Today’s New York Times carries this article about “Nair Pretty,” the new depilatory product aimed at “first-time hair removers,” aka girls 10 to 15 years old.
The product comes in kiwi and peach scents, in packages that show illustrations of doe-eyed teenage girls, and for the first time Nair is marketing directly to middle-schoolers. Ads for Nair Pretty, which are running in magazines like CosmoGirl and Seventeen, make no mention of boys or romance, but rather suggest that the depilatory is a stubble-free path to empowerment.
â€œI am a citizen of the world,”reads the ad copy.”I am a dreamer. I am fresh. I am so not going to have stubs sticking out of my legs.”
Since girls in this age group do not always buy their own toiletries, the product is advertised in Redbook, too, to reach their mothers.”Introducing our first hair remover made for your daughter’s young skin, skin that’s prone to cuts and nicks,”those ads say. * * *
â€œWhen a girl removes hair for the first time, it’s a life-changing moment,”said Stacey Feldman, vice president for marketing at the women’s health and personal care division of the Church & Dwight Company, which purchased Nair in 2001…..When Nair ran focus groups with mothers and daughters to develop Nair Pretty, Tim Fowler, a research and development director at Church & Dwight, heard about a modern ritual.”They were actually having hair removal slumber parties, where the moms were going out and buying the products for the teens to remove their hair,”he said.
Girls were, of course, agonizing about body hair before Nair got around to developing a product for them. Laser hair removal is the most popular cosmetic procedure for those 18 and under, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
This might be the first time that Nair is marketing at middle-schoolers, but middle-schoolers long have been aware of Nair (and similar) products. At twelve, I begged my mother to permit me to engage in this adolescent ritual of depilation, and that was more than 25 years ago in the midwest. So it does not strike me as so odd that today’s 10-year old would want to shave her legs. Yes, I wish that pressure toward gender differentiation wouldn’t happen so early, but actively resisting it is not my number one priority as a parent.
What surprises (and disturbs) me about the Nair ads is that consumerism is being packaged as self-love and self-determination. In addition to the “I am a dreamer” text quoted in the New York Times article above, the ads also proclaim, “I am pretty. I am determined. I am going to make a difference. I am unique. I am fresh. I am not going to settle for sandpaper skin. I am who I am. I am unstoppable. I am pretty.”
I like the “determined” and “going to make a difference” angles, but what does that have to do with being “fresh”? Fresh like young? Fresh like inexperienced? Fresh like impertinent? Fresh like virginal? Fresh like a baby, not the adolescent girl with thickening leg hair? I like the image of a great nation of girls proclaiming, “I am unstoppable.” But you can be unstoppable — at any age — and have hairy legs. And what precisely is the injustice implied by “settling” for “sandpaper skin?” If a girl or woman doesn’t like stubble, a depilatory cream may be preferable to shaving. As stance, however, refusal to “settle” is better suited (in my mind) as a response to substandard education or lack of access to health care.
It is unfashionable these days to equate hair removal with politics. To articulate an opinion about body hair as anything other than personal preference invites criticism. In the Introduction to To Be Real, Rebecca Walker wrote:
The concept of a strictly defined and all-ecompassing feminist identity is so prevalent that when I read the section in my talk about all the different things you can do and still be a feminist, like shave your legs every day, get married, be a man, be in the army, whatever, audience members clap spontaneously…..For many of us it seems that to be a feminist in the way that we have seen or understood feminism is to conform to an identity and way of living that doesn’t allow for individuality, complexity, or less than perfect personal histories. We fear that the identity will dictate and regulate our lives, instantaneously pitting us against someone, forcing us to choose against inflexibile and unchanging sides, female against male, black against white, oppressed against oppressor, good against bad.
I’m all for individuality and complexity, and so it seems to me that Walker’s criticism could be leveled equally against the Nair ads as it is against some feminists. Making a difference and being determined don’t have anything to do with hair removal.