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 Moderate homophobia aside, it pushes gender stereotypes that even by advertising standards are outdated: that women should shave their legs or risk losing their femininity; that all men are repulsed by women’s bodies in their natural state.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.