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Can Shaving Be Empowering?

By: Claire Armstrong

In recent years, popular culture has reflected increased enthusiasm for celebrating women’s empowerment. Attempting to stay abreast of consumer attitudes, advertising has followed suit. Many female beauty and hygiene companies have attempted to shift their promotional style from one of an idealistic, unattainable beauty to one that aspires to embrace the entire spectrum of womanhood. Among these companies are multiple women’s razor brands, such as Gillette and Billie. In one commercial, Gillette makes the statement that “No one gets an opinion on why you shave.” The problem with this statement, though, is that it blatantly ignores the fact that many women do not want to shave at all, or that those who do shave are often only doing so because they do not feel comfortable with the societal repercussions women who do not shave often face. The women in the Gillette ad smile as they shave, enjoying the bizarre ritual of altering their bodies to conform to arbitrary beauty standards. But in reality, for most of us, shaving is a tedious, uncomfortable task that wastes time as well as water, and often leaves us with bloody nicks on our legs. 

In addition, most women’s razor ads feature women shaving body parts that are already free of hair, perpetuating unattainable beauty standards. Of course, every woman who looks closely at such an ad will be aware that the models had already shaved before filming, and are not naturally hairless and shaving purely for enjoyment. However, when we consume ads, most of us don’t stop to analyze what we are seeing and how we internalize those images. We simply let them wash over us. As such, the more we view ads featuring unrealistically perfect human specimens, the more we begin to feel that our own humble vessels are embarrassing, ugly, inferior. When we shave our legs, we may not think, “God, the woman in that Gillette commercial had smooth legs before she even shaved them, and mine are disgustingly hairy,” but we are subconsciously conditioned to feel ashamed of our body hair, even after we shave it. Our freshly shaved legs begin to feel like they are masking a dirty secret that will soon grow back. By showing women shaving already hairless bodies, the razor industry perpetuates the idea that body hair is a disgusting, shameful part of women’s bodies that is apparently so taboo that we can’t even see it being removed, even in a commercial for a product that would not exist if women were naturally hairless. 

Enter Billie, a relatively new razor subscription service that attempts to redefine what it is to market women’s razors. Billie’s commercial for their Project Body Hair campaign shows women blow drying and combing their armpit hair; lounging with their leg hair on display; and raising thick, full eyebrows. When the models are shown using the Billie razors, they are removing actual hair from their legs. We even see a shot of a Billie razor covered in freshly shaved body hair. Billie differentiates itself from the standard razor brand by acknowledging that not all women have the desire to shave, and their Project Body Hair ad clearly supports women who choose not to remove their body hair. It states “However, whenever, if ever you want to shave, we’ll be here.” But would any woman choose to shave if she had not been conditioned to believe she should?

Despite their attempts to appear rebellious and provocative, Gillette and Billie are both still operating within the confines of mainstream western culture. For decades, women have been expected to shave, and have been conditioned to be ashamed of their body hair. It is society’s view that a beautiful, feminine woman should not have body hair. Furthermore, the dominant cultural mindset is that all women should want to be beautiful and feminine; therefore, all women must want to shave. There are many women who claim that they shave for themselves, not to please other people. But if shaving was not generally considered a necessary practice for women to be deemed feminine, would these women who claim they shave solely for themselves still do so? I personally do not think that I would. I shave because I do not feel prepared for my body to be a constant statement against gender roles. I shave because I don’t want to be stared at by people who might notice my hairy legs. I shave because I don’t want to be “the girl who doesn’t shave.” Yes, I shave for personal reasons, but those reasons would not exist if I had not grown up viewing the hairless female body as beautiful and right. 

Audre Lorde once said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” but the women’s razor industry is trying to do just that. However, as long as most women are shaving, society will have an excuse to judge and ridicule women who do not. Shaving can never truly be a feminist act because it originates from a place of oppression. The only way for us as women to break free of the limitations and expectations that we have been bound to for generations is to eschew them outright. The issue with these new “body positive” razor commercials is that they paint their brands as empowering to women, when in reality, the very concept of shaving undermines female empowerment and serves no purpose other than to push women closer to the conventional concept of what it means to be beautiful.