In a culture that peddles everything from hair-removal laser treatments to DIY wax strips to ensure women stay hairless at all times, it's unusual to see a woman unashamedly expose her unkempt underarms in public – let alone put them on display on a billboard. While international brands have recently turned their attention away from conventional standards of beauty in favour of diversity, this particular visual is still pretty striking in Shibuya, where passersby are used to seeing only flawlessly photoshopped faces on advertising.
Surprisingly, the company behind the ad, Kai Group, sells razor blades. However, the billboard’s headline loosely translates as ‘you decide what’s unnecessary’. That’s a reference to a common – and telling – name for armpit hair in Japanese: ‘unnecessary hair’. More impressively, the ad's hashtag, ‘剃るに自由’, translates to 'freedom in shaving', which aims to normalise body hair while urging people to reconsider preconceived norms about body hair and beauty. In short, it's asking people to decide for themselves what they really want to do with their body hair.
The brazen display will likely have conservative types clutching their pearls, but the billboard and the message behind it are a breath of fresh air for anyone who’s sick of the double standards in personal grooming. Especially in Japan, it really is refreshing to see an ad that doesn't urge women to buy a product by making them feel self-conscious about their looks.
In fact, it's revolutionary – not only empowering women to accept their bodies as they are, but to make their own choices about how they want to look. Hopefully, this marks the beginning of a new trend in the Japanese beauty industry and acts as a catalyst for people to embrace their bodies.
Unfortunately, that body-positive message is undercut a little when you discover that the model used for the campaign isn’t real. Meme, the freckle-faced girl with orange hair in the image, is actually one of Japan’s virtual models – she’s entirely computer generated. Apparently, in this day and age in Japan, it was easier to use a model that doesn’t exist than to find a single real person willing to show off their untrimmed roots.