In 1915, Gillette released the Milady Decollete, ‘the first razor designed and marketed specifically for women’. Over 100 years later, the desire for smooth legs, manicured bikini lines, and polished underarms still plagues women around the world.
But this week something wonderful happened. Billie, the ‘female-first razor brand’ released its latest campaign, Red, White, and You Do You. A concept that attempts to tie together the commemoration of America’s independence from the British monarchy to women’s liberation. It’s a little unimaginative and lacks any nuance, but ultimately it is a message begging to be shared.
Since 1915, women’s razor brands have treated body hair as an imaginary concept. Turn on the television and you’ll see swathes of beautiful sun-kissed women, laying by the pool, shaving their already hairless legs like hapless fools unaware of the perils of razor burn.
Last year, Billie released their Project Body Hair campaign, becoming the first ever brand to show female body hair in a razor ad. Photographed by Ashley Armitage, the campaign luxuriated in bushy armpits, snail trails, and hairy toes, and people were infuriated.
‘There were super vile and toxic comments (mostly from men) saying: “I’d rather die than watch a girl run a comb through her armpit hair again”, and the worst, “WTF is this… you come over here with armpit hair I’m fuckin’ punchin’ you in the pussy”.’ Armitage told Dazed last year.
That didn’t deter Billie, who returned emboldened by the backlash putting women’s pubic hair front and centre. Some were confused why a razor company would even show hair, as though that somehow ruined their bottom line while others, like myself breathed a sigh of relief.
There are a few things my Fijian-Indian descent has gifted me with: a crooked nose, a penchant for tropical fruit, and lashings of thick, wiry hair from the very top of my head to the tips of my toes. The first time I ever took a razor to my skin, I was only 11 years old.
My brown arms began to sprout thick black hair, my face featured the beginnings of what a boy at my school liked to call ‘sideburns’, and the space that once separated my eyebrows began to fade. My parents didn’t want me to remove my hair, not until I was old enough to anyway, so instead, I stole my father’s razors, beginning a lifelong conflict between us over his prized silver Schick.
And as I’ve gotten older, this inner conflict between feminism, perceived beauty standards, and my own desire to be hairless has evolved. Celebrities like Halsey and Bella Thorne proudly flaunt their armpit hair as a show of rebellion but my body hair looks different. It isn’t delicate, whispy or unnoticeable, it is dark and intentional, unmistakable to any passing stranger.
But for women like me, for those who wax, shave, epilate, and tweeze, these small gestures from companies like Billie represent something more personal: self-acceptance. Women’s body hair is rarely spoken about as a personal issue but always framed through the lens of men’s desires and feminist rebellions.
On Black and brown bodies, body hair is seen as unhygienic and unprofessional. On trans women, body hair can lead to misgendering, violence and gender dysphoria. On fat women, body hair can mean being made to feel invisible. For many, removing body hair means protecting themselves from the harsh realities of the world.
While one razor brand isn’t capable of changing over 100 years of entrenched ideas around women’s body hair, it does signal the advent of change.
‘My boyfriend told me he liked my pubic hair,’ a friend once confessed to me. She thought he was lying for her own benefit. For her, waxing and shaving her delicate areas started to have physical ramifications. From razor burn, irritated skin, and all-out physical pain, in some ways, her body began its own resistance against the removal process.
More: Body image
This isn’t an uncommon story. Many women I’ve spoken to in my professional quest to demystify body hair have told me that acceptance from their partners led to some solace, even as they’re embarrassed to admit it. Always surprised, often suspicious yet consistently relieved, many women will torture themselves over their partner’s pubic preferences, coloured by the images force-fed to us by commercials, the media, and porn.
In 2019, we’re reminded of our autonomy on a daily basis. Billie may be selling a product that removes body hair featuring women with full bushes, peaking out the corners of their underwear, a contradiction that is frustrating until you realise that it’s a reminder of duality.
Feminism, rebellion, and preferences all have one common thread – freedom of choice. So if anything, this is a reminder that women can oscillate between hairy and hairless however and whenever they choose to. Isn’t it time that we did?