Every 5 weeks, my morning goes something like this: eyes slowly open, sunshine peeping round the edges of the blinds, the smell of coffee and toast wafting from the kitchen downstairs, birds singing, bicycle bells chiming past my window. And then the realisation that it’s been 5 weeks since my last bikini wax and I have an appointment later. The wave of dread and nausea that overcomes me is one similar to stomach ache.
I owe a lot to my beautician. She keeps my nails perfectly manicured, my eyebrows neatly tended to and my pubic hair non-existent. I can confidently vouch for the truth behind ‘beauty is pain’. But I have several questions.
At what point during my sexual maturity did I believe that looking like a Barbie was beautiful? How much of my interpretation of sexual beauty have I learnt through societal pressures and how much through marketing and branding? Will my children’s generation feel the same way about body hair and the desperate need to remove it? Who is responsible for the taboo that is body hair? Is it women, or men? Is it the pornography industry? Is it the beauty industry as a consortium of social values and activities? Is it brands and products themselves?
I compiled an online survey to better understand the connections between expectation, relationship status and potential influences of body hair removal. After nagging my friends to complete the survey and to send it out to all of their friends, I managed to get a decent number of responses, with 61% being female and 39% male.
18% of informants said they expected their partners to remove their body hair, of which 88% were male. Reasons varied from comfort during sex, a measurement of attractiveness and plain disgust. Of those informants who did not expect their partners to remove their body hair, 89% were female. The predominant reason here was the respect that their partner’s body is their own, and that their opinion doesn’t overshadow their partner’s decision to remove or keep body hair. This is fascinating as it shows major differences in male and female expectations and could prove how our gender can influence our cultural conditioning.
Almost 60% of informants said they believed relationship status impacted their own hair removal. There seems to be a divide in the reasoning behind this figure. Some felt they would remove their hair more often when in a relationship whilst others felt a long term relationship was cause for not removing hair. Some of those men who agreed that relationship status impacted body hair removal believed a relationship made their partner ‘lazy’. This is in stark contrast to the ‘comfort’, ‘love’ and ‘understanding’ which females gave as reasons for worrying less about body hair in relationships. Both genders also stated that a desire to please their partner by considering their preferences also influenced their own hair removal when in a relationship.The couples segment is a challenging one as brands must attract two different personalities by making one decision. With such varying views of body hair removal, how can marketers successfully communicate to the individuals within the couple and/or the couple itself?
Does product development and marketing frame our perceptions of body hair removal? Do they encourage and entertain our societal boundaries? Whilst razors could just sit on the pharmacy shelves, Gillette (P&G) pour millions into advertising to enforce the notion that your legs or face are only beautiful if they are groomed. Some may argue these products simply respond to consumer needs but my argument is that such needs are created as a result of societal evolution and some are passing fads that represent cultural shifts, demonstrating how these fads are shaping sexual perceptions and experiences for many young people.
Enter Fur. Fur is the first brand to launch products that “cares for pubic hair and skin”, under the principle that we look after the hair on our heads, and so should consider looking after our down there hair too. Their current line comprises of 2 products: Fur Oil and Stubble Cream. And they’re not cheap either – $39 (£28) and $32 (£23) respectively, both more expensive than my own wax. The Fur Oil is targeted at those who prefer to be natural and the Stubble Cream is intended for use on waxed, shaved or lasered nether regions. Both treatments pride themselves on being free from nasties (phthalate, paraben, silicone, artificial fragrance and dye) and being full of natural ingredients (antioxidant extracts, shea butter and luxurious oils).
The marketing rationale behind Fur’s inception was the acknowledgement that the beauty market is crowded, but opportunity lies in pubic hair care. A bold move in a society that is generationally obsessed with hair removal. A 2013 Remington study found that British women spend an average of £8,000 in their lifetime on hair removal treatments (at home and in salons). So business is simple maths: 1 Brazilian wax every 6 weeks for 1 year (use £30 as the national average) = roughly £350 per person. Fur recommend using their oil product every day, in which case a 75ml bottle would probably last 3 months, therefore needing 4 bottles for 1 year at £28 ($39) = £112. Can price-sensitive consumers be swayed by this saving and never wax again? Waxing is a lucrative source of revenue for beauticians, and pubic-sensitivity seems to outweigh price-sensitivity.
Generally speaking however, young people would not be able to afford this type of luxury beauty product. Should larger, mass, personal care brands be introducing competing products at cheaper prices in an attempt to give everyone the same opportunities to look after their pubic hair? This would be another piece of the changing puzzle of societal perceptions.
Can advertising and marketing be incorporated into pornography? The gap between male and female porn viewers becomes increasingly smaller (PornHub reported that females represented 24% of their global viewership in 2015), creating a huge opportunity for marketers to access sexually minded females with personal care products. Could porn stars become advocates for healthy hair removal or maintenance products by endorsing innovative and accessible brands?
Innovations such as Fur are brave and bold but can they make a dent in the already claustrophobic and at times, judgemental, beauty industry? As a niche brand, it answers to a niche consumer need and has support from niche distributors. Their current sales are unknown and it may take time for the brand to gain significant market traction based on the societal pressures facing the pubic hair taboo. The last question in my survey was related to pubic hair products, and whether my informants would consider purchasing. Over 50% said they would not and reasons were insightful. Some said they preferred a beautician to look after it, others were not convinced of the added benefits or value, nor did they understand the unique selling point. Some felt it was too much effort, others felt this was an unnecessary purchase and there was doubt regarding the hefty price tags of such products. Another point about niche brands is that many are start-ups, and thus lack the capital to acquire detailed market research reports. As such, many start-ups are developed on the back of the innovator’s perceptions and the limitations of their research in the field. Whilst Fur’s market research may be more sophisticated and extensive than my SurveyMonkey questionnaire, it is impossible to ignore the uncertainty around such products, highlighting a need to educate the consumer or giving brands the opportunities to change societal perceptions.
I am a believer in that if like minded people shout loud and often enough, their voices will one day be heard. As a beauty junkie and supporter of self-confidence via personal care and cosmetics, I believe the beauty industry today should represent a variety of consumer needs. Whilst well-established and large conglomerates continue to dominate the industry overall, niche brands are not far behind and are listening to real customers with real, underrepresented needs, proving that customer is king. Whilst I believe brands like Fur have the power to change perceptions of beauty, I feel somewhat like a lost cause myself, as I sit here dreading my wax on Wednesday afternoon.
Original artwork by Jess Deare.