Here’s a statement you’ve never heard from a feminist before: I really can’t stand the new Axe commercial.
You don’t need me to tell you that Axe’s commercials are eyerollingly sexist, with their insistence that their products will make you irresistible to hot, often naked, incredibly desirable but entirely interchangeable women. At first glance, though, their latest commercial for their new “natural look” hair cream is refreshingly un-Axe-like. But don’t be fooled.
The ad juxtaposes a Youtube-style hair tutorial for women and by a woman — who’s showing you a natural, seemingly effortless look you can pull together when you don’t have a lot of time (by women’s standards) or a lot of products (again, by women’s standards) — with an Axe man who’s just combing his Axe-y fingers through his hair and is ready to walk out the door in seconds. In the short version of the ad, impatient with how long her tutorial is taking, he steps out of his screen, fast forwards to the end of her video, and gives the viewer a smirk. Women, amirite? Always taking so long to apply the products they buy to make them look the way we tell them to look. In the longer version, that message is made more explicit: “You may have noticed that I was able to finish styling my hair before Samantha over here was able to finish telling you that she’s about to style her hair.” WOMEN, amirite? Always talking about applying the products they buy to make them look the way we like them to look. Then, the handsome, “effortlessly” coiffed guy’s friend comes into the frame and they discuss what to do with the time extra time they have while Samantha over here (ugh, stop it, Samantha, you’re so vain) finishes her hair. “Beauty takes time. Handsome doesn’t,” the ad concludes.
For women, the “natural look” is nothing new. Effortless perfection is expected of us: we’re supposed to look flawless, but not like we’ve tried “too hard,” or at all. The natural, “barely-there” look, according to most women’s magazines, requires a myriad of products and devices: the list usually includes tinted moisturizer or BB cream, concealer, blush and/or bronzer, an eyelash curler, mascara, and lip colour or gloss. You’re also going to need to style your hair into “natural” waves, and apply clear or “nude” nail polish. That’s an awful lot of money, time, and energy to spend on looking like you didn’t even try. Guys tell us that they like “women who don’t wear makeup,” but I’d be willing to bet that those same guys, if confronted with a woman who was not, in fact, wearing makeup, would be appalled — what they actually like are women who don’t look like they’re wearing a lot of makeup, who don’t appear to have to try to look clear-skinned, rosy-cheeked and wide-eyed.
Women understand this (we also understand that it’s largely only white women who can get away with appearing not to give a shit about their appearance; that affectation reads very differently on women of colour because racism). Men — and particularly young white men with disposable income — seem to be the new marketing frontier for this particularly vexing regime of trying but not trying. It was only a matter of time before corporations realized there was money to be made not just in making men feel inadequate about their bodies, but in convincing them to conceal the labour that goes in to correcting those inadequacies. Welcome to the misery of effortless perfection, boys. We’ve been expecting you.
Here’s what you can expect from the “natural,” “effortless” look, gentlemen. As you’ll have guessed by now, it is neither natural nor effortless. It will require money, time, and the acquisition of hair-styling knowledge (good thing Axe has a series of online tutorials, huh?). As Axe’s own ad points out, you could be spending that money, time, and energy doing something else, but then again, as Axe also stresses — in another ad for the same product line — “women go wild for a guy who doesn’t try. At all. Not one little bit.” Not that you care what women think, dudes, because you’re so cool and laconic and awesome. Then again, you want women to go wild for you, right? So you want “a hairstyle that says ‘I don’t give a damn’” (please note that not giving a damn will cost you $6.99 for 2.64 fluid ounces).
Most importantly, though, you can expect to be roundly mocked if you’re caught trying to look good. Let “Samantha over here” be a cautionary tale: trying is incredibly uncool. No one wants to know how the sausage gets made, and you wouldn’t want anyone thinking that you’re, like, gay, or something. Or worse, a woman. Women, always eating salads so they can be skinny, when you just want them to relax and eat burgers and drink beer without getting fat. Women, always running off to the gym, when you just want them to hang out and have sex with you as long as they’re skinny. Whatever you do, don’t act like a woman. Beauty takes time, but handsome doesn’t, so don’t let anyone know you’re trying to be handsome. Keep your hair care habits hush.
And try not to resent the extra work required to make it look like you didn’t do any work. You know, just like women do.