helping young women (and their mothers) figure out all the basics around the question of how and when to start shaving. The video series, called Gillette Venus Shaving Tips (there are eight in total), feature an excessively perky young host, Gabby who says things like “shouldn’t I be as hairfree as I am carefree?” about her decision to start shaving.

My “favourite” video (#2) is when Gabby realizes she is “animal hairy” at a slumber party (“It was all I could see. It was all I could think about. I couldn’t think about how great my toenails would look in Pink Taffy nail polish. I couldn’t listen to Kristen talk about how she texted Tom in study hall. All I could see was…that…hair.”) She advises that you’re ready to start shaving “whenever you start to feel uncomfortable about NOT shaving.”  (That’s right: start the body obsession stuff ASAP)

Here’s the video: http://www.gillettevenus.com/en_US/goddess_central/videos/when_to_start_shaving/index.jsp

These are merely mini Gillette ads packaged up neatly to sell products by honing in on insecurities (tip #6: Choose a Venus razor). Hello, brand loyalty? Get ’em while they’re young…

 

 

 

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