The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

March 19, 2008

A Rant on Shaving and the Power of Advertising

The next two posts have been inspired by entries on the Life Less Plastic blog. Today’s, by the comments on shaving, and tomorrow’s in response to her post on composting.

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.

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6 years ago

Historian Ruth Goodman (of BBC Historical Farm documentaries fame, give them a watch on YouTube if you have the time) claims that most of the ladies’ products seen in advertisements were before either discreetly sold under the counter or home made. You found out about them from other women.

As for hair removal specifically, be it shaving or depilatory concoctions, it has been going on since antiquity, both for men and women, if one trusts archaeological and documentary evidence.

9 years ago

How do you find shaving your arm pits?

11 years ago

thank you, beth. it does make sense. i’ll plan to get one for after my disposables are finished.

11 years ago

hi, beth. thank you so much for all of the information you have on your site. i’m interested in switching to a metal razor but i do find the idea scary. i don’t shave my legs but do shave my underarms and pubic hair. i’m not asking you to do an actual experiment but could you try to imagine what that would be like and, if it was your practice, would you feel safe using the metal razor to do it?


13 years ago

i know this is really old, but thought i’d mention that i never use shave cream/soap. I use oil. i love almond and jojoba – and you can get both in glass jars (although mine have a plastic top). I’ve always used oils and love how smooth my legs get. (I just use bar soap for my pits.)

Anyway, your site is really inspiring me to rethink how i do things. I have a looooong way to go! But I’m going and not ignoring anymore. That means something, right?

Perfect Shave
14 years ago

You are right, Beth. Wet-shaving also means less waste. Just think about all the non-recyclable plastic that goes into multi-blade cartridges and handles, and the aerosol cans that release harmful by-products into the environment. Switching to old-style shaving props won’t gain you entry into Green Peace by itself, but it is a good start.

I’ve replaced aerosol cans and disposable razors with a Merkur double edge razor, a good shaving soap and a pure badger shaving brush. Three simple elements that are not only able to give me a bettter shave, but that put together create a moment to unwind and do something for myself that I can enjoy and feel good about.

Beth Terry
15 years ago

Hi Conscious Shopper. First of all, the blades I buy last a very, very long time compared to Venus blades. And if you keep them dry after using them, they will last even longer. After that, I just keep the used blades in a little box and at some point I will find a place to recycle them. Recycling metal is much easier than recycling plastic. Plastic recycling is actually downcycling.

The Conscious Shopper
15 years ago

I recently dropped my Venus razor and broke the razor blade, and then discovered that I was all out of new blades, so now I’m trying to decide if I want to stick with the Venus or try something more environmentally friendly.

I’m interested in the safety razor, but I’m wondering – what do you do with the blades when you’re finished with them? Have you found a way to recycle them, or do you throw them away? If you’re throwing them away, is that better, environmentally speaking, than throwing away the blades encased in plastic (if for instance, I got a Preserve razor or stuck with the Venus)?

15 years ago

I stopped shaving my legs years ago (I am 34 w/ 2 kids) my husaband believes that shaving is society’s way of “childifying” women so that they look younger and continually look like children instead of women. Neither of my children want to shave either (although they are just 12 and 13 right now – we’ll see as they get older). He shaves w/ a straight razor and homemade shaving cream (no plastic or chemicals and he says it is better!) still looking for a recipe for homemade conditioner for hair that doesn’t involve covering my (and my daughter’s) head w/ mayo or avacodo and waiting 20-45 minutes – any ideas?

15 years ago

When I was in high school, I read an extremely boring book called The History of King Gilette. It outlined the growth in popularity for female shaving, and surprisingly it’s linked to feminism – men shaved, so women were going to shave too, and all those parts that people weren’t supposed to see. Very frustrating to see that turned into a standard that women feel forced into doing.

I stopped shaving after reading that book, but took up waxing a few years later because … well, I’m very hairy. lol I find waxing to be less of a hassle. Not sure how it stacks up environmentally.

15 years ago

I’ve heard clark howard talking about using one 17cent razor for a year! Simply dry it off after each use. I’ve been doing it for over 2months with the same razor so far. Brilliant.

Blue Collar Crunch
15 years ago

Using a safety razor doesn’t seem crazy to me, but it does seem…impressive, and brave, even? I’m know it’s just that the marketing has done its job on me, but the plastic cartidges are all I’ve ever known, and I freely admit that the idea of switching freaks me out. Articles that give overly-detailed advice on the care you need to take to avoid injuring yourself (like this one: tend to only freak me out more. I mean, “blade angles”, really?

In the meantime, I’m just dunking my plastic razor heads in alcohol after each shave, to prolong both their life, and the day I’ll have to make a real decision about this.

Oh, and here’s an amusing link for you – a Mother Earth article from 1972 on how wasteful “all those steel blades” are, and how everyone should use a straight razor…funny how time changes things, adding yet another level of waste to the process.

15 years ago

I know it’s still made of plastic (which defeats the purpose of this blog) but I hate disposable stuff and buying things just to throw them away so I switched to one of the electric things that actually plucks the hairs out. I’ve been using it now for about 6 years, the hairs on my legs are so fine the ‘plucker’ can’t even grasp them so they remain and I have to shave my pits about once every other week or so. It’s not a solution to no plastic but it is a very good option to disposables for those afraid of the metal razor.

