The Vagenda

On Always Being Ready ‘Down There’, or, Why Wilkinson Sword’s Bikini Trimmer Ad Makes Me Want to Vom

 Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 13.58.59

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.

- EB


45 thoughts on “On Always Being Ready ‘Down There’, or, Why Wilkinson Sword’s Bikini Trimmer Ad Makes Me Want to Vom

  1. I think this might be my favourite ever article on here! Loved it. Am frequently found admonishing my television for the same reason (only substitute ‘that hour or so’ with 5 or 6 hours).

    Also yes to no pants whilst watching tv. This is the way.

    • Seconded I was enjoying this in a coffee shop before a job interview nearly ended in disaster (hilarious disaster).

      Also wanted to say I had a similar feeling watching a documentary on naturism where we saw a guy getting waxed in preparation for his next naked outing all the while spouting on about body acceptance *sigh*

  2. This is a wonderful example of how swearing can be used effectively and constructively. It is also a wonderful article.

  3. I have never in my life laughed as hard as I have just laughed reading this article. Person next to me on train clearly thinks I am deranged. Let them. Not only are you some kind of comedic genius, you are also preaching my truth! Thank you so much.

  4. Being ‘beach ready’ being a thinly disguised metaphor for ‘ready to have sex at any moment’ attractively symmetrically trimmed of course.
    Great article.

  5. They don’t mean ‘beach ready’; it’s code for sex ready. You should be ready for sex at all times – just in case.

  6. I saw this ad during “One Born Every Minute” and initially couldn’t understand why the target audience would want to be pool ready! Then realised that its placement added another layer of horribleness to it. Thank you for writing such a great, intelligent funny article. I don’t care about being “pool ready”, but my three year old daughter might feel bad about her body if this kind of thing is still going on when she is older. I should save this for her…

  7. I would like to quote Caitlin Moran on this (think she was talking about thongs but the principle remains),
    Ladies! On how many occasions in the last year have you needed to wear a tiny pair of skimpy pants? In other words, to break this right down, how many times have you suddenly, unexpectedly, had sex in a brightly lit room, with a hard-to-please erotic connoisseur? Exactly. On those kind of odds, you might just as well be keeping a backgammon board down there, to entertain a group of elderly ladies in the event of emergencies. It’s more likely to happen.

  8. Love this article, this advert fills me with apoplectic rage and makes me want to spontaneously crash ridiculously upper end BBQ’s (seriously who has a pool, this is England FFS?!) with my unruly, un-beach ready muff

  9. Brilliant: “…objectification flimsily disguised as empowerment.”
    Spot on (and only one misplaced apostrophe!)
    “Beach-ready” – that phrase is like fingernails caught in synthetic fabrics.

  10. I have finally, after all these years, earned the freedom that comes with a blinding realisation.

    No one has a divine right NOT to see things they deem unnatractive.

    the presence or absence of hair no longer dictates what I choose to wear.

    yes, I prefer the appearance of my legs with no hair. but I give it much less thought than I did. there was a time when I would put a skirt on, clock sight of my mammoth like shins, and change into trousers or a longer skirt. now, I wear the skirt anyway. it’s only fucking hair. everyone has it.

    men wear shorts with disgustingly hairy legs in public, and I don’t like the way it looks, but hey, it’s summer.
    I now give myself the same acceptance. it might not be pretty, but it’s only damn leg hair.

    just like if I am scrubbing up for an occasion, or dressing up a bit, I might wear nail varnish, that tends to be when I deal with the leg forest, as part of an overall look, of being well groomed in general.
    but my hairy legs are not offensive, and no one has a divine right not to see them being hairy.

    and guess what. everything has been alright. I have not had more sideways glances and whispered giggles than I already did. leg hair seems far less an issue than my general dress sense. the public have barely registered it.

    I recently got an epilator. it seems to work pretty well.
    seems kind of ironic it’s only when I finally came to terms with hairy legs being okay that I found something that deals with it effectively for more than a day and a half of “acceptable” ness.

    everything is going to be alright. it’s only hair. I can take it or leave it, and feel no shame for removing or leaving it.

  11. LOVE the article except for the word Cuntish. Cunt is a euphemism for vagina. I quite like mine. I don’t think the word should double for something bad. Same way gay shouldn’t used by people to imply lesser.

