So here we go. Back in August, I posted Plastic-free Shaving, Part 1, about my solution for plastic-free hair removal: a metal safety razor from a second-hand store and stainless steel blades. I had intended to write Part 2 after I had tested the various plastic-free shave soaps out there and decided which one worked best for me.
Well, I’ve now tried Simmons, Williams, and Lush Emperor of Ice Cream soap and found them all equally effective. I think any rich soap with a good lather and enough moisturizing oils will work fine. The point is to help the blade travel over the skin smoothly.
So this isn’t Part 2 of Plastic-free shaving. Instead, it’s a comment on my experience shaving this way so far and a rant about the ways advertisers manipulate us into believing we need to buy or do something different to be happy.
The photo above is an ad from the May 1915 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, reported to be the first time that women were encouraged to shave their pits. According to The Straight Dope, within three months of the ad appearing, “the once-shocking term ‘underarm’ was being used. A few ads mentioned hygiene as a motive for getting rid of hair but most appealed strictly to the ancient yearning to be hip. ‘The Woman of Fashion says the underarm must be as smooth as the face,’ read a typical pitch.”
Before reading this article, it really didn’t occur to me that before 1915, women simply didn’t think about shaving. They were hairy. Nude scenes from films set before 1915 are totally anachronistic if the women’s bodies are clean-shaven, aren’t they? But what mainstream film-goer wants to see Kate Winslet with hairy pits?
So yeah, I was born 50 years later, after American women had become thoroughly conditioned to shave their body hair, and I do shave my own underarms and legs. Sometimes. Back in the late 70′s, when I first started shaving, I used my dad’s metal safety razor. Used it, that is, until I saw the commercials for Schick’s new “Personal Touch” razor, the first cartridge system made for and marketed to women. It was pretty. Feminine. Curved. And of course, plastic. I was a teenager, impressionable, desperately afraid I wasn’t girlie enough, and needed approval. We were a match made in marketing heaven.
Life Less Plastic wrote in a comment that using a safety razor seemed “a bit crazy.” I’m not ragging on her at all. She’s too young to remember metal safety razors, just as I’m too young to remember the time before women felt they had to shave in the first place. And we’re all probably too young to remember the time prior to 1909 when men shaved with straight razors and there were no such things as disposable blades.
According to this Wikipedia article, Gilette invented disposable blades as a way to continually sell his product. He could sell the razor handle at little to no profit and then jack up the prices of the blades. The problem was that other manufacturers jumped in and created their own blades for these razors. Thus, in 1971, Gilette introduced the Trac II razor, and the plastic cartridge was born, returning the company’s control over the blades used with its razors.
Companies that make plastic cartridges claim they are safer and work better. From experience I can tell you that they may be a little safer when you’re changing the blade. My advice: just be careful. But aside from changing the blade, using the safety razor is not scary at all. In fact, I think I cut myself LESS with my safety razor than I did with my plastic Personal Touch or Venus razors because I don’t have to push as hard.
The safety razor blades that I bought from eBay come 100 to a box and last a very, very long time. Since I bought them back in August, I’ve only changed the blade about 3 times. Granted, I don’t shave every day, so your mileage may vary. But they do stay sharp longer than my Venus cartridges used to. And I’m happy that they are not made from plastic.
So yes, if I weren’t influenced by advertising and our culture, I probably wouldn’t shave at all. But I think it’s important to at least be aware of why we make the choices that we do, and to question advertising of all kinds before buying in to it. (Including the advertising on Fake Plastic Fish!) Especially scare tactics meant to drive us away from perfectly good tools that never gave us a lick of trouble until the marketers came along to convince us otherwise.