You know what the world needs? A YouTube series of advertisements featuring a ten-year-old girl who blogs about shaving her legs. Luckily, Gillette Venus Canada has stepped up to the plate, providing us with just such a set of videos!
Actually, when I went to start this post, I realized that the original videos have been taken down – some time in the past few weeks! I think they were from 2010 or 2012 (correct me if I’m wrong). Luckily, they’ve been compiled here.
*EDIT: looks like that one has been taken down too. Thanks for the tip, Kaelyn! All I could find was this quick clip – hopefully you get the idea!
In this video series, Gabby, a precocious middle-schooler, discusses leg-shaving with her wise older sister, her adoring friends, her supportive mom (off-camera), and with her raptly-reading blog audience in a voice-over narrative reminiscent of Carrie Bradshaw. I have to admit, I was kind of horrified at how young these girls are, and how confidently they parrot ideas like “Shaving isn’t just about removing hair – it’s about feeling your best!”
Now, Gabby does mention that a big part of the decision to start to shave one’s legs is social pressure – explicit or not. She says that when your friends start shaving, you’ll probably wonder if you should start too. I’ll be honest – that’s why I started shaving. As a blond, my leg hair was hardly noticeable, but during gym class in middle school, the girls would sit on the bleachers and talk about bras, periods, and shaving their legs. Since I had no need for a bra and hadn’t yet gotten my period, I figured I’d start shaving my legs so I wouldn’t be TOTALLY left out.
In Gabby’s trauma-rama moment, she notices at a slumber party that her legs are hairy (the zooming camera shot on her leg hair made me want to hug her – her pre-pubescent leg hair is barely noticeable!). Gabby freaks out because her friends’ legs are “smooth” – presumably they shave – and she obsesses over this for the rest of the evening, missing out on the fun of gossip and pedicures. Something important to note is that Gabby is the ONLY ONE who notices her leg hair. NOBODY ELSE notices!
Obviously, I’m not going to claim that people can’t be mean about stuff like that. But I can guarantee that most people are so worried about themselves that they wouldn’t notice other people’s leg hair; unfortunately, ads like these pretty much teach young girls yet ANOTHER way to feel self-conscious about their bodies. They also send some weird mixed messages about what’s attractive; puberty typically brings breasts, hips, and body hair. While boobs and hips are thought to be attractive because they signal sexual readiness, for some reason body hair is often considered a turn-off.
Gabby’s description of when to start shaving totally reinforces these pressures; she says that you should start shaving “whenever you get uncomfortable about, well, NOT shaving”. Now, I know there’s a stereotype of feminists as sporting hairy underarms and furry legs, and, like many stereotypes, this one does have its roots in some truth (for instance, my legs right now? Totally fuzzy). Many feminists believe that things like shaving are unfair and unequal.
Think about it – good razors are expensive, as is fancy shave gel, and if you’re shaving your legs every day, that’s a lot of time and money put into something that men don’t have to deal with. Obviously, many men shave, but it’s not considered socially unacceptable to have a beard. According to this post from the Daily Mail (a questionable source, but still), women hate leg-shaving more than any other beauty “chore,” but spend almost two months of their lives doing it. When we’re referring to our beauty or grooming routines as “chores,” there’s definitely a problem.
Even worse, like Gabby said, girls are supposed to feel uncomfortable if they’d rather not shave, and if this video is any indication, they’re being told to be uncomfortable younger and younger. It’s kind of problematic that our societal norm for girls tends to be shaved underarms and legs; this tells girls that there is something inherently wrong with their bodies the way they are.
Let’s think about how absolutely bizarre that is. Many social norms having to do with beauty are at least a little flexible in different situations; for instance, a woman deciding not to wear makeup when she’s out running errands wouldn’t get a second glance. However, if her underarms are visibly hairy, she might get some pretty horrified reactions, whether to her face or behind her back. Society tells girls that our bodies, and the hair that they naturally grow, need to be fixed, and that they’re socially unacceptable the way they are. There are even website posts dedicated to shaming actresses who dare appear in public with visible body hair. That is messed up.
Even worse, ads like these videos tell young girls that their bodies are on display; that they’re there to be looked at. This blogger is horrified that Gillette felt ok posting a video of a child shaving her legs, and implies that it’s kind of pedophilic. I noticed that the girls in the video weren’t giggling about boys looking at their smooth legs – that might have come across as creepy, since they’re so young. But I guess there’s nothing creepy about assuming that the entire world will be looking at and judging your ten-year-old legs?
Gabby hammers this point home when she says that you will probably want to shave “if you’re playing sports, going on vacation, or even just looking to wear what’s cool.” She’s basically telling her audience that no matter what they’re doing, whether they’re leading their team to the semifinals or going snorkeling with their parents, their first priority should be their appearance. She also repeatedly tells them that shaved legs will make them feel “confident”.
Just to be clear, I’m not judging anyone who is self-conscious about body hair. I’m also not hating on the young actress playing Gabby! It’s not the individuals I have a problem with, but the social constructs. I totally cave to this social pressure – I shave my underarms, and occasionally my legs. Most women I know do. Sometimes, when my legs get to the point where they’re really hairy (note – I’m not calling my legs a “hairy mess” like Gabby does: just hairy. You know, like humans are), I’ll haphazardly wax them – mainly so that if I DO decide I want to shave them one day, it won’t take an hour and a half to hack through the hair. But to be honest, the last time I shaved them was probably… November? Since it’s winter, they’re rarely seen, and the girls in my dance class couldn’t care less what anyone’s doing with her body hair. But sometimes I think about how strong these social pressures must be if the idea of going out in shorts with hairy legs makes me uncomfortable
I don’t really have any solution to offer to this problem. I’m not suggesting that we all toss our razors and let our freak flags fly – although actually, if we ALL did that, it WOULD solve the problem. But I don’t know if this social norm will change any time soon. I can suggest that we worry less about our body hair, trusting that we still look pretty awesome even with some stubble or full-grown fuzz. And I can suggest that we be less judgmental about people who do choose to go hairy. After all, it’s how our bodies are meant to be.
Check out some other bloggers on body hair: