She’s a floorwaxer and a dessert topping!

Unilever, Unilever, Unilever. The company that brought us the marketing triumphs of Slimfast formula for fatties, and Lynx/Axe perfumed men’s body products.

Now Unilever had rebranded hair-product range Suave for the noughties, with their “Pretty Mommy Movement” (retch). The catchphrases?

“Be a model mom”.

“No matter what kind of hair you have, there’s a Suave Professionals line to help you avoid the postpartum ponytail at all costs.”

“89% of moms admit they’ve let themselves go. 100% can get themselves back.”

This campaign berates white/het/married/middle-class/NorthAmerican mothers for falling wholesale off the femme-drag consumer bandwagon and “letting themselves go”. There’s just no way to say that without a disapproving “tut” and a lowered-voice gossip-whisper, is there? “Oh, Lauredhel? She’s let herself go. Such a shame, she could be so pretty, if only she’d take care of herself.”

It’s a not-so-new Fifties twist on the madonna-whore double-bind. Whatever women do within the two choices available to them, they’re to blame for the unthinkably dreadful consequences. Either minister attentively to your family and let yourself go, or engage in a high-maintenance, time-consuming beauty/sexiness regime while neglecting your duties to your poor floundering helpless family. Well, Suave is here to tell us we not only can do both (Hoorah, how empowering!), but we have a responsibility to do both. Being a non-sexxxay but attentive domestic-goddess momwife is no longer an Approved Womanly Status. A responsibility to who, I wonder? We’re not only depriving our husbands of wifey sexbotty goodness, but we’re embarrassing our kids in public by not being yummy mummies, and we’re just generally recklessly being eyesores when daring to show our un-primped locks in public.

Not only that – but performing the sexbot routine is somehow twisted around into not only a woman’s duty to family but a duty to herself, the one thing a momslave is permitted to do “for herself” (huh?) in a day. Under the Suavoscope, we’re not granted meaningful non-domestic work, friends, hobbies, sports, or activism. We’re offered the latitude of not feeling fulfilled with 100% full-time motherhood, but the only out involves submitting to dead-eyed ‘n’ shiny-haired corporate compliance after being benevolently bestowed with the “luxury” of having five minutes cuddled up to a curling iron and a bottle of hairspray.

So. It’s Flash-fucked, so I’ve grabbed some screenshots for you. The main thrust of the campaign involves the use of a pile of tut-tutting “statistics” to lecture us faux-sympathetically on exactly how negligent we’ve been of our feminine duties. Be warned, the colour scheme and graphics are of a cutesy-wutesiness typically reserved for Care Bears and toy stripper-poles.

“The average mom devotes 87.9 minutes a day to meals and only 4.2 minutes to her hair.”

“When listing her priorities, the average mom ranks doing the floors higher than doing her hair.”

“The average mom spends 3.2 hours per week doing laundry and only 72 minutes on her hair.”

“Doing dishes accounts for 3% of the average mom’s day. Doing her hair, 1%.”

“The average mom will turn on her burners 718 times per year. She’ll turn on her curling iron only 134 times.”

I don’t know about you, but I reacted to these “statistics” with a spectrum of responses ranging from “Yeah, that sounds about right”, to “Well, no, my partner does most of that”, and “Curling iron? What’s a curling iron and why would I turn it on 134 times a year?” I have a feeling I’m supposed to be gasping and sprinting to the mirror, clutching my postpartum ponytail in one hand and my pearls in the other, in a scandalised “Oh my god, I forgot to fold, spindle and mutilate my hair!” parody of Munch’s Scream. But I just can’t seem to muster the dismay.

The Canadian Suave campaign goes a step further again, right into classic PUA (Pick-Up Artist) techniques like “negging”. Negging is one method misogynistic little wankstains use to pick up women in bars: they offer an inept compliment, then turn around and slam a woman’s appearance. Apparently making sure a woman knows she’s nothing special to look at is a sure-fired way to make her slavishly fascinated by a PUA’s Axe-soaked aura. So, Suave’s Tip #6?

“You Used to Have Sculpted Arms, Now it’s Sculpted Hair!
You may have kissed stomach definition good-bye, but say hello to instant definition for your hair. “

And computer wallpapers? Suave has got your computer wallpapers right here. Just in case you’re a bit tired of that beautiful sunset or snowy mountain scene or photos of your kids, you too can have vomitous violet advertisements on the computer you only use to obtain essential haircare information and floor-waxing pointers. The wallpapers feature these inspirational mantras:

Put the Va-Va-Voom in Minivan”

“Wear R-rated hair for your G-rated life”

And women are not just responsible for maintaining our own shiny, silky hair and bootylicious come-hither looks. We’re responsible for the glossiness and bouquet of the men and children in our lives, too.

“Flaunt the squeaky cleanest family on the block. Yes it is possible for your kids and their daddy to look and smell like they just stepped out of a photo shoot. If you can convince them to hop into the tub or shower, we’ll take care of the rest with hair and skin care formulated just for them.”

