One of our readers opens up about her first experience of being shamed for her body hair, while celebrating photographer Ashley Armitage and Razor company Billie's decision to create the first hair removal ad that actually features fuzzy, stubbly women in all their glory.
Image by Ashley Armitage for Billie
It happened during one of my first P.E lessons in high school. The whole scenario was a new territory with different uniforms, expectations and of course, new changing rooms that felt like the incubator for us pubescent pre-teens.
At eleven years old, I was one of the youngest in the cohort yet, was one of the earliest bloomers of body hair. The summer before, it had felt like mother nature gave me the blows of puberty in a quick left-right uppercut: finding a couple of pubic hairs in the bath one night, buying a bra in the local mall with my mum, and the big one — getting my first period.
Despite the rapid change in my body mere weeks before that had made me feel like a stranger in this foreign flesh suit, I was excited about my new school. I'd just got changed into my gaudy bright blue exercise shorts, fluorescent yellow polo shirt and put my shoe up onto the bench to tie my laces when I noticed two girls standing a few steps away from me. Turning my head with a smile, I assumed they were my friends waiting for me, or maybe they were girls I hadn't met yet wanting to make a new companion to navigate this unfamiliar terrain with but seconds later I realised that was not their agenda.
The two girls had their arms crossed over their chests, noses screwed up in disgust, pointing at my leg that was still perched on the bench and whispering behind their hands. "Ever heard of a razor before?" said the taller one as they walked away laughing, the sound echoing off the change room's empty walls. In that exchange, I said nothing, frozen in embarrassment. I had thought this might happen, but nothing prepares you for the brutality of seventh-grade girls.
Image by Ashley Armitage for Billie
I'd begged my mum to let me shave my legs during the summer that my body did a 180 on me but being a traditional, body-positive, confident Italian woman (not to mention the fact that I was 11 YEARS OLD) she said no. The fuzz on my legs made my life a misery for a few months; I envied the girls in my grade (some of who had been shaving since they were nine) for their sleek, hairless legs that made them look so grown up and sophisticated.
Looking back now, ten years on, it seems silly that I put so much emphasis on body hair and the deep-seated need to remove every trace of it. It consumed me and as a woman with PCOS [Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome — a symptom of which is excess body hair growth] is something that can still shake my confidence to this day. In retrospect, it wasn't my fault for feeling ashamed of my body hair or my mum's for wanting me to remain a child for a bit longer. It was because of the messages my peers, and I had seen growing up.
"Two girls had their arms crossed over their chests, noses screwed up in disgust, pointing at my leg that was still perched on the bench and whispering behind their hands: "Ever heard of a razor before?"
Last week, U.S-based razor company, Billie, released the first advertising campaign aimed at women that actually features body hair. That's right — since Gillette created the first razor marketed towards women in 1915, no ads have ever featured the very thing they're trying to remove. Instead, for the past 100 years, we've seen women running a razor over already obviously shaved skin.
As well as the advertisement for their razor products, shot by photographer and director Ashley Armitage, Billie has also launched ‘Project Body Hair', an image library of women with body hair catalysed by the sheer lack of it in mainstream media. Visibility is everything when it comes to ingrained societal norms such as body hair and what this means for the millennial market is huge. Boys will see that women do actually grow hair on their body, and yes, this includes their stomach and toes, shock horror, young girls will see their natural, functioning bodies represented.
Also, Billie's slogan ‘However, Whenever, If Ever' highlights that shaving should be a personal choice — not just because a big corporation said you won't be desirable unless you always look like a hairless dolphin.
In the first shot of the Billie ad, a camera pans up a pair of legs with hair on them that don't look too dissimilar to mine when I was teased in those change rooms ten years ago. Maybe if advertisers realised that they had a responsibility to the audiences (in particular, young girls) then perhaps I wouldn't have felt shame over something I couldn't control — something that's just as natural as the hair on my head.
Maybe those girls wouldn't have laughed at me because they'd have seen hair on a woman before and maybe men wouldn't freak out at some fuzz on a woman's arm or thigh. It's been a century in the making, but thanks to Billie, the celebration of female body hair is finally here, no matter what you choose to do with yours.