These days, I often find myself toodling around on Instagram, minding my own business, when boom! A brand serves me an ad about pubic hair. To be clear, I have no problem with body hair. To each their own. It’s just not what I expect when I’m browsing through pictures of fall boots and my friends’ toddlers. But perhaps it’s time for me to get used to it, because many brands, it seems, are trying to make pube care a bigger part of your life—and, by extension, their business.
The latest brand to make the case for pubic hair is Flamingo, the women’s shaving brand developed by Harry’s. This week, the brand released a $12 Mons Mist, a conditioning spray for the hair in your nether regions that is designed to nourish the hair and skin at “every stage of growth.” The implication here is that the product can help people who decide to wax or shave their body hair. It’s named for the mons pubis, the delicate triangle of tissue on top of the pubic bone. On Flamingo’s website, there’s a sketch of that part of the body, along with the brand’s explanation of its anatomy-focused approach to the product and packaging design: “using anatomically accurate language and giving pubic hair thoughtful care has entirely reframed our relationships to it.”
In ads that supported the product launch, Flamingo emphasized women’s right to choose ( . . . pubes), attempting to play off of political mottos: “No Waxation Without Representation,” one full-page ad declared. “We Are Grow Choice,” said another. In a mailer sent out to the press, I received buttons that said, “The BUSH 2020” and “I’m with HAIR,” presumably as a nod to the political campaigns of George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton. It’s all very tongue in cheek, though some may take umbrage at the fact that political slogans and activist language around feminist issues have been co-opted by a company to sell more products.
Flamingo isn’t the only brand in the pro-hair camp. Over the summer, direct-to-consumer razor brand Billie launched an ad campaign called “Project Body Hair” pegged to the Fourth of July featuring women coming out of a pool sporting unshaven bikini lines. The message? We should stop thinking of body hair as taboo or embarrassing. Billie’s tagline was: “Red, White, and You Do You.” Another new direct-to-consumer brand called Fur is singularly focused on pubes with an impossibly wide range of products—its signature is a $45 hair softening oil that also prevents ingrown hairs. There are also exfoliating and regrowth-refining creams, along with on-the-go wash cloths. Most of these products seemed designed for women who remove their hair, rather than keep it. But like Flamingo, Fur also emphasizes language about choice. “We believe in a more inclusive definition of beauty,” it claims on its website. “Whether you think the bush is back or skin is in.”
While these brands are clearly trying to spark a broader conversation about women, body hair, and feminism, they’re also tapping into a business opportunity. Shaving is big business, generating $3.5 billion in revenue every year for both men’s and women’s products. While the industry as a whole has been shrinking over the last few years, the women’s segment of the market is expected to grow by 4% a year between 2018 and 2024. One reason for this growth appears to be that brands are drawing attention to women’s pubic hair care and creating entirely new products for them.
Over the last two decades, denuding the bikini area has become increasingly popular. In fact, one 2016 study of more than 3,000 women found that 62% of women have removed their pubic hair completely at some point.
But this trend is deeply entwined with notions of gender and societal expectations around grooming. Why do women feel need to be hairless in the first place, particularly when men don’t feel as much social pressure on this front? What about hair was so problematic or unfeminine? Why was female pubic hair deemed unhygienic, while men’s was not? The cultural association between hairlessness and femininity raises even more issues for trans, gender-fluid, and nonbinary people. Keeping pubic hair, or getting rid of it, can be an important aspect of identity. Crucially, Flamingo does not use gendered language about the Mons Mist, even though the brand is targeted at female-identified consumers.
Meanwhile, newspapers like the New York Times have carefully documented the ups and downs of body hair trends. In 2005, the newspaper ran a story titled “The Revised Birthday Suit” that described how women were getting their pubic hair permanently removed by laser, and in 2012, the Times described how girls as young as 12 felt pressured to get waxed before heading off to summer camp. But in 2014, it highlighted the fact that some celebrities—including Lady Gaga and Gwyneth Paltrow—are choosing to go against the grain by going au naturale.
On one level, the proliferation of pro-hair campaigns from startups is counterintuitive. After all, if Billie really wanted women to stop shaving their bikini lines, wouldn’t it lose a chunk of business? Not necessarily. Even women who choose not to shave are likely to have a razor in their bathroom. After all, it’s not an all or nothing situation. You might choose to shave one month, but not the next. Or you may shave your underarm hair. Keeping pubes on women’s mind invites them to think about their grooming practices, whatever they may be, and this is a win for Billie. The same holds true for Flamingo: By addressing pubic hair, the brand is now able to add a new product to its arsenal.
But these ads are really about starting conversations about the problematic expectations around women’s bodies, under the umbrella of a given brand. A Billie Instagram post featuring a woman with pubic hair sparked plenty of negative comments (“That’s just plain unAmerican” and “Gross”), but it also sported plenty of supportive ones. These pro-hair campaigns allow these brands to align themselves with progressive values. This kind of advertising allows them to break through the noise of social media—where many people discover brands and products for the first time.
So there you have it. Brands are now giving you permission to grow your pubes any way you choose. I’m not sure we really needed their seal of approval, but hopefully we can now get on with our lives and go back to the regularly scheduled programming on Instagram . . . which in my case is ads for Tamara Mellon knee-high boots and 4-year-old’s Halloween costumes.