I seem to remember a time when sexism in advertising was subtle enough that critiquing it involved some skill — or least a keen eye. It was fun, truth be told, to tease out the sexist subtexts of so many of the commercials that inundate media consumers every day. Perhaps I’m romanticizing the not-so-distant past, but these days — and I don’t know if it’s due to pure laziness or some increased gender anxiety that advertisers are picking up on — it seems that, more and more, subtext is becoming straight-up text.
While Hardee’s told us recently that you have to literally become a man to enjoy a burger, Veet’s new ad campaign warns us that women will literally become men without their wax strips. And, again, that isn’t what the ads imply – which obviously wouldn’t be all that rare for a body hair removal product. The campaign’s tagline is “Don’t risk dudeness!” and features a few different videos showing women whose one-day-old stumble has turned them into men being shamed by a paramedic, taxi driver, and even a professional salon worker. Yep, just one day will do it, ladies! The whole thing is vaguely transphobic, relying on the idea that “dudeness” is determined by body hair and that there’s something inherently funny about a man in a dress. And the ad featuring a disgusted boyfriend above throws in some homophobia — “Eww, two guys in bed together, gross!” – for good measure.
Of course, the irony of Veet’s campaign is that the very existence of its product undermines the idea that there is anything naturally “womanly” about a hairless body. Most men and women have some body hair. (If this is news to you, I hope you are someday blessed with the chance to see the range of bodies that exist outside the fantasy world of porn.) The cultural norm that leads many women to remove that hair, while men typically do not, is pretty much arbitrary — and one that necessitates some artificial intervention by razor, cream, laser, or, say, Veet’s wax strips.
Look, I generally like having freshly shaven legs and armpits. It feels nice and smooth. But there is seriously nothing that makes me want to let my naturally robust and thick body hair run wild more than someone saying that I need to be hairless to be (attractive as) a woman — especially if that someone is a company that is looking to profit by stoking anxiety and shame about gendered beauty norms. So I’ll be swearing off the razor for the rest of the month in Veet’s honor. The rest of you, men and women alike, should or shouldn’t remove your hair as you please — but don’t do it for anyone but yourself and definitely don’t use Veet’s wax strips.
Maya‘s leg hair could compete against any dude’s.