OPINION: On October 12, Gillette Venus posted a video from its #SayPubic campaign on TikTok. The ad depicts an animated woman (voiced by musician Princess Nokia) and some anthropomorphic pubes dancing and singing on the beach, proclaiming, “I celebrate every hair down there, if it’s shaved, it’s waxed, or full of hair – it’s my body and it’s self care”.
Nothing out of the ordinary… until you consider that Gillette Venus only exists as a company by relying on beauty ideals that make people who identify as women feel pressure to remove their body hair. How do we begin to interpret this campaign?
It is clear that the ad is targeted at a specific audience: young, liberal, and potentially queer women on TikTok. The ad, a follow up to 2021’s The Pube Song, was not posted on Venus’ Instagram account and is not on the front page of their website (both songs were released to promote its Pubic Hair and Skin collection)
Involving Princess Nokia was a clever marketing tool – they are probably best known for their line, “it’s an all-girl party, clothing optional”, in the sapphic anthem Slumber Party, which went viral on TikTok last year.
The song was popular amongst the queer community, especially as Princess Nokia describes themselves as queer and gender nonconforming. The term queering, as used by feminist Judith Butler, means “to repoliticise issues of identity, race, class and their relationship to sexuality”. This means that whether women identify as being queer or straight, their choice to grow out their body hair is in a way ‘queering’ the beauty standard by deviating from the norm.
Evidently, the campaign video was designed for a specific audience of women who may be more ‘pro-hair’ than other Venus consumers. Gillette had to find a way to advertise pubic hair removal products without being accused of pushing the harmful narrative that for women to be attractive (or even accepted), they must remove their body hair.
Is it possible for a company to be genuine about its ‘body positive’ messaging when it is profiting off of young women’s insecurities? Perhaps with an audience known to ‘get political’, often demanding diversity and ethical practice from companies, Gillette felt that politicising body hair was the best way to promote its products without being criticised for promoting pervasive beauty standards.
Venus uses this ‘body positive approach’ throughout the rest of its marketing. The brand avoids hair removal discussion through a strategic focus on skin rather than hair. Its slogan is “#MySkinMyWay”, and they have produced a series of videos of the same name which “dive into the stories of women who are owning their skin in a world obsessed with perfection”.
In these videos, women talk about their scars, stretch marks, birthmarks, wrinkles, and shaved heads, and how empowering they can be. If you had never heard of Gillette Venus before, one would be forgiven for thinking it was a skincare company. The implication of this campaign becomes evident when you consider what it is selling you: you cannot see the ‘skin you’re in’ if it is covered by your hair.
This is a technique repeatedly used by Gillette – in a world where body hair is becoming less stigmatised, the brand has turned to selling virtues instead of selling products. It chooses to sell ‘self care’ instead of shaving gel, and ‘loving the skin you’re in’ instead of razors.
Most famously, Gillette tried to sell ‘feminism’ instead of shaving tools in their controversial ‘The Best a Man Can Be’ campaign in 2019, as a response to the #MeToo movement. Despite the campaign’s enormous backlash, Gillette has continued to frame its ads in a hyper-feminist way, encouraging men to stand up in the face of toxic masculinity and encouraging women to love their bodies despite years of strategic messaging telling us to hate them. In 2022, companies have caught on to the fact that body positivity is now socially ‘compulsory’, and to continue making money, they need to hop on the bandwagon.
Despite this body positive slant, the idea of having ‘no wrong way to have pubic hair’ is incongruent with the rest of their TikTok account. They often post videos that talk about ‘shaving properly’ and ‘shaving mistakes’, which imply there may be wrong ways to have pubic hair regardless of what their song is stating.
Most of the comments on the recent #SayPubic TikTok were positive, but others were more critical of the message, addressing how insincere it feels for a razor company to be selling razors by promoting ‘not shaving’. It is reassuring to see users habitually asking themselves, “What is actually being sold here, and why?”
Most succinctly, one user wrote “capitalism really popped off today”, summarising the fact that despite sporting a positive message, Venus is still capitalising on ‘self care’ as a vehicle to sell products.
To write off the ad completely, however, would be dismissive. Normalising the discussion of pubic hair has its own merits, and opening up a dialogue and a vocabulary to women is admirable.
For this campaign, Gillette also formed partnerships with some popular users on TikTok. When searching the tag #SayPubic, you can see many ads of young women using the anatomical term “pubic hair” while discussing their shaving experiences, and assuring other users that having pubic hair is normal and part of everyday life.
Using the word ‘pubic’ can be considered activism in and of itself, especially when advertisements have famously used euphemisms and metaphors to avoid talking about women’s bodily functions (from showing blue liquid instead of blood in sanitary pad commercials, to depicting already hairless women shaving their legs).
However, as ‘ads that don’t feel like ads’ become more prevalent, especially being advertised to younger users on TikTok, it is important to teach good media hygiene and critical thinking.
When there is no straightforward answer to whether an ad is helpful or harmful, I recall a quote by Dr Gail Dines, a professor of women’s studies: “If tomorrow, women woke up and decided they really liked their bodies, just think how many industries would go out of business”. We must then ask ourselves – would Gillette Venus be one of them?