We couldn’t find the video online so here’s some crap from their website.
On a very deep level, I need telly. That hour or so of crap telly that you get on an evening in is the most mindless part of my day – a pleasing, formless cerebral pap, absorbed gently and vacuously while I recline horizontally on the sofa in an old fleece, glasses askew, one hand in a bag of Wotsits, and a light patina of orangey drool coating my chin. I actually think I’ve started to use telly in much the same way as people used to use trepanning back in the days when medicine was a bit more exciting – a way of letting all the stress and worrying thoughts out, and lovely, lovely nothingness in.
Telly watching (much like trepanning) comes with its own set of risks. To avoid inadvertently regurgitating my crisps in an unforeseen episode of feminist rage, I find that steering clear of obvious red flags, and only partially engaging my mind while letting the main part of my attention wander aimlessly seems to create the sort of cloudy mindstate I’m after. (Taking your trousers off to watch telly is also an important preparatory step. Be advised, if you’re still watching telly with your trousers on, you are DOING TELLY WRONG.)
Occasionally though, telly manages to cough up something jarringly cuntish enough to successfully penetrate my fleecy drool cocoon, and the new Wilkinson Sword advert for their updated pube trimmer managed to do exactly that. It’s only thirty seconds long, but before it had faded from the screen I’d undergone a transformation from what was essentially a vegetative state to roughly the same level of animation displayed by a person who had, unsuspectingly, had fire ants introduced to their trousers against their will (although, as an experienced practitioner of telly, I obviously was not wearing any trousers).
As an example of the uneasy truce between telly and I, I usually find hair removal adverts irritating but amusingly pitiful. Veet, for example, has been mining the same rich visual seam for years, namely the old ‘hanky down the legs’ trick. Much like the substitution of blue water for period blood, this image makes no actual fucking sense, but somehow, we know what it means. Hanky down a disembodied leg = acceptably smooth. (And it’s only ever legs, mind – there’s never a hanky slipping down a bald crotch, or a freshly waxed top lip, is there? Why so coy, Veet? We all know what you do.) Let’s compare this rather stale offering to that new advert for men’s shaving products, where having an itchy face leads to misadventures with heavy construction equipment and going into space. The message is clear enough – use our shaving stuff, or an itchy face will get in the way of doing awesome Man Things.
Now, in the main, women aren’t treated to anything like this level of evil capitalist sophistication when people want to flog us stuff. In the world of Veet, the worst chaos that a bit of stubble could cause is that hankies will become randomly impaled on your leg hair. Undeniably awkward, yes, but not exactly life-threatening. This is because, on the whole, women’s agency isn’t used to sell us things. Our beauty products are sold on the premise that they help us get ready to be looked at by other people, not to go out and have adventures. Women are passive, men are active – it’s the message we get sent by society all the time, so it’s not surprising that it appears in the microcosm of adverts, which are the uninvited, smelly guest to your lovely telly party.
Even in the few personal care adverts where women are shown to be ‘doing stuff’, this is rarely unproblematic. Just think of that terrible Tampax advert with the gymnast in tiny white hotpants who gets a visit from Mother Nature, a tweed-wearing harpy bearing a detested monthly gift that is going to RUIN EVERYTHING (awesome depiction of the biological facility that makes women’s bodies able to generate new life, Tampax.) Or even the Sure advert for antiperspirant, which has a crack at trying to show women doing things, but, by showing them repeatedly entering rooms where everyone is staring at them, actually only manages to reinforce the idea that women have at all times a potential hostile audience scoping out their hideous sweat patches at work, at children’s parties and on stage.
The Wilkinson bikini trimmer ad is of the same ilk, where objectification is flimsily disguised as empowerment. Gloriously annoying, wholly and bafflingly contradictory, it sets out the idea that we should all be spontaneous about getting our minge out, with the proviso that this is only strictly possible if we put in the time to shave off our pubes in advance so that we are ‘beach ready’.
Let’s start with the veritable Niagara of bullshit attached to the asinine concept of ‘beach readiness’, by which people actually mean ‘getting ready to be looked at and judged by complete strangers while you have the temerity to try and enjoy your expensive holiday abroad/ the eleven minutes of sunshine occurring in any British summer.’ Feeling the sun on your face, enjoying a little dip in the sea, running your fingers through the soft sand only to unearth a used condom and several disturbingly moist fag ends – these pleasures are neither enhanced or reduced by paying the ‘Boots Tax’, a well-observed phenomenon where you feel forced to spend inexplicably large amounts of your hard-earned moolah on lacquering, depilating and sand blasting your body to a state of public acceptability before you are allowed to enjoy your basic right to go outside. This is the sort of insidious body-shaming that has women sweltering in long sleeves and jeans at temperatures which by rights should see us running naked through the streets, and all because we’re worried that a random passer-by might pass out in horror at the sight of our ‘bingo wings’ or ‘cellulite’ (i.e. our ARMS and our LEGS).
Secondly, what the fucking actual fuck does it mean when the statement “‘you always have to be ready ‘down there’” is seen as fit for national transmission? What is behind this idea that you always have to be ready to drop trou and reveal a perfectly groomed muff that you could eat your dinner off, like some fifties housewife showing off a perfectly waxed kitchen floor? That the most special, powerful, exciting and intimate area of your body can only be shown to someone else if you’ve crossed Wilkinson Sword’s palm with silver first? No. JUST NO. Fuck that noise.
Finally, and most annoying of all, I hate the way this advert makes explicit the connection between controlling how women are allowed to look, and how women are allowed to behave. Ain’t shaved that pants moustache? No spontaneous pool leaping for you. It’s this connection that makes this kind of body shaming so lucrative for companies and so corrosive for our individual and collective self-esteem. It’s this connection that makes body shaming a real-life Feminist Issue in the way it absorbs our precious time, energy and cash, and denies us the same unfettered access to public spaces that men enjoy.
I hate these adverts with the white-hot heat of a thousand suns, for the way they manage to disguise their negative messages about women’s fat, leaky, dribbly, hairy bodies as ‘empowerment’, and make money from it to boot. Wilkinson Sword can take its bullshit message of stage-managed, spontaneous unspontaneity and shove it up it’s perfectly epilated jacksy. The only thing I can thank it for is being such a startlingly unpleasant reminder of what a radical act it is to love, cherish and celebrate your own body. Let’s never give up on that project of body positivity. The fact that our society is working so hard to take it away from us only shows how powerful and important it is.