Friday, 18 June 2010

be free to wear whatever you want!

This stupid ad appeared at the bottom of my last blog post (i think i'll ditch google ad words)

 Apparently i am now free to wear whatever i want because i can get smooth skin.

thank goodness for that! there i was, agonising over my summer wardrobe - what shall i wear! what can i do! someone might see my stubble!

I shave my legs and armpits. I have experimented with not shaving and i just happen to prefer the way i look this way. lots of people feel differently from me and i appreciate that, this is just my preference, a preference that i know is influenced by social and cultural factors.

But ads like this make me want to throw my razors away and join the hairy awarey gang. because, ffs. i am sick of advertising co-opting the language of feminism and empowerment to sell products that maintain the patriarchal status quo. apparently this product will liberate me from not being able to wear the clothes i like. it gives me the freedom to wear anything. anything!

it's like that nivea ad 'women feel more sexy when their underarms look good', or veet and venus saying that depilating your body hair will unleash your true femininity. when really, really really, if we take true femininity to mean the fact of being a woman, true femininity would in fact be nature: hairy, not artifice: shaved.

and anyway boots marketing team - i am, in fact, not totally free to wear whatever i want if i am delightfully hair free. not in this culture of rape myths in every paper. or street harassment at every summer-drunk turn. short skirts? strappy low cut top? skinny jeans? Not free to wear those according to a terrifying number of jury members and court judges. Or your average street harasser, who sees the wearing of these clothes as a free for all for commenting on me.
And i'm not free to dress in an unfeminine manner, not unless i want to attract some trans or homophobic abuse.
And if i work at one of the high profile london banks say, with their seminars on appropriate female dressing, i wouldn't be free to wear anything that wasn't 'sexy but not slutty' (i quote!), even if i had smooth, smooth underarms.

And what about women forced to wear burquas (i am talking about countries where wearing the veil is law not a choice, i would never invalidate a woman's choice to wear the burqua, chador, niqab, hijab etc) - could shaving their legs free them from this oppression? should we throw up our arms and exclaim 'aha! the answer was there all along! shaving liberates women! not education, not respect, not freedom from violence, not freedom from poverty - shaving!'

I know it is only an advert. i know the marketing exec didn't think about all this when they came up with the concept. i know sometimes i copywrite lines that make my feminist conscience wince. but ads tell us something about what our culture values and what our society thinks. trust me, a lot of time goes in to making sure ad campaigns speak to people with messages they appreciate and understand. so this kind of bullshit pisses me off. it's a throw away line, a silly bit of aspirational marketing, but it is also symptomatic of why women spend so much time and money conforming to a silly idealised model of femininity. ads sell us this nonsense as liberation. they ignore the truth in what they're really saying.


JenniferRuth said...

I agree with your post 100%!

There is one more thing that pisses me off about shaving adverts though, especially the ones on tv. They always show a woman who is embarrassed about her hairy legs...but her legs are smooth. They will often demonstrate the use of the razor/depilatory cream/etc...on legs that are smooth. At least in men's shaving adverts they start with a stubbly face so they can show how well the razor removes it! In women's shaving adverts we are apparently meant to have non-hairy legs and armpits to begin with!.

Kate said...

"Click here to say hello to skin that is ready to wear"
The concept that my skin is not ready to wear because I have not been enlightened by the wonderful marketing execs of Boots is quite frankly terrifying.
What really bothers me about ads such as this (as well as the wonderful sanitary product police) is that they continue to perpetuate the idea that women's bodies are inherently dirty and in need of cleaning up. They might as well be asking us to wear bells and shout unclean if we do not meet their pre-pubescent sorry expectations of feminity.
Great post Sian, look forward to more.

sophie said...

a while a go i caught a short feature on channel 5 (i know...) about public reaction to women not shaving their underarms. as an experiment they sent some hollyoaks (or similar) cast member to the gym with hairy underarms. however, for this experiment, instead of showing the woman's real underarm hair, she had little murkin-esque, underarm wigs glued onto her perfectly shaved skin. even in an experiment based on female body hair, the women's own REAL hair was not being shown. ridiculous.

sian and crooked rib said...

sophie that's so weird! honestly!

kate - i've written a lot about sanitary protection advertising, you can read some here

SCP said...

Well said, Sian. I steer clear of 'glossy' magazines and I don't watch ads on tv that are designed to make me feel inadequate in some way so that I rush out and buy the company's products.

I have noticed with the advent of summer that more and more ads are appearing about women's "unsightly" body hair. We're not allowed to have hairy eyebrows, underarms, upper lips, legs, bikini lines, tummies, pretty much anywhere anymore except long flowing locks on our head like Cheryl Cole!

When did it happen that women weren't allowed body hair? It's a constant battle for some women to achieve the hair free look. And the beauty companies are laughing all the way to the bank.

Meanwhile men can chose to shave or not shave their faces and they just need to keep their hair reasonably tidy, stick on some deodorant and a suit and hey presto - ready for work or for summer or whatever they want!

Perhaps it's the need to establish women as "the other". Masculine = hairy therefore feminine has to = hair free. It's a little weird though that the hair free ideal has echoes of the pre-pubescent body.

It's a way of keeping us preoccupied, I guess, so that we'll spend time agonising over our body hair and not challenging more important things like equal parenting or the gender pay gap, and it's a good way of companies squeezing us for loads of cash.

I must admit that I had my lower leg hair & underarm hair lasered off a few years ago. I love having smooth legs but I am still afraid to put them on show because they are not like the perfect (but airbrushed) legs that you see in the press and on tv (much as I try to avoid crass marketing campaigns you do come across them, even in the Observer last week!).

As Naomi Wolf says in The Beauty Myth, the ideal keeps changing. If we get our legs hair free, they're not tanned enough. If we get them tanned, they're not shapely enough. Perhaps we have little veins or a bit of cellulite. Cue the rush to Boots for the latest "wonder product" that will sort out the latest natural feature of women's bodies that will be made into a big fat cash cow.

Anyway, great post Sian!

sianandcrookedrib said...


It's a way of keeping us preoccupied, I guess, so that we'll spend time agonising over our body hair and not challenging more important things like equal parenting or the gender pay gap, and it's a good way of companies squeezing us for loads of cash.

Exactly! i think the beauty myth is one of the more subtle forms of oppression, keeping women busy and poor (poor as in you spend your money on beauty products) rather than active and out there!

Delilah said...

totally agree! If we are painting our nails and worrying about our weight, we think less about our dreams of running the country (or similar). Was once getting my legs waxed (painful) and the beautician said: No gain without pain! Now, we are expected to spend our time getting beautiful for men, and suffer all the while. Fu** that. I am never getting waxed again. I want to run the country.