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Showing women with hair anywhere but on their heads is still taboo. Celebrities make headlines any time they show body hair publicly. And every few years we have a collective conversation about whether portrayals of women with body hair are becoming more mainstream. Cardi B was just Instagram shamed in January for showing some barely perceptible belly fuzz, so we are definitely not there yet.
But momentum to normalize women’s body hair seems to be slowly growing. In May’s release of Deadpool 2, Zazie Beets casually reveals her unshaven armpits in several scenes, with nary a comment about it in the film. And Madonna’s daughter Lourdes Leon, starring in a new campaign for a collaboration between Converse and streetwear brand MadeMe, wears a tank top with her armpit hair fully on display. (When Leon was a teen, she was publicly criticized for having a unibrow.) Now a shaving company is hoping to change the narrative even more.
Billie launched in November 2017 as the female response to Dollar Shave Club, the shaving company that Unilever acquired in 2016 for $1 billion. It’s not the first women’s-only razor startup to offer blades much cheaper than the ones drugstores sell, but it seems to have made the biggest splash. Billie recently landed a $6 million seed round of investment. (For $9, customers get a handle, two five-blade razors, and a magnetic holder. Replacement blades cost $9 for four and are delivered via various subscription options.)
But Billie is now doing something no other women’s shaving company has ever really done: showing women shaving actual hair off their bodies. In a new video, Billie portrays several women with thatches of armpit hair, leg hair, lower belly hair, and toe hair, all shown in graphic close-ups. Pop-up text declares, “Hair. Everyone has it. Even women.” As some of the women shave, viewers see a realistic image of what a razor head looks like afterward. Princess Nokia’s song “Tomboy” is the soundtrack over the top of the video, adding an ebullient auditory middle finger to the whole thing. The entire ad is defiantly joyful.
“We went through a hundred years of women’s razors ads,” said Billie co-founder Georgina Gooley. “You’re in the business of hair removal and you’re not even allowed to show hair because body hair on women is such a taboo!” Added Gooley: “You can’t even show a product demonstration of how your razor works. That just seemed crazy, the fact that we had to pretend we live in this world where women don’t have hair at all.”
It’s true. A Gillette Venus video, which presumably teaches teens how to shave their legs, features a model or host with no discernible hair on her legs. Pages and pages of stock photos portray women “shaving” their already dolphin-sleek skin. Watching the Billie video feels so radical — just to realize you’ve never before seen anything like it outside your own bathtub.
It is absolutely reasonable for cynical viewers to question the motives of a razor company trying to make body hair acceptable, which could be perceived as hypocritical. This type of campaign can be a slippery slope for companies, like Dove’s many body positivity missteps or luxury skin-care company SK-II’s campaign discussing the pressures of aging without featuring any women in their the mid-30s o rolder.
But this campaign is nuanced. At the end of the video, the text basically says, “If and when you feel like shaving, we’re here.” And it is truly mind-blowing that most razor companies don’t show the hair that women buy a razor for in the first place. It’s sort of like that sanitized blue liquid that is poured in maxi pad commercials. Why should the reality of women’s bodies be too distasteful to display? While viewers are probably not going to see period blood on TV anytime soon, hair is more palatable.
Gooley is well aware of the tricky line her company is straddling with this campaign. “All we’re doing is saying, ‘Hey, we sell razors. We’re a body brand,’ We’re acknowledging this one little fact that all these razor brands are not acknowledging, and that’s the fact that women have body hair.” Added Gooley: “It’s really clear in the message — what you choose to do with that is totally up to you. If you choose to shave today or in a year’s time, we have a product there.”
Billie hired director and photographer Ashley Armitage to shoot the video. The soft, muted style and prominent body hair is very much a part of her aesthetic, as her Instagram account attests. And taking a page from Glossier, the women featured in the video were scouted from Instagram. The company is also donating imagery from the video to free stock-photo site Unsplash.
The recent investment in Billie and its growth suggests it may be resonating with women the same way Glossier has. Gooley said the company met its 12-month goals within four and a half months. Its imagery is certainly much more modern than that of its closest competitor, Angel Shave Club. The latter leans in with a pink theme and flowing script; it also offers a box for tweens for their first shave.
Will Billie ultimately change more than 100 years of societal pressure on women to shave? Probably not. But Gooley said, “We say we’re trying to make the internet a little bit fuzzier.”