I know I sound like a broken record but I’m going to have to talk about body hair again. Unlike gainful employment, steady cash flow and a room of one’s own, body hair has remained a niggling constant in my life. This afternoon whilst trying to waste my life on a YouTube binge I was confronted with the most outrageous body hair themed interruption to date: NOT catching a reflection of the spring sun bouncing off my milky moustache, but the new Venus #UseYourAnd campaign.
The advert itself is so outstandingly patronizing, inherently sexist and above all ridiculous that it caused me to completely forget about being able to skip it five seconds in, and I watched the whole thing. I’ve included a link to the offending video – but in case you haven’t seen it yet I’m going to break it down for you, starting with the imagery.
The advert opens with a shot of a little girl’s legs. Whether or not you chose to shave, it is impossible to deny a lost-at-sea-worthy undercurrent of infantilisation embedded in the pressure on women to remove their pubescent body hair the second it starts to show. Women are expected to carry their childhood hairlessness into adulthood, which leads the more skeptical among us to question whether woman are allowed to progress fully into adulthood at all. Presumably Venus are showcasing the bare-legged little girl in all of her pure, hairless abandon as an aspirational figure for all of those many women who strive to regress back into childhood.
Not content with a healthy eyeful of pre-adolescent girl thigh, the advert then dissolves into a montage of close up leg shots, each one lingering slightly longer than its predecessor until the whole thing starts to feel a lot like watching someone spy on a high school changing room. This unnerving and unrelenting focus on the body is reminiscent of Foucault’s interpretation of the panopticon, in which the presence of an anonymous power is able to individualize a subject, in this case women, and place them in a state of perceived constant visibility, thus keeping them on edge and more willing to conform. What Venus is doing with their all too conspicuous leg ogling is reinforcing a culturally ingrained paranoia that the female body is under constant scrutiny. It is impossible to know who’s clocking your armpits as you wave down the bus in a moment of reckless abandon, or whom the next hand to graze your thigh will belong to, but Venus is here to remind you that they could strike at any time and you MUST be prepared.
The second disturbing aspect is Venus’ snappy new slogan #UseYourAnd. Oh wait – did I say snappy? I meant completely inane. It makes no fucking sense. The unconvincing slam poet that Venus have propped up to represent women nowhere spends a lot of time spouting about how ‘They told you you could be anything’. She goes on to accuse the presumably very same They of trying to put you in a box and whack a label on you. I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m having a little trouble discerning who They actually are. When They said ‘here’s what you really are,’ did they then follow up with ‘so take this, lock the door and try not to make too much of a mess on the bathmat when you’re done’?
I might be mistaken, but wasn’t that You, Venus, the commercial faculty of unrealistic and barbarous beauty standards? Aren’t Venus and their contemporaries the very representatives of the box that they’ve just told you to step out of? Besides, it’s more than a little patronizing for the #UseYourAnd campaign to assume that women and girls need to be told that they are in fact multifaceted humanoids.
‘Someone says your smart,’ chimes the slam-ish poet. ‘Say yes, AND…’ And what, exactly? “I’m smart AND I shaved my legs earlier, would you like to have a feel?” I could go on about how utterly puerile this is but I think we’ve had more than enough stating the fucking obvious.
Something that is not made explicit however is what exactly Venus is trying to sell. This commercial vagueness is not uncommon in the marketing of supposedly intimate female products, and is a subject I have approached in a previous post. As female hairlessness has become standard within our beauty dictatorship and voyeurism so commonplace, advertisers no longer need to explicitly refer to the functionality or purpose of their products. We – and by we, I mean women – are expected to inherently understand and dutifully comply.
While to some it might seem admirable that Venus are taking a stab at re-branding themselves with a membrane-thin coat of pseudo-feminist gloss, it doesn’t take a lot of squinting to see the real roots of their makeover. The last few years have seen a rise in feminist activists and thinkers breaking into mainstream media, the most recent example being the No More Page Three campaign. As feminism is no longer confined to the academic realm, it has become something of a bandwagon to jump on and be exploited by corporations, who take a fundamental interest in the policing of women and their bodies. In their #UseYourAnd campaign, Venus are making a tragically desperate attempt to remain relevant by appropriating language and imagery associated with the new feminist movement, but driven only by a fear of dropping sales.
I don’t have a problem with women, or anyone for that matter, choosing to shave their legs, underarms, face, cunt, butt-crack or otherwise. Though I think that this decision should come with an AND. Say for example: ‘I choose to shave AND I don’t wish to be patronized by an international company with a vested interest in keeping women conforming to a rapidly ageing beauty standard by using bullshitty, empowering-sounding hashtags while I’m doing it.’ It might be a bit long for Twitter, but I urge you to #UseYourAnd.