A Still from Veet's (now revoked) 'Don't Risk Dudeness' ad campaignHAVAS WORLDWIDE/YOUTUBE

A few weeks ago there was a huge outcry over Veet’s new ad campaign. Veet is a company which sells hair removal products  cream, wax etc. The campaign was called ‘Don’t Risk Dudeness’, and featured a (fairly hairy) man playing a woman, so that everyone was repulsed. Each ad had a different form of repulsion: her boyfriend was shocked to find that he’d woken up in bed with ‘a man’, a cabbie drove off when he saw her hairy armpits, and (my personal favourite) a paramedic began cutting off her clothes in an emergency only to recoil in horror from whatever lurked below. The ads have since been pulled, but handily YouTube has kept them for posterity, so you can see them here.

Now, a lot has been said in response to the adverts  I was only one of many to weigh in on Veet’s Facebook page, explaining to its publicity team that the ads were transphobic (and heteronormative, implying men can’t wear pink vests and women can’t have body hair), homophobic (god forbid a man wake up in bed with a man), body-shaming, and even racially stereotypical (an Asian pedicurist makes a brief and offensive cameo). As many people (men and women, feminists and non-feminists) pointed out, the day that a man rejects a woman in bed for having slightly stubbly legs (despite, as she cries so desperately, having shaved yesterday) is the day he gets dumped; the day a paramedic recoils from a patient for having a hairy anything is the day they get fired.

Veet’s advertising agency, Havas Worldwide, explained that they’d had a market research session where women said they felt like ‘dudes’, and had picked it up because they’d found it funny. Needless to say, the implication that we just hadn’t got the joke, combined with a notable lack of apology, was met with the response that those women (if that story was true) felt like 'dudes' because Veet, advertising agencies and institutions like them have been telling women that they should. The hashtag #notbuyingit trended briefly on Twitter.

My question is not so much “what caused this outcry?”, as “why was it this campaign that caused it?”. The objections about transphobia, heteronormativity, body-shaming and objectification could be put to any number of adverts: in fact, to most of Veet’s output and almost all beauty ads. This was only one step further – normally we’re told that if we do shave it makes us beautiful, but this campaign instead told us that if we didn’t then we wouldn’t be (and even more nonsensically, that we’d be men – what’s wrong with men?).

I argue that the offence taken was not only directed at Veet’s prejudice and manipulation, but also at their belief that we would ‘buy it’. The public’s objection was as much hurt pride at the thought that we could be so easily bullied into purchasing, as it was about the methods used to do it. Looking at the Facebook comments on their page might well suggest so; about half of every comment objects along the lines listed above, but the other half address outrage at Veet’s presumption at thinking we’d just sit down and whip out our credit cards. It’s an insult to attempt to affect women’s thinking by constantly implying that their natural bodies are inadequate or ugly, but it’s more of an insult to tell them that straight. My recommendation to Veet is to hire someone who knows something, anything, about gender politics, so that they could consider the message they're sending out not only to adult women but also to young people. It would be wonderful if they did. But from their own point of view, and judging by the number of messages from "ex-customers”, they probably just want to get an ad team with a bit more cunning. 

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