It always feels ungenerous to criticise another’s work, especially when it embodies a symptom of something, rather than the source. Especially when the harm caused is not necessarily evident. These are, however, the moments when, perhaps, it is most pressing to react. Cathy Karsenty‘s comic inspired advertisements for Veet (Virginie Illustrator Agency) represent such an instantiation.
The four plates each depict a tale of two polar opposite experiences hinged upon body hair. One decidedly positive, the other decidedly negative. Indeed, by means of a sort of depilatory chiaroscuro – one frame light, the other far murkier – through their very form and narratives each of these vignettes silently casts visible female body hair as a bad object and as a producer of bad and significantly of sad bodies. These bodies are offensive to others, specifically males, because a hairy pit is clearly a smelly pit, and repellent to wildlife and pets. Cats can be terribly fickle. Only the prickly porcupine and hedgehog can bear to be close to a hirsute female body (obviously). Through their playful tones, then, these images actively narrow the horizon of corporeal possibilities available to women.
A woman is either mustachioed or Marilyn. Hairy and stinky or shaven and attractive. Unshaven and alone or smooth and some sort of Earth Mother. Camouflaged and clumsy or dazzling in hot pink. In essence, these advertisements stress the old adage: women’s bodies are unacceptable as they are. This is subtle coercion veiled as consumerist ‘choice’ – a shroud the negative episodes literally wear thanks to the grey gauze their world is apparently cloaked in.
Yet just as the vignettes edit out alternatives to the pervasive hairlessness norm through their juxtaposition, as if an actual comic we can choose how we read and occupy the gap. We needn’t move smoothly from point A to B and if we do we can do so of our own accord and not for the comfort of others. We can be both mustachioed and Marilyn after all…
Praise for the campaign, however, is very much due because although cartoons the scenes of depilation actually feature body hair!