If you’ve ever seen a women’s razor commercial before, you might have noticed something strange: the ladies in the commercials are always shown shaving skin that is already completely hairless. Even when selling a product that was designed to remove hair, having images that include women’s body hair is, apparently, unacceptable.
Billie is a shaving company looking to shake up the hairless commercial trend. The company recently launched Project Body Hair, a campaign aimed at embracing and celebrating images of body hair on women. Not only have they released an ad featuring women shaving off real hair, they have also compiled an image library of female body hair, because photos of women with body hair are often hard to find. Women are encouraged to upload their own pictures and add to the collection.
The campaign might seem like a minor blip in the grand scheme of things, but razor commercials that refuse to show leg or armpit hair on women contribute to societal pressures for women to look a certain way. By showing women shaving body parts that are already hairless, the advertisements send the message that even the smallest trace of hair is unacceptable. Watching these commercials can pressure girls to start shaving at a young age or for women to shave with more frequency than is convenient or comfortable to them.
Women do, of course, always have the choice whether or not they want to remove their own body hair. Still, when nearly every image in the media that features women portray females without body hair, the desire to fit in can override the desire to let hair grow. In 2015, a study found that 99 percent of American women remove their body hair at some point in their lives, with 85 percent of women doing so daily. With female hairlessness serving as the norm, the societal pressure can make women feel like they have few choices.
Things are beginning to change, though. A 2017 study showed that nearly 25 percent of women between the ages of 16 and 24 chose not to shave their armpit hair. Some celebrities have embraced their body hair as well. Singer Miley Cyrus posted a picture to her Instagram in 2015 where she rocked hot pink armpit hair, while actress Thandie Newton openly talked about keeping her body hair natural for nude scenes in “Westworld.”
However, while individuals have begun to embrace their body hair, the media has largely failed to do the same.
Billie’s campaign is therefore something completely new. While other companies, such as Aerie, have done untouched ad campaigns, which features women of all sizes, women’s body hair is still largely unexplored territory. Billie has taken the first steps toward showing women that having body hair does not make them abnormal because, as Project Body Hair asserts, everyone has it.
However, an editorial assistant at Slate, Rachelle Hampton, did not see the campaign as radical, writing that despite the progressive images, the razor company is still telling women to shave. While this is a valid point, Billie is a shaving company that still have to sell some razors. Given that they are selling hair removal products, their ad does a remarkable job of avoiding pushing women into shaving. Rather, the commercial states: “However, whenever, if ever you want to shave, we’ll be here,” over a shot of women, some of whom have chosen to shave and some of whom haven’t. Billie has found a strong balance between encouraging women to keep their body hair if they want and providing them with products if they don’t.
While Billie is taking aim specifically at razor ads, television shows and movies have a similar dearth of women’s body hair. Years ago, Buzzfeed pointed out that even female characters in immediate and continuous danger apparently find time to keep their armpits and legs incredibly smooth. The satirical listicle was published in 2014, but it has only been recently that any real change has occurred.
The recent blockbuster “Deadpool 2” was not only groundbreaking in becoming the third highest grossing movie with an R rating, but in featuring a major female character with obvious armpit hair. Domino, portrayed by Zazie Beetz, joins Deadpool’s team in the movie and gets to kick some serious butt. And notably, in a movie where almost anything can become the subject of a quip, Domino’s armpit hair is never once mentioned, let alone made fun of. Having body hair isn’t detrimental for her development as a strong female character.
Beetz spoke out about the choice to have Domino sport armpit hair, something she decided she wanted for the character prior to approaching the movie’s creative team about the idea. While there was apparently some initial hesitation about how audiences might react to a depiction of women’s body hair, Beetz went ahead with her choice saying, “I felt if people got offended by that, that’s not something I really have to worry about.”
It is even more significant that the inclusion of body hair on a female character happened in a popular superhero movie. Some controversy was raised last year when a trailer for “Wonder Woman” featured a shot of actress Gal Gadot in which her armpits had clearly been digitally altered, presumably to remove some trace of hair. Fans of the character pointed out that Wonder Woman grew up without contact with human society, meaning she would have no exposure to societal norms and would have no reason to shave her body hair.
“Deadpool 2” serves to remedy the failure of “Wonder Woman” by embracing women’s body hair. Domino is a character who keeps up with the men of the movie in terms of both her strength and her wit. These traits make her a character that girls can look up to. With her unshaved armpits the character advertised to women that having a hairless body is not a prerequisite for them to be taken seriously.
Project Body Hair and “Deadpool 2” may be just two mainstream images of women’s body hair among the thousands of commercials, television shows and movies that continue to show only hairless women, but the fact that they are in a vast minority does not negate their significance. Having hairless women as the only ones featured in the media has been the status quo for so long that change cannot be expected to happen overnight.
Nevertheless, Domino and the women in the Billie campaign have helped bring attention to the ridiculousness of the taboo against women’s body hair. Hopefully these examples snowball and lead to others so that women truly feel they can choose to not shave without being judged against the public’s perception of hairlessness.