15 years ago

I stopped shaving my armpits last year, mostly out of laziness. I’m actually quite pleased with the way they’ve grown back in, it’s kinda silky :) It definitely DOES hold armpit odor more than bare skin, though; this is easily dealt with more attentive hygiene.

I’m still shaving my legs because hair getting caught in pantyhose or leggings ranges from annoying to painful.

My husband’s reaction was “meh, whatever” — he doesn’t mind either way. I expect a few funny looks while at the beach this summer, but I’m 29 and overweight and a mother of two — I’m not really out there to look drop-dead gorgeous anyway.

15 years ago

I just read organic needles post and answered my ??? thanks organicneedle

15 years ago

LOL am enjoying the comments LPF! Has eanyone read there is a company that makes a recyclable razor? I had hear that a while back and wonderd if anyone has any info?

15 years ago

i stopped shaving this winter. i even stopped using deodorant, both products marketed to us in the ‘beauty’ category. i did it because 1. i was sick of razor burn and 2. sick of putting a chemical on top of that razor burn (because the amount I DO sweat, that organic crap doesn’t hack it).

And what did I discover? I started to smell my body order less. I don’t think I sweat less either, so I sweat the same amount, but didn’t smell bad. (one might say I got used to my own smell, but i didn’t get complaints from anyone who knows and spends time with me) And my armpit hair grew in, but it didn’t overwhelm me, being not so hairy an individual to begin with. And eventually, I even started feeling…SEXY! My armpit hair made me feel exotic and foreign. Sexy!

I shaved my armpits recently as part of my “Spring Clean Up” and surprisingly, the hair is growing back much slower and thinner, so I may not need to shave quite as much as I did before.

So, that was my experience. Just wanted to put it out there.

15 years ago

Per comments by Jennifer and Maria, when I was a lad my father told me that if I didn’t want to be smelly, the best thing to do was shave my pits (a male speaking here).

In the early 70’s there were plenty of women running around with hairy armpits – it was do your own thing time then.

Currently my honeybunny shaves her legs even though I’ve told her she doesn’t need to for me…and she continually asks about it so there is definitely a thing in the head about women and hairy legs.

I do draw the line at women with moustaches…yuck, instant repulsion for me.

terrible person
15 years ago

Didn’t Kate Winslet have hairy armpits in movies like Holy Smoke and Hideous Kinky, in which she played free-spirited hippie chick types? But they were not huge hits. Maybe that’s why.

In terms of historical accuracy in movies, I’m pretty sure the Romans, and many cultures since, have used depilatories, but I’m not sure on what parts of their bodies. Also, maybe in times when people went around wearing a million layers of clothing (except when they were jumping into bed with each other, or maybe even then) their hair grew less quickly, since it grows more in response to cold, doesn’t it? Maybe I’m wrong. Anyway, it would be funny to see a swords-and-sandals movie or a bodice-ripper with actually hairy women, but what American actress would do that. Maybe in European films, because it’s more accepted even today.

Beth was trying to get me to use a straight razor. Considering how often I cut myself with a three-bladed safety model, and after seeing “Sweeney Todd”, I felt this wasn’t such a good idea.

When I was bicycling a lot, fifteen or twenty years ago, I shaved my legs. It took forever the first time. Anyone remember the movie Breaking Away, the best movie ever made about a guy named Stohler who rides a bicycle …

15 years ago

Holy moly! I never thought of metal safety razors – what a great idea? I have a problem with the wasteful plastic used in most razors and was doing waxing only for a while. I’m checking my options on Ebay!

15 years ago

What a fascinating post! It’s clear that from razors to disposable pads and tampons TPTB have been trying to get us to consume more.

I am still using my Venus razor, and I probably will continue to use it. I only change my blade like once a year. I know most people think that’s insane, but I figure, if it’s still getting the hair off, it’s fine. I still have three or four blades left from the last time I bought blades- which was at least a year ago, maybe two years ago. One of the other things I’ve learnt is that TPTB will always claim that you need to “change things out” more often than you actually need to. I’m sure my Venus blades aren’t “supposed” to last a year, but they last just fine for me.

15 years ago

Great post! I’ve been using the type of razor with the disposable blades for years…but have always felt guilty about having to throw them away. Not to mention that they are ridiculously expensive. I never knew about safety razors, but what a great option! Thanks for posting where you got the blades..maybe I can get a decent safety razor on ebay too. I’m still not totally sure how they work – would love to see a post with details of how they work (i.e. how the blade is put in)…and what do you do with the blades when you’re done? Do you just throw them away? They’re pretty small, so probably not worth taking to a scrap metal place?

15 years ago

i just think it’s odd that women have to decide in the first place whether or not to shave their underarms/legs, and men don’t. they can take it for granted that it’s not something they need to do unless they’re olympic swimmers. yet we sit here weighing the pros and cons.

