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Courtesy of Billie

Why women should take part in Movember

Razor brand Billie’s new ad asks women to grow out their facial hair for charity – raising both awareness and eyebrows – but can it help us bust the last natural hair taboo?

Earlier this month, razor brand Billie released a new advert celebrating the uncelebrated: female facial hair. “A ‘stache is a ‘stache is a ‘stache,” says the video, which shows a bunch of young women first trying to remove their facial hair, before giving in to growing it out. The cause? Movember, the charity initiative that traditionally encourages men to grow out their facial hair for the month of November, in order to raise money towards men’s health causes ranging from prostate cancer to depression. The video declares that Billie will match any funds raised by women who take up the challenge, donating to the Movember Foundation

At first, it seems strange that a razor brand – who exist to help you with hair removal – would suggest going free and natural, but it’s not the first time Billie has taken this approach. In 2018, the Project Body Hair campaign shot by Ashley Armitage made Billie the first brand to show female body hair in a razor advert, and in June, Billie created a campaign of images of people with thick pubic hair, the message being that shaving is every woman’s choice. 

According to Movember the organisation, they were not at all involved in creating Billie’s ad. However, Kellie Paich, a spokesperson from Movember, says they’re grateful to Billie “for encouraging women to get involved” and for supporting “the work Movember is doing to change the face of men’s health for all of our fathers, brothers, sons, and friends globally.” Movember is not just a reason for men to raise money, Paich adds, but women too. Yet, while it’s undoubtedly a positive thing that women do their bit for men’s health, the girls in Billie’s advert argue that there’s a second cause, for women: female facial hair is shrouded in stigma, and women everywhere still feel forced to remove their ‘staches in order to conform. 

Claire who is 27, from Seattle, and one of the people in the Billie campaign remembers that as a teenager she was “very self-conscious” about her hair, “my unibrow and moustache in particular,” she says. Claire shaved and plucked them both almost daily for most of her life, pretty much up until the Billie shoot, for which she found it hard – psychologically – to grow out her moustache. Similarly, Brielle, 27, from Florida and also in the advert, grew up feeling a lot of shame around her female facial hair. “I always tried to tweeze my moustache away. I remember watching it grow in while I was in high school and thinking, ‘Gross!’ I hated it.” 

For Sofia Dobrushin, 23 and from Brooklyn, also in the ad, facial hair led to serious bullying: “It really took a toll and it shouldn’t have. Being a Jewish-Russian, Mexican and Puerto Rican baby in a predominantly white neighbourhood, I had no concept of my body hair being a normal and natural thing. I was called ‘monkey’ by the boys in my grade school. I didn’t see people like me with body hair, everyone was a naked mole-rat and I was one of those long-haired guinea pigs, cute and fuzzy but unaware of how truly cute I was!”

When asked why the stigma around female facial hair exists, Claire says she thinks it’s to do with wider societal conditioning around women’s natural body hair: “I think moustaches on women are taboo because of the (general) beauty standards set upon us by our society,” she explains, because if you see women being attacked for growing out armpit or leg hair, why would you feel comfortable growing out your facial hair? See the Adidas advert that led model Arvida Bystrom to receive rape threats for showing her leg hair, the kickback Ashley Armitage’s Billie campaign received when she was targeted by trolls, or the controversy around Nike’s advert showing Annahstasia Enuke’s underarm hair. 

Sofia attributes some of this stigma around female body and facial hair to razor brands: “Women only started shaving in 1915, because when the men were off to war, Gillette still needed to sell razors. And so Gillette thought, ‘yeah, let’s just tell women they are inadequate and need to better themselves and then we can make a profit off it,’” she says. This is actually why Sofia agreed to do the Billie ad, she claims because seeing a razor brand support natural hair felt like a positive departure from this negative history. 

According to Brielle, facial hair is still a big taboo – maybe the last taboo in the natural hair conversation – but she believes that is slowly changing. “We're starting to see models in ads that really represent everyone. It's so beautiful,” she says. “The more we see femme facial hair represented in social media the sooner it will become normalised.”

People like Harnaam Kaur – who has a full beard due to polycystic ovary syndrome – have been campaigning to raise awareness about conditions that could lead to facial hair to grow in unexpected places. Similarly, Greek Cypriot American model and activist Sophia Hadjipanteli campaigns under the hashtag #unibrowmovement for more acceptance around natural eyebrows, particularly unibrows. But there is a long way to go. As Sophia explains to Dazed Beauty: “I’ve always believed that if you are different or if you do something different you have to expect a response that is different. The sheer amount of hate and bullying I have received over the years for having a unibrow has only encouraged me to advocate for change. I receive a lot of negativity every single day from people who I have never met, and likely never will.” It doesn’t help young people when they are constantly told to shave or pluck, she says, “instead they need to be shown that they can decide for themselves.”

By tagging onto Movember, the Billie campaign could help: “I think it's an interesting statement that not all people who have moustaches are men,” says Claire, and Sofia agrees. she believes that the ad could help us move beyond essentialist ideas about who should or shouldn’t have a moustache, helping us to reclaim moustaches from the realm of the masculine. This is particularly effective alongside the recent resurgence of interest in drag king culture, and queer artists like King Princess or Dorian Electra, who play with gender by wearing a moustache. 

“My favourite thing about the ad was how it ends with “A stache is a stache”, because that’s the moral I think we should be focusing on as we explore beauty outside of the binary,” Sofia says. “A stache is a stache and a lipstick is lipstick. People should be able to feel good in any way they see fit, regardless of gender, and if we change the language we use to talk about our bodies and beauty standards, we will not only make way for inclusion of trans folk, but also expand on the very concept and meaning of beauty.” 

While we’ve seen movements for armpit hair, or leg hair or pubic hair receive backlash and abuse online, the people in the recent Billie campaign say that thankfully they have only really had a positive response. In fact, they say that young people have reached out to say how empowered it made them feel. Maybe this means that we’re not as behind as we think we are, that we’re ready to start seeing more women with facial hair. 

“If I had seen an ad like this growing up, who knows the amount of money, time, and energy I could have spent on learning about autonomy or just being a kid and loving myself,” concludes Sofia. On top of that, she says, by aligning with something as important as a health charity, the advert also made her think about how absurd it was to be spending so much energy and money on concealing or removing her facial hair instead of focusing on more important issues like healthcare, climate change or reproductive rights. 

But what if you don’t have a moustache to grow out, and want to support Movember? “We know many women may choose not to grow but want them to be able to participate,” says the charity. “Women can get involved by either doing the Move challenge or hosting an event to fundraise. All of these activities continue to help raise funds and awareness for men’s health,” they conclude. “We believe Movember is an opportunity for everyone to be a part of.”