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Boom and bust

Thessa Lageman
Journalist, Writer, Photographer
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piqer: Thessa Lageman
Thursday, 28 March 2019

Have Razor Companies Convinced Women to Start Shaving?

Shaving has always been about gender and gender roles, beauty standards, masculinity and femininity.

This show is about “the surprising stories behind our biggest, household name brands” and “how these brands changed our lives – for better or worse.”

Shaving for men is simple: it’s manly. Not shaving is also manly. For women is complicated: is it oppressive, is it liberating, is it both? And what does Gillette have to do with it?

The host speaks to Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin, hosts of the Unladylike podcast (which I’m definitely going to check out), who always thought that razor companies marketed the expectation that women should be hairless. But when they looked into it, the answer turned out to be much more complicated.

I still remember those first Venus commercials that were like all these women coming out singing: "I’m your Venus, I’m your fire, at your desire."
This was both a brand and a beauty routine that we grew up with, and I feel like it was really ingrained, almost in our daily lives.

But Gillette didn’t invent the norm of hair removal, like Conger and Ervin always thought. Instead, body hair removal turned out an ancient cross-cultural practice.

Women have been body hair shamed for centuries, for example in Roman times.

In the 19th century, dermatologists started to talk about the “abnormality of masculine hair growth” on women.

Before the 1900s, it was OK to be hairy, because women’s bodies were covered up from neck to ankle.

After that, fashion magazines started to tell women your “embarrassing hair” had to go.

By the time Gillette started to sell razors to women, they had gotten used to depilatory creams and powders. But some of these creams could cause hair loss on other parts of the body, blindness and even death. There was also a time that women had nylons painted on their legs.

Therefore, shaving, which became a habit in the US during WWII, actually turned out to be an improvement for women, Conger and Ervin think.

Have Razor Companies Convinced Women to Start Shaving?
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