    • Cunt is not a euphemism- it is a very old Anglo Saxon word for the vulva/vagina which should probably be used more, and be less taboo.

  12. Oh Vagenda, I love you.

    Unlike Flick – I think the phrase “so jarringly cuntish” is genius. As is “fuck that noise”. Each to their own though!

    Brilliant on message, hilarious article.


  13. EB you are my favourite. Speaking wise words, and making people snort tea out of their noses, AT THE SAME TIME. Veet and Wilkinson Sword can shove that up their bum (and smoke it). LB

  14. Hallelujah! What a wonderful piece of writing.
    I’ve never understood why people would waste their holiday looking out for other people’s unkempt front bottoms. Surely they’d just be bobbing about in the sea, thrilled at the notion that no one knows they’ve taken their bikini off… Just me…?
    I bloody love me a womanly woman. It’s there for a reason, don’t you know?! All hail public hair!

  15. though vaginas are indeed magical life and pleasure giving passageways, periods do tend to ruin most things. and quite frankly, what fool wears white shorts in an athletics event where their period is due any moment and they can’t nip off to stop the oncoming flood. imagine trying to remove the staining. it’s a thought that would make a grown woman cry i tell you.

  16. I prepared myself for the beach this morning by, er, going on the beach with my eyes open so as not to stand on a seagull. Beach readiness, In North Yorkshire, is more a case of preparing to be shat on by a big white bird. All this skipping round with gleaming bits is clearly a phenomenon of Forn Parts, because we keep our eyes on the skies. Plus it’s cold, and you come out of the sea with goosepimples that could take someone’s eye out, so no bugger cares about surplus hair.

  17. Good article :) I too rave at the telly when I see these adverts. Especially the fucking tampax and bodyform ones. I want to see some acknowledgement of the reality, of the fact thats its totally normal to feel tired, grumpy, clumsy, irrational, antisocial and fat at this time. Having a period can be a chance to sit under a blanket and have a break and a cry not career around the country on inline skates trying to impress boys…….Oh yea and try a moon cup girls, they are not as bad as you think cheaper in the long run and better for the environment :)

  18. This article is hilarious, but I do wonder if the bulk of the frustration should be aimed at the product, not the advertising. After all, isn’t it inherently the product we should be angry at? The problem with advertising for ANY product is that it has to shout about how much you desperately, desperately NEED it, whether it’s a packet of fridge-raiders or a Thomson’s package holiday. If you’re going to attempt to advertise a product that will keep your bikini line trim, you have to create (or tap into) some kind of market necessity for that. Of course adverts will make you feel like if you don’t buy something, you’re in some way at fault for doing so. The problem is when that’s correlated to women’s bodies and personal appearance, which is why the product shouldn’t exist in the first place.

    I’m not really defending advertisers, who I know first-hand can be absolute tossers, but I do spare a thought for the brainstorm meetings for this kind of thing. I would like to see an advert for this which I and my cool feminist friends would approve of, but I can’t envision it. Actually I don’t think the image at the top of the article is too bad. Get rid of the stupid ‘vote!’ feature and it would be OK – it just seems to say: hey ladies, wear your pubic hair how you want, we’re cool with that. By the way, we sell this. I mean yeah, I’ll be happier when I see one for men, too, but that’s a whole other battle.

  19. You know, I don’t want to split hairs here, but even if a kitchen floor was perfectly waxed, I still don’t think I would want to eat off it.

  20. Oh, so it wasn’t just me then?
    Am I ready down there? Yes, me and my hairy bush will jump into the pool (or whatever she’s talking about in this advert)…although granted I use laser hair removal on my bikini line…and I can’t swim. Whatever.

    Vagisil ‘Lets Do Something’ ads bug me more.
    The catchy ‘What you gonna do? Scratch it in the queue? No can do!’ – vaginal itching cream is dandy, the vaginal washes and sprays…no…it makes me laugh that their advert for their anti-itch cream talks about all the things that may make your ‘intimate area’ itch but strangely doesn’t mention their products are one major cause! Create a product women don’t need and use their insecurities about their vaginal hygiene/scent against them, while at the same time creating a greater market for your vaginal itch cream.

    Then there’s tampon and pad commercials…basically anything to do with a woman’s vulva/vagina is going to piss me off as taboo-pushing anti-women nonsense selling expensive chemical filled products that are a risk to women’s health.

