Paromita Vohra: Hair, There, Everywhere
People in advertisements for hair removal always feature a lissome beauty running a razor over a perplexingly hairless leg
A friend, trying to describe his posh colleague, once used an intriguing phrase. "You know, she is an armpit girl," he said. When I looked confused he explained he meant she looked permanently beauty-parloured — like women in advertisements for body hair removal products or deodorant, whose armpits, revealed with careful casualness, are a virginal, snowy expanse — like they have never broken into a sweat, much less grown a hair. And isn't that true? People in advertisements for hair removal always feature a lissome beauty running a razor over a perplexingly hairless leg.
Enter, the Billie razors Body Hair Project. This is a new advertisement film for an American women's razor — which you can (and ekdum should) see on You Tube — and it does something radical and beautiful. It shows women shaving their legs, underarms and arms — who really do have hair on their bodies. The film begins with a loving pan of a blonde hairy leg and the line: Hair. We've all Got it. A cheerful montage follows, of women lying back displaying their underarm hair, their legs, their unibrows, one even peeks into her underpants, as the titles on screen say "believe us, we've checked", making you smile. In my absolute favourite shot — one that made me laugh out in delight, a woman blow-dries her underarm hair. It's all so friendly and easy going.
Then, as the women proceed to shave their body hair, the advertisement simply says — body hair. If you ever want to remove it, we're here.
With a simple stroke, the film unties a knot that so many women feel tied up in. On the one hand, conventional standards of beauty oppress all of us. Feeling like we can't be found attractive, we try to change how we are, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. But then we start to doubt that too. Are we succumbing to patriarchal norms? Are we being too vain? So, either we feel unattractive, or we feel guilty and defensive — because beauty is so narrowly defined.
Sometimes these discussions lead to a tussle of representation and the replacing of one normal with another. For instance, since mainstream films privilege fair-skinned women, arty films will privilege darker complexioned 'ethnic' beauties without touching other norms of feminine beauty. Hairlessness is one of them. To show women in media images with body hair — upper lips, arms, unruly eyebrows — is unthinkable. How could we not come to think of our own natural bodies then as anything but unnatural, unsightly?
That's why seeing hairy bodies in this film is a relief. Nor does the film go on to say that this normal-ness is unacceptable and must be replaced by hairless perfection. Removing body hair is presented as an option by the commercial — allowing those who wish to remove it and those who don't, equal space and easy going acceptance.
They say beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. But beauty is also determined by what we are allowed to behold as beautiful. The film's exhibition of realistic women's bodies is liberating. You see a leg with hair on it and think, "it doesn't look so bad. So, maybe my leg doesn't look too bad with hair on it either". Do it often enough, we might get used to it and all start feeling pretty good about ourselves. Wouldn't that be awesome?
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com
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