A still from the new Veet advert.
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Veet’s “Don’t risk dudeness” ads are a sexist attempt to shame women for their bodies

In the new ad, a woman who hasn’t shaved for 24 hours is transformed into a hairy bloke who struggles to perform everyday tasks. When are advertisers going to stop trying to sell products by inventing ways for women to be ashamed of their bodies?

Hair removal cream is weird. Even its advocates should fully admit that. That there exists a chemical that is genuinely capable of dissolving hair, and that we sometimes consent to smear that chemical all over our bodies so that it can dissolve said hair, is undeniably strange. Moreover, if you leave it on, that chemical is capable of dissolving skin. Rhiannon once saw these amazing flesh-dissolving capabilities first hand, at a party, and to a male friend’s crotch, no less (there wasn’t much to do in Wales, growing up). It’s a good thing most lads steer well clear of the stuff. As Veet for Men users discovered, no one wants a scabby nob.

Veet is one of the bestselling hair removal creams in the UK and is a brand that has met with internet consternation this week following the launch of its idiotic US marketing campaign “Don’t Risk Dudeness”. In a series of ads, we see a woman who has failed to shave for 24 hours transformed into a strapping, hirsute bloke as she apologises to the alarmed people she encounters (mostly men) for her God-awful hairiness. For anyone who failed to grasp its clunking message, the advert is suggesting that body hair is something that only men should have, and that if you neglect your militaristic hair removal regime even for a matter of several hours, you risk becoming manly, or dude-like. The “dudeness” of the woman in the advert, furthermore, disadvantages her in her everyday life: lovers are turned off, beauticians overwhelmed, and taxi drivers high tail it after catching a glimpse of her armpits, which sport a mere fifteen hours of hair growth. “But I shaved yesterday,” she keeps saying, bewildered.

The advert’s attempt at humour may fall flat (since when was seeing two men in bed together the opening of a joke? Oh yeah: the Nineties) but that is by far the most alarming thing about it. Moderate homophobia aside, it pushes gender stereotypes that even by advertising standards are outdated: that women should shave their legs or risk losing their femininity; that all men are repulsed by women’s bodies in their natural state. It’s unkind to both men and women, but particularly women, who are essentially being marketed a new insecurity: that of “overnight hair growth”. Very few Caucasian women have hair that grows back noticeably overnight, so shaming them for an almost non-existent problem is a daring move. Women who do have thicker hair – often women of colour – are also shamed by the advert. Both groups will represent a significant customer group and it does not pay to alienate them.

We also wonder how a trans person would react to the advert. The suggestion that only “feminine” women are sexy is unlikely to make anyone who doesn’t fit this narrowly defined stereotype feel like shit, and as we know, there are more of us who don’t fit into these media-defined boxes than those of us that do. We have just finished writing a book about women’s negative portrayal in the media, and, while we never assumed our work was done, the fact that it is amounting to something of a never-ending story is incredibly dispiriting. As women, everywhere we go we are reminded that, in order for our bodies to be deemed acceptable, we must necessarily alter them. This advert takes this a step further by implying that our failure to make alterations will lead to our being deemed disgusting. Like many beauty brands, Veet place themselves in a position where they can guide women towards acceptability. Their website shows “case studies” of women whose “dudeness” embarrassed them – in work meetings and medical appointments or while having tapas (in the latter scenario, a man tells a woman she has something on her lip – it is a moustache). Women are then encouraged to ask Veet to “help me stay smooth” by clicking on a button marked “Un-dude me”. Nothing about it makes you feel good about yourself. Nothing about it feels positive.

It’s alarming that advertisers are so slow to cotton on to this. Women who are made to feel bad by advertisers can, and will, take their custom elsewhere, and via social media are becoming more and more vocal. Most men, especially those who live with women, are also aware that women don’t always resemble the hairless gazelles we see on television. Indeed, their partners might go months without shaving, or choose not to shave at all. Any alteration that any woman makes to her own body is her own choice, and it our hope that, as consumers become more cognisant of the issues at play here, advertising such as this will cease to be effective and may indeed become a thing of the past.

In the meantime, you could always send Veet a picture of your hairy legs. They’re at: facebook.com/veet, where the backlash has already begun.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.