It turns out that women are actually men if they don’t shave their legs, or epilate, or Veet. That’s according to an ad campaign by Veet, the company that wants you to buy Veet. The product that removes hair from legs. It’s big business because – wait for it – adult women have hair on their legs even though it’s essentially banned. I know, I know, all this sounds like that miserable feminism where you burn bras and never have any fun.
The campaign has made lots of people angry though, including me, because every time I shave my legs I am reminded of what a huge waste of time and energy I have to put up with purely to a) not repulse men, b) not be stared at and humiliated when in public in summer, and c) yes, to feel “womanly”. So I already know that leg hair needs to come off these gorgeous pins of mine. I don’t need Veet or anyone else to make me feel any worse about my legs than I already do, thank you very much.
To be a woman is frequently to hate oneself. Absolutely nothing about your body – you are told and, indeed, tell yourself – is good enough in its natural state. Your eyelashes are not thick and dark enough on their own so you buy mascara; your skin isn’t the right colour so you tan it or bleach it or cover it in paint; your lips are not plump enough so you coat them in gloss or inject them with fillers; your hair is not good enough so you colour it and style it and add bits to it. You will pay a lot of money for these things and you will do them again and again. It may start to feel like your second job.
Unless you have opted out of this dance completely – and if you have you will almost certainly be known for it, for to be a woman who doesn’t join in the beauty culture is to be an outsider, a freak, someone to be pitied or ignored – then you will pay with time, money, pain and effort to fight a never-ending battle not to look like what you naturally look like, until age comes along and you eventually lose. But even then you will still have to shave your legs. Or cover them.
So when you tell us how unwomanly womanly body hair is, Veet, we will get angry because we already get it. Honestly, we do. We really don’t need you to tell us. Men hate hairy legs. I don’t think I’m the only woman to have turned away my boyfriend on the grounds of prickly legs before. I’ve even known women to police other women’s body hair, while according to a statement released on Veet’s Facebook page the campaign was dreamed up by three women. How sisterly.
In addition to misogyny, Veet has been accused of just about everything from racism (another advert depicts a “stereotyped” Asian pedicurist) through to misandry and transphobia. It’s actually rather impressive for a single campaign to be quite so universally offensive.
The ads have since been pulled, and in a frankly delusional statement Veet said that “most consumers” appreciated the campaign for its “wacky, tongue in cheek humour“. Then came a rather patronising apology: “We are very concerned by any misinterpretation of its tone or meaning, and in the light of the feedback received we have decided to withdraw it.” What silly, shaggy fools we are for not interpreting it correctly.
Women know the score. Sometimes it’s nice to make yourself look different. Whether that is shaving your legs or the side of your head, the body is a creative space and humans have a drive to change themselves. That’s fine. It’s when it becomes compulsory that we start to get mad. Show me a woman who hasn’t sat in the bath shaving her legs idly daydreaming of a world where she doesn’t have to? Is there a gal in town who hasn’t accidently shaved her pubes into a Hitler moustache wondering what it’s all for? Is there diva at the disco who hasn’t removed half of her knee with a Bic while wishing she didn’t have to waste so much time doing the same thing week in week out?
I suspect we all know, at the back of our minds, that we are fools for signing up to this particular beauty standard, and also that it’s very unlikely we will ever be brave enough to snap out of it. I’d love to pretend that I’ll take a stance one day, like Emer O’Toole, and go au naturelle for political reasons. But I won’t. I’m going to remove the hairs from my legs and armpits until the day I die, and if I die with hairy legs I will look down on my corpse in shame and embarrassment at what the undertakers will think of me. I feel ashamed of my body hair, and I’m willing to bet 99% of women do. We don’t need anyone to ram that down our throats, Veet, especially when we’re busy trying to epilate …