The Dichotomy of Capitalism and Anti-Beauty: Can we have both?

The Dichotomy of Capitalism and Anti-Beauty: Can we have both?

WRITTEN BY: GABBY BELLOT

A common critique within public discourse involves the fact that social movements behind essential issues can be diminished by marketing tactics used by larger companies and corporations to make a profit. 

Specifically, this conversation includes the rise of brands like Billie, who pride themselves on embracing female body hair yet, in a seeming contradiction, profit from a product meant to rid women of hair.

This presents the boiling question: How can a company successfully profit from a movement that protests the same patriarchal capitalism the business functions under?

Billie still seems to be a company that has agreeable qualities; according to claims on Billie’s website, “in an industry that seemed to care only about men, Billie was created to champion womankind. Since launch, we have always donated 1% of our revenue to support women and important causes around the world.” 

However, it appears that we are entering a new era of companies appealing to ethics as a marketing tool to offer products that pander to the outdated standards these ethics oppose.

The complexities of this subject seem difficult to reconcile with. Despite this, it is helpful to look at how this issue has historically been a struggle within the anti-beauty conversation, in part, due to the societal pressures that have worked to demonize body hair and the capitalist nature of this problem.

Billie has always argued for a truer portrayal of women in the razor industry by aiming to celebrate body hair and actually show it in their advertisements – a concept that has not been seen in the last few decades of razor ads filled with women using razors to shave non-existent hair. 

While this is a sentiment that one can get behind (i.e., not shying away from the fact that women have body hair), it’s still a fascinating reality that Billie still profits from the idea that female body hair is somehow in need of removal. 

However, it is still beneficial to keep in mind that Billie has successfully made efforts to normalize the portrayal of actual body hair on women in advertisements for the razor/hair removal industry.

The notion that outdated concepts still inform our practices is not unknown or foreign. Nevertheless, the conversation around body hair has evolved over the past few centuries. 

According to Marianna Cerini’s article in CNN Style, “In 1915, ‘Harper’s Bazaar’ was the first women’s magazine to run a campaign dedicated to the removal of underarm hair (‘a necessity,’ as it was described).”

Cerini then stated, “That same year, men’s shaving company Gillette launched the first razor marketed specifically for women, the Milady Décolletée. Its advert read, ‘A beautiful addition to Milady’s toilet table — and one that solves an embarrassing personal problem.’” 

Since then, we have moved from troubling messaging that told women their body hair was indecent to one of telling women to embrace their hair. The newer messaging has relied heavily on pushing a narrative within advertising that women have a choice on whether to shave or not. 

Acknowledging that Billie has played a role in making room for a more positive conversation around female body hair, we can still have hope and listen to Cerini’s encouragement that “The idea that not shaving can be a choice may not seem revolutionary, when it comes to normalizing body hair. But it could be an important step towards reframing the issue.”

This all still begs questions about the role of capitalism in these issues. 

While published a decade ago, Christine Rosen’s 2010 article in ‘Commentary Magazine’ has some relevant information on how feminist theorists have struggled to grapple with the relationship many women have to beauty as a result of capitalism. Rosen includes arguments made by writers Naomi Wolf (“The Beauty Myth”) and Deborah Rhode (“The Beauty Bias”). 

Rosen states that “according to Wolf: ‘All labor systems that depend on coercing a work force into accepting bad conditions and unfair compensation have recognized the effectiveness of keeping that work force exhausted to keep it from making trouble.’ In other words, an unholy alliance between unfair ‘labor systems’ and the “beauty industry” have kept women downtrodden and distractedly painting each other’s nails rather than storming the barricades.”

Rosen continues, “After decades of academic theorizing, endless denunciations of the diet and cosmetics industries, and annual attacks on the ‘Heteronormativity’ of the typical beauty pageant, they have yet to wrest ladies’ lipsticks from their manicured hands.”

The problem is evident here: it’s difficult to tackle the issue of female beauty when patriarchal capitalism is still prevalent and informing our decisions. 

The discussion on the contradictory convergence of the anti-beauty movement and capitalistic marketing tactics is jarring and difficult to reconcile with. 

Yet, it seems that brands like Billie are not all to blame for the use of ethics as a profit-making marketing tool and rather, help expose the larger matter at hand: a nuanced system of patriarchal, market capitalism that serves to commodify movements for capital gain.

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