Mrs Green
15 years ago

fabulous post – thank you for making my day! I have completely fallen for the ‘society pressure’ to be smooth and it runs waaaay deep because I really believe that I like to be smooth for ME. (my husband doesn’t care if I look like a woolly mammoth tbh) But I can’t think that, because being smooth is not ‘natural’. So thinking like that has come from *somewhere* and I guess it’s society.

Like you point out, until a relatively short time ago in human evolution, women didn’t even *think* amount removing their hair (I guess it provided a much-needed insulating layer under their skirts).

Now I just de fur my hocks it in the summer, but go au natrelle for the winter. Trouble it, I give my husband a run for his money in the dark, hairy legs stakes. Good job he doesn’t feel I threaten his masculinity ;)

Anyway, I did have a giggle the other week when I rented ‘Clan of the cave bears’. Daryl Hannah had not a hair on her legs or pits. I wonder what they used back in the cave days – tusk of woolly mammoth for a cut-throat shave (I guess I better start running) with a little decocted soapwort for lather?

If you want to call me to come and hold your hand, you could always make your own wax from sugar and honey. We can always eat the leftovers or make fly traps from it.

Keep up the great work!

Mrs Green x

15 years ago

A good compromise between the two camps may be Preserve’s razors. (I will have a little review on them later in the week.) They are plastic, but made out of recycled #5s. When you are done with the handles, Recycline will take them back and make park benches and stuff with them. I avoid the metal razors because of this pesky infestation of toddlers I have. :)

15 years ago

I am scared to have razor blades around because there are two people in this house (myself included) who have previously either experienced suicidal ideation or actually attempted suicide.

15 years ago

THe whole “social expectation” of shaving is why I STOPPED shaving. I was 16, and there was NO WAY people were going to tell ME what to do. :)

15 years later, I haven’t shaved my legs yet. I asked my husband one day if he would like me to… and he say “NO.. that would be unnatural! Totally unsexy for you”. So there it lies. :)

I do shave my underarms… but not from sociatal pressure to have smooth armpits. It’s more from societal pressure not to STINK. :) I found that my body odor quotient when up exponentially when I didn’t shave, and I would have to shower every DAY! WIth shaved pits, I shower once a week, and no one is the wiser (not even my husband- he can rarely guess what day I’m on)

15 years ago

I enjoyed that history lesson – thanks!

I don’t shave. I have been a ballet, modern and now burlesque dancer, and even worked delivering Strip-A-Grams during university, and I have only ever shaved for specific purposes, say, for a video in which I played a shaved character. Sometimes, people have referred to my look as “European”, but aside from that, I haven’t noticed any feedback for my transgression.

I have never been very hairy, actually.

Now that my 13 year old is shaving, I have to deal with a plethora of plastic razors and packages of blades on the bathroom floor in the path of my two year old. So boo hiss shaving!

15 years ago

Altho you don’t seem to need to prolong the life of your blades, you can rinse them with alcohol after using, then dry them. I think it’s the drying part that works, the alcohol disinfects.

As an aside, when I went to college in the 60’s, when you were just a baby, it was common not to shave legs in the winter cause they were covered up, and shaving the underarms, only if you had a new boyfriend and then sometimes not. This was for ‘hippies’ and not hippies too. We just couldn’t see the sense.

Also, have you ever lived in an old house where there was a small slot in the back of the medicine chest? Builders would put that in so razor blades could be disposed of – I’m not kidding. Bellen

15 years ago

I actually wasn’t subjected to advertisements about how bad hairy pits were…I just listened to my own mind when I hit puberty.

I shaved my arms (find it a bit strange that many women go to great lengths to remove hair from legs but not from their sometimes hairy arms), legs, and arm pits. I used to use hair removal cream but they caused skin discoloration and smell awful, so I switched to using razors. Over the past few years I’ve stopped shaving my arms and now my arm pits because I realized I generally don’t wear sleeveless clothes or wave my arms around showing everyone my under arm hair.
I’m still holding on to my last disposable razor and will just borrow my husband’s safety razor when my blades get rusty.

BTW, on lifelessplastic you mentioned buying ecover laundry detergent. Have you considered making your own? Its really easy. I make about 3 gallons at a time that last months and the recipe I use is:
1/3 cup washing soda, 1/3 cup borax, 1/3 bar of ivory (or any other soap) all melted in a saucepan of hot water and mixed in with the rest of the water in a bucket. The final product looks like snot but it works! I use about half a cup of the snot to wash a single load. Washing soda and Borax is available in Acme or similar grocery stores and are packaged in cardboard.

15 years ago

Stop ragging on me, FPF :) You’re gonna make me cry.

As I said in the comments over on my page, I have to fully admit that those marketing gurus have had their way with me and have convinced me that disposable plastic razors are the only option for shaving. And I also admit that I’m too young to remember a time when there was any other option besides plastic and disposable (says something about our culture lately, doesn’t it?)

Soooo, that’s why I’m glad you’re around letting us know that safety razors are in fact an option and work pretty well (Does it sound like I’m calling you old? I swear I’m not. Hehe).

I still have one disposable razor left, but after that, I’m definitely gonna go out and get myself one of these here safety razors…and I promise to stop calling them crazy on my blog :)