Because FSM forbid they take responsibility for their own damn personal hygiene when there’s a personal bodyservant just begging to do it for them.

Categories: gender & feminism, relationships

Tags: , , , , , ,

16 replies

  1. I’ve seen the commercials with the “89% of moms admit they’ve let themselves go…” quote-unquote statistic, and I just sit there seething. I’m sure husband is wondering why there’s a low gutteral “rrrrrgh” emitting from my throat.
    The time stats (only four minutes doing her hair, compared to food!) are simply madmaking. It’s telling you: there’s something wrong with you if you spend more of your time making sure you and your family’s basic needs are taken care of (food, shelter, clothing) than on beauty practices. So that you don’t offend the world around you by having slightly frazzled hair, you know.
    Damn “postpartum ponytail” for being so catchy — those are words that stick to your brain, even if you know they’re ridiculous.

  2. Funny how when someone can make a buck out of it we go from the traditional “postpartum disheveled hair means the sex was fantastic” meme to “OMG, unperfect hair spoils that orgasm he just had”.

  3. D’oh. How did I read “post partum” as “post coital”? Please ignore my lapse.
    Need more coffee.

  4. How the hell does 4.2 minutes a week add up to 72 minutes a week?
    I’m still in my jarmies, my short (quite grey) hair is sticking up all over the place. This may or may not change before my partner gets home & my friend gets here for dinner.
    Why do baby books all emphasise getting your hair (and sometimes also nails) done before birth? Why do they all mention the importance of getting an hour every six weeks so you can do one of life’s more boring self maintenance tasks? Why don’t they ever say “Negotiate with your partner a set time every week so that you can meet up with your old workmates for post-work champagne”? Or “Make sure you get some time every week to read a book before you collapse with exhaustion at the end of the day”? Because mothers aren’t allowed to have fun and we’re stupid. Obviously.
    Now why don’t they do some really important research? I want to see this: 99% of babies are interested in computer cables, with CableOff 100% of parents can rest assured their baby will show no interest at all in the computer, dvd player, or mobile phone charger.

  5. Shortly after I wrote that I got covered in vomit. Mmmm yoghurt, apples and pear. Noice.
    Really, my hair is the least of my beauty worries. And today’s shower just moved up the agenda.

  6. I never understood the phrase “she let herself go” as a child.
    I imagined it meant that, one day, my mother would simply decide not to pick me up from school, having decided to “let herself go” somewhere much nicer instead. Like an Italian holiday. I still automatically think “go where??” .

  7. “postpartum ponytail”? So what if you had bad hair to begin with? I guess that would make you a lost cause. I’m so glad Suave is here to save us.

  8. 100% of advertising executives and other assorted patriarchal fuckwits spend less than 1% of their time behaving like actual decent human beings !
    Now that’s what I call “letting yourself go”.

  9. kate: I spent most of my lad’s babyhood covered in vomit also. I spent much more time ensuring I had a change of shirt available than I did primping my ponytail (which I’ve worn (whenever my hair was long) since my teens). When he was a year old, even the ponytail went off to Locks of Love.
    I can’t even remember the last time I owned a hairdryer, let alone a curling iron.
    The 72 minutes a week has got to be a typo or something. Even when I’m spending what I consider to be a lot of time over my hair, it basically involves 2 minutes massaging in a deep treatment once a week, then washing it out in the normal course of things. Could they be including bodily epilation too? (I’m on an average of about 30-seconds-a-week regime on that one. It’s exhausting, I tell you.)

  10. This morning my hair routine involved finding my good beanie. The one that doesn’t clash so badly with my warmest jumper. Of course, on a three degree day pre-baby it would have been the same.

  11. Let’s see… my daily hair routine tends to involve brushing my hair before I get into the shower (to get all the tangles out), and then either washing it (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) or rinsing it (every other day) while I’m in the shower. Once I’m out of the shower, I wrap it up in a towel, and finish getting myself dried and dressed. Then I drag a comb through it, and generally either plait it into one long plait down my back, or slap a ponytail holder around it. Once every few months, I may get it trimmed.
    Number of kids = 0
    Number of kids planned in the future also = 0.
    I’m the type of person hair product manufacturers loathe, because if everyone were like me, they’d go broke.

  12. This campaign makes my skin crawl. Like, in a bad way.
    Adding y’all to my blogroll.

  13. Meg I’m impressed. When I had long hair I often skipped straight from the washing to pinning up, now I never comb it.

  14. as ‘Our Germaine’ said “Yet if a woman never lets herself go, how will she ever know how far she might have got? If she never takes off her high-heeled shoes, how will she ever know how far she could walk or how fast she could run? ”
    I’d rather let myself go than restrain myself with curling irons and other shackles of femininity, smiling politely and serving muffins at the end of my tethers.

  15. As I sit here seething in my ponytail, I think, “The average ad copy writer spends 1.2 minutes a month thinking about ethics and 3 hours a day thinking about cash.” I’m pissed and inspired to move back into a waterless cabin, so I can spend even less time on my hair.


  1. I love this « bianca bean
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