Look at Life: Razor Sharp

22nd February 2019

It’s not just male shaving ads that need a makeover…

By Claire Moulds

When Gillette unveiled its latest advert – replacing its legendary strapline ‘the best a man can get’ with ‘the best men can be’ – it’s fair to say that its original approach and unflinching portrayal of masculinity in 2019 generated a Marmite-style response.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the execution, which felt somewhat heavy-handed, but I did appreciate the sentiment behind it and what the brand was trying to achieve. In truth though, I might also have admired Gillette’s efforts a bit more if I hadn’t recently found myself in the unenviable position of having to navigate the female razor market for the first time.

As a life-long fan of salon waxing – quick, easy and long-lasting (albeit far from pain-free) – I was devastated to be told that my latest course of medication would mean that I couldn’t wax for the next 12 months. I briefly toyed with ignoring the hospital’s advice – until one of the beauticians at my salon told me she’d been on the same treatment, had ignored the warning about waxing and promptly ripped a chunk of her skin off. Reluctantly, I accepted that shaving was my only option.

Because waxing isn’t accompanied by a marketing campaign telling me what I should be doing in terms of hair removal, over the years I’ve happily gone for a wax whenever I feel like it, which might be every four weeks in the summer to every eight weeks in the winter. It’s always been a case of ‘my hair, my rules’ in terms of when I go and what I want removing. With shaving though, it’s a whole new world and one where someone else seems to be calling the shots.

My initial response to how razors are marketed to women was, frankly, horror. On top of the sickly sweet designs and packaging, I found the language pretty patronising and offensive, from being told that shaving will make me ‘sexy’ and a ‘goddess’ to positioning it as ‘taking some time to pamper yourself’. No woman on earth would call shaving ‘pampering’ – it’s a chore and a faff and requires you to contort yourself into all sorts of awkward positions to avoid missing a spot.

I also object strongly to the assumption that a product aimed at women needs to be ‘prettified’. Why does my shaving foam have to be bright purple and so heavily perfumed that, three days after using it, my bathroom still reeks of its ultra-cloying scent? Is it because the whole concept of women having hair, and therefore removing it, is perceived as so unfeminine that the process needs to be made ‘more attractive’ with colour and scent to make a male audience more comfortable with the idea?

Electric shavers are no better, with many aimed at the bikini market now coming with templates to enable you to ‘unleash your creativity’ and sculpt your pubic hair to ‘feel more beautiful’. Seriously? ‘Look at the pretty shapes you can make’ might work with a five year old girl, but I’m a grown woman. Despite it being the 21st century, the shaving market seems determined to infantilise women with its products and marketing messages and I can’t help but wonder how men would react if their razor came with the same templates for their beard.

Strangest of all, though, is the complete lack of hair in female shaving ads, with women seemingly shaving skin that is already hairless. Again, it instils the message that female body hair is so ‘unpalatable’ that, even when an advert is showing it being removed, it’s still too ‘disgusting’ to be seen; in turn, that reinforces to women the message that their body hair is offensive and must be eradicated from sight.

Going against this trend is US shaving company Billie whose 2018 advert won plaudits not only for showing a woman’s hairy bits up close (proving categorically that all women have them and that it’s completely natural) but also for emphasising that hair removal is a choice and that we get to decide where, when and how – which might very well include never.

For me, therefore, the new Gillette advert represents an opportunity to change the language and imagery used in the promotion of women’s razors. I think most women would agree that what they really, really want out of a razor is one that performs with precision and speed and which doesn’t leave them with a nasty cut or shaving rash…

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