Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be hairy

BlogHer Original Post

My daughter has that lovely sort of tawny-colored hair that goes blond after prolonged exposure to sun and chlorine. And despite my best efforts to slather her with sunscreen all summer long, her skin is currently quite tan. This confluence of events resulted in a horrified shriek from the backseat of my car one day a couple of weeks ago -- my 9-year-old had realized that she had hair on her legs. "Mom!" she screeched, "I'm all... hairy!"

For the record, she is not overly hairy by any stretch of the imagination. (Yet. I should probably apologize in advance for what lurks within her gene pool.) But blond hair against brown skin is more noticeable than her usual combination, I suppose.

I responded as best I could, telling her that everyone has hair on their legs and she is no hairier than normal. She seemed unconvinced, and asked how old she'd need to be to start shaving. I said we'd discuss it when she gets to middle school, and she nodded and seemed satisfied.

I'd forgotten about it, really, until I heard that Nair is now marketing to girls as young as 10. Have you heard about this? The insipidly-named "Nair Pretty" is for "first-time hair removers," and that apparently extends to girls still in elementary school.

Feministe wonders if anyone really believes kids are this dumb:

And their ad campaign is all about how “empowerful” it is to have smooth legs when you’re a pre-teen.
Their ad campaign is also really pathetic:

“I am a citizen of the world,” reads the ad copy. “I am a dreamer. I am fresh. I am so not going to have stubs sticking out of my legs.”

Um. I know ten-year-olds are ten and all, but do advertisers think that they’re also illiterate and innately drawn to non-sequitors?

Bridget Crawford at Feminist Law Professors points out that girls that young being interested in hair removal is hardly new, but she finds the Nair Pretty advertising language troublesome:

What surprises (and disturbs) me about the Nair ads is that consumerism is being packaged as self-love and self-determination. In addition to the “I am a dreamer” text quoted in the New York Times article above, the ads also proclaim, “I am pretty. I am determined. I am going to make a difference. I am unique. I am fresh. I am not going to settle for sandpaper skin. I am who I am. I am unstoppable. I am pretty.”

I like the “determined” and “going to make a difference” angles, but what does that have to do with being “fresh”? Fresh like young? Fresh like inexperienced? Fresh like impertinent? Fresh like virginal? Fresh like a baby, not the adolescent girl with thickening leg hair? I like the image of a great nation of girls proclaiming, “I am unstoppable.” But you can be unstoppable — at any age — and have hairy legs. And what precisely is the injustice implied by “settling” for “sandpaper skin?” If a girl or woman doesn’t like stubble, a depilatory cream may be preferable to shaving. As stance, however, refusal to “settle” is better suited (in my mind) as a response to substandard education or lack of access to health care.
[...]
Making a difference and being determined don’t have anything to do with hair removal.

Feministing is also zeroing in on the language of the campaign, though in this case first we have a bit of light-hearted fun-poking:

The Nair Pretty marketing scheme is half hilarious, half terrifying. Hilarious because of the obvious attempt to speak to young people in contrived slang:

It's not that you're obsessed or anything but maybe you've noticed that the hair on your legs (and other parts of your body) is just a little bit thicker and darker than before. Chill. You're growing up...it's all good.

I almost expected the next line to be about "getting jiggy" with hair removal.

This is immediately followed by a much more serious observation:

But it's still terrifying because the message of Nair Pretty is that you can't be pretty unless you're taking care of that unsightly leg (and everywhere else) hair.

Oh, right. That.

Sarah Et Cetera muses that it's not the hair removal itself at issue, here:

Those tweens and teens, the logic seems to say, should be outside playing games or at least not inside worrying about their leg and pit hair! And they sure as hell shouldn’t be reading magazines and associating hairlessness with prettiness.
[...] I can give on the last one easily– the advertising itself is disgusting. You don’t have to be selectively hairless to be pretty. And I can pretty well give on the second one, because yes, girls aged 10 should spend the majority of their time running around outside. But to say that they shouldn’t want to shave their legs, or that it’s not significant for them to come up on the age where they start shaving their legs is wrong-headed. Is it significant for a young man the first time he shaves his face? They why would it be any less significant for a girl the first time she shaves her legs.
[...]
Is it wrong for 10 year olds to use Nair, especially if Mom goes out and helps her buy it with her own allowance. No. No, no, double no, and don’t forget to moisturize. And don’t forget to talk about how pretty’s on the inside, even if smooth legs do feel really good.

I find Sarah's take really refreshing, because -- like her -- I can remember wanting to shave my legs at a younger age than my mother felt was appropriate. So as horrified as I am at the notion of little girls using hair removers, yes, let's remember that it's not the hair removal itself at issue here, but why and how we talk to our daughters about it.

DearSugar is running a reader poll on whether Nair Pretty is a good idea or a bad one, and I was surprised to see (with around 450 votes when I last checked) that "bad idea" is out in front, but not overwhelmingly so.

I have just two last thoughts to leave you with on this issue.

First, I've not seen any discussion out there about the fact that depilatories are made with harsh chemicals. I suppose slathering on something that smells like kiwi is preferable to your kid nicking an artery, but honestly, these are toxic substances we're discussing, even if they do smell like fruits or flowers. Hair aside, I'm not sure I want this stuff touching my kid.

Second, my daughter wandered into my office while I was reading the above-referenced pieces and asked me what I was writing about. I went ahead and gave her the summary version: There's a company that makes a hair remover and they're making it specifically for girls about her age. What did she think of that?

"That's really dumb," she declared, in all of her 9-and-a-half-year-old wisdom, "I'm not old enough to be worrying about shaving yet! I'm just a kid!"

And then I bought her a pony. (Okay, maybe not. But I sure as heck didn't buy her any Nair Pretty.)

Contributing Editor Mir also blogs about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda and Cornered Office, as well as sharing the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.

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