  21. LOVED this article. If I used one of those lady shavers (such a horrible name) I’d have to use it a couple of times a day with the rate my pubes grow…no one talks about that in those adverts!

    On a side note (though still talking about body positivity) does anyone else think this “new” phenomena of taking photos of oneself in your underwear/bikini then posting it online to prove how much you love your body is a bit….weird? I don’t know how to express what I mean when I talk to people about it. I LOVE that woman are body positive but I think it just contributes to this idea that the only way to show you love your own body is to get some sort of confirmation from other people (which is usually something patronising like “oh she’s SO brave!!”)

  22. Wow, one of the funniest things I have read in months, I was howling with laughter at this. “What the fucking actual fuck” is just beautiful! High fiving you!

  23. I’m pleased to know that I too am normal – TV viewing = always minus pants… and also that other feminists are comfortable with using that glorious word ‘cunt’ – not a euphemism but a fully paid up noun (and verb clearly) – with unapologetic abandon.
    EB, you are a very smart and funny woman – keep up the good work!

  24. My understanding of the phrase ‘Beach-ready’:

    “I am ready to go to the beach. I have been ready to go to the beach for half an hour now, but I have been standing here waiting for you to finish de-hairing your lady-bits. If people are close enough to your crotch to see your pube-stubble, I seriously question whether or not they they are not so much beach-ready as prison-ready.”

    In all seriousness though, shave your legs or don’t shave your legs as you like, but remember that either way it isn’t the end of the world. I went to the beach last summer with three female friends. One of them refused to paddle in the sea, even though she wanted to, because taking off her tights would reveal her unshaven legs. The beach was almost empty, no one else within a 50m radius. We all knew each other well and assured her we would not be inconvenienced at all by her leg hair. She still didn’t want to remove those tights and go in the sea, which I found quite saddening.

  25. Argh, scary woman-hair! You’d think they’d make Pool-Veet. Hairy mother in the pool? Add Pool-Veet. Also gets rid of those itchy man-chins and unwanted back hair.
    (Not good for swimming pets or divers.)

  26. I read the phrase uttered by a man once ‘I prefer to eat off a clean plate’ when referring to our nether regions. If I could punch him through the paper, I would. I hate femfresh adverts, don’t even get me started on that and scented liners, because nobody needs chemicals in their fanny and those sanitary adverts are stupid when I know those tiny little pads will do nothing to help my very heavy flow but it seems that nobody is willing to address that on TV. Shaming women on their body hair is getting to be so tedious. Love me, love my bush

  27. I actually love this product but was shocked to see the advert last night. Don’t you dare even consider skinny-dipping without a perfect muff!
    Everyone should also twitter spam @proteinworld, that advert is so in my face in the underground I just can’t even

  28. I just saw this ad and texted several of my friends to say OMG! I was searching for a clip of it to share when I stumbled on your article. Nice to know there are like-minded people out there who are as gobsmacked as I am by this.

  29. That’s why I buy Always Infinity. Their adverts are just sciency-looking people just telling you that their special new material is more absorbant than other pads. Facts. Not a bunch of models squeeing because the miracle of sanitary products means they can now come out of the darkened room they’ve been hiding in since puberty and go jogging.

  30. I thought the brand had canned this awful ad but it’s just been on C4 again. I was so glad to read your article & know I wasn’t alone – I felt / feel exactly the same about it & actually complained to the ASA last summer. I got a reply from a man named Edward explaining they couldn’t possibly uphold my complaint because the patronising bint in the ad was merely expressing her personal choice of grooming. Er, no mate she’s a paid actress pushing a product, a ‘norm’ and yes, as you say ‘body shaming’ women who might dare to go out without a pre-pubescent front bottom! Wtf!? So that was it? So the ASA banned a car ad because the dog was riding in the front seat but it’s perfectly acceptable to coerce regular women to groom like porn stars. I might resend the complaint as a new one now that turd is back on our screens. If we all do it surely they’ll have to listen?!

  31. Hi! So a Google search led me here, I was so disgusted with their most recent ad (yes they’ve rolled out a new one this summer!), in which a lady is SO LUCKY she is prepared for a spontaneous pool party. ALWAYS be prepared, ugh! I guess the women who didn’t shave that day aren’t allowed to swim! This really irks me, glad I’m not alone! Thanks for writing this epic piece, have shared on twitter :-)

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