Talk about personal growth.
The Nike Women Instagram account posted an ad featuring Nigerian-American singer Annahstasia modeling one of the brand’s sports bras — and with her curly underarm hair on full display — captioned with “Big mood.”
And the au naturale image has drawn more than 173,000 likes in the past 24 hours, and tons of comments, with many readers praising the Swoosh for supporting the body-positive natural movement over traditional airbrushed and picture-perfect ads. “Body hair is natural, everyone has it,” wrote one, along with three “clapping hands” emoji.
But it’s drawn scores of prickly responses from users, as well, who are responding with the green vomiting emoji, and writing things such as “This is DISGUSTING” and “shave that s—.”
Still others called out the double standard that men aren’t shamed for underarm hair, but women are.
did not respond to a MarketWatch request for comment by press time, but this is certainly not the first time that the athletic giant has run an edgy ad. Last fall, it made controversial ex-NFL player Colin Kaepernick the center of its “Just Do It” anniversary campaign. And while its sales initially dipped as some consumers disagreed with Nike for celebrating the athlete who kneeled during the national anthem to protest racial injustice, it soon saw a 31% spike in online sales, and its social engagement also jumped, as even more people supported the move.
It’s also not the first brand to embrace female body hair. When the Estée Lauder-owned
M.A.C. Cosmetics reposted a photo of a woman modeling one of the brand’s lip liners last fall, the Instagram close-up revealed several facial hairs above her lip. The brand’s U.K. Instagram page also shared a snap of a woman wearing M.A.C. lipstick with noticeable peach fuzz. And social media lost its mind, similar to Nike’s new campaign, with some readers body-shaming the models (“They couldn’t Photoshop her whiskers out?” wrote one) and others celebrating the brand for “changing the game and normalizing what is actually natural,” as another responded under the U.K. post.
Men aren’t the only ones covered in hair — although many advertisements featuring smooth women with perfectly-plucked brows, silky legs and bare underarms would have you think otherwise. As fellow mammals, women are also covered in a fur coat, to varying degrees.
But the hair removal industry (which is expected to hit $1.35 billion globally by 2022) has been conditioning women to feel embarrassed about their hair since the early 1900s. It began with removing underarm hair after American women started going sleeveless in public around 1915, when Gillette
crafted the first women’s razor, and spread to include leg-shaving as flapper dresses raised hemlines in the 20s. Then the rise of the Brazilian wax in the ‘80s and ‘90s led to women stripping their hair from everywhere else.
“The language around it is that you’re dirty, you’re gross if you have body hair. And after 100 years of that, it’s in our psyche: You’re not feminine, you’re not worth a date, and no one is going to ask you out if you have hair,” Mara Altman, who delves into the origins of our various body insecurities in her book “Gross Anatomy,” told MarketWatch.
In fact, her own insecurity about her chin hairs was the impetus for the essays in her book. She used to hide her beauty routine from her now-husband, and wrote about her experience coming “clean” to him. “We’re all grooming ourselves behind closed doors, and you have no idea where you fit on the ‘hair scale’ because you don’t see anyone with hair — everyone is hairless in public all of the time,” she said. “So you feel abnormal.”
For example, women’s shaving ads almost always show already-smooth skin, as if the hair was never there — and so subscription razor brand Billie went viral last summer for actually showing women’s stomachs, armpits, bikini lines and toes with hair on them in its ads. “Women have body hair, yet showing it is a prickly subject. It’s time to change that,” the spot says.
“I think it’s a combination of hair removal, in large parts, does happen in very personal areas. And hair removal is also seen as a sign of cleanliness,” explained Beth Egan, associate professor of advertising at the Syracuse the Newhouse School of Communications. “So if women don’t bleach or wax their lip line, we’re as catty to each other as anyone else: ‘Look, she’s not taking care of herself. She’s not properly grooming.’”
So when a brand like Nike shows female models with underarm hair, M.A.C. shows female models with whiskers, or Billie shows other women with hair on their stomachs — or Bella Thorne confidently flashes her underarm hair on the beach — it assures women that their body hair is perfect natural, and even nothing to be ashamed of.
“When we can see pictures of variations of body hair, which is what Billie is doing, it makes you go, ‘Oh, OK, my happy trail does look like that. I’m not a behemoth. I don’t have some sort of hormone problem,” added Altman.
Former fashion blogger Dana Suchow, who’s now an activist for body acceptance and eating disorder prevention, stopped shaving her legs two years ago when she got dolled up for a date that was a total dud. “I spent all of this time shaving for this other person — I did not do it for myself, but because I was worried that he wouldn’t think that I was attractive — and the guy ended up being a jerk,” she told MarketWatch. “I thought, ‘What am I doing?”
Now she leads the #MyBodyStory movement on social media, and she also posts pictures of her unshaven legs, and rocks shorts in her Soho, NYC neighborhood in the summer. “It’s so important for people to see natural body representation, so when I go out in my shorts, and people are staring — especially kids — I welcome it,” she said. “I want you to see what an actual leg looks like. We are visual creatures, so if we see somebody else with body hair, or with acne or stretch marks, it lets you know it’s OK.”
And Egan noted that today’s consumers are shopping for authenticity, which brands like Unilever’s
Dove and its “Real Beauty Campaign,” and American Eagle
swearing off digitally-altering the models in their ads, are starting to provide. “This idea that look, we’re not all airbrushed, and even the models that you’re idolizing don’t really look like that, is part of a greater trend that has been accelerated” over the past couple of years, she said. “A lot of it is fueled by millennials, who have always rejected the status quo and who have broadly been more inclusive of past generations. But people want more authenticity in their lives … especially after all of his rhetoric around ‘fake news’ and challenging messages, whether they be journalistic or advertising messages.”
Plus, this obsession with stripping hair from practically everywhere costs a lot of money — and time. American women collectively spend about $1 billion on razors every year, according to Euromonitor, and between $10,000 and $23,000 apiece on hair removal in their lifetimes. And a 2013 survey from British beauty brand Escentual found that the average woman spends 72 days shaving her legs in her lifetime — or about 1,728 hours — and 30 days (720 hours) tweezing her eyebrows.
“Not shaving saves a ton of money and a ton of time. I used to be late for everything because I had to shave my legs first,” said Suchow. “But I do struggle with not shaving sometimes. And the reason that I feel self-conscious is not because other people make me feel bad, but because I feel like I’m the only person who has hair on her legs. So it’s nice to have the internet, it’s nice to have social media, where I can see other people with bodies that look like mine.”
This article was originally published in September 2018, and has been updated with Nike.
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