Recently, WWAC writer Ray Sonne took one for the team and tried out Thinx period-proof underwear. This got a conversation going about the type of menstruation products out there and what this usually means for WWAC is “start a roundtable!” In fact, this topic got so many of us going that lifestyle editor, Ginnis, had to turn it into two parts. Part 1 is here, and in Part 2, we’ll talk more about how the media perpetuates stereotypes surrounding menstruation, and we’ll also learn that WWAC Assistant Editor, Wendy Browne, has a face for tampon commercials.
What is your number one pet-peeve about “feminine hygiene product” advertising?
Wendy: When I used to dabble in modeling, I was told that I’d be a great face for tampon commercials. Yeah. That’s me. I’d be that happy bitch in the period commercials that everyone hates. “Have a happy period!” she says. Fuck you.
Ray: Hahaha, Wendy, that is the rudest compliment I’ve ever heard!
As a person who works in advertising, the thing I most despise about feminine hygiene product advertising is the lack of divergence from the same exact activities and themes they have shown on their ads since 1970. Yes, 1970, when the adhesive pad was invented. Before that women couldn’t do physical activities very well while on their periods, because they had to wear these things called sanitary belts.
Even if your products’ only advantage is the same—and that’s that it sticks to underwear and allows its wearers to live relatively normal lives—why are you talking about periods in the same way you probably did in 1970? Demographics have changed, newer generations speak about periods very differently now as evidenced by several of us talking in this roundtable. Your blue liquid spilling onto pads to show their absorbency is some fuddy-duddy stuff, and you don’t need to treat us like fragile dolls about this thing that happens every month. We grew up cleaning blood out of our bedsheets and finding leaks on our favorite white dresses; it’s okay to talk about this process more candidly in your ads!
A pitch I would present to the Always client (not in official brief or pitch format):
“HEY YOU! IS SHARK WEEK UPON YOU? ARE YOU GOING TO NEED SOMETHING TO CATCH THE RED OCEAN OUT OF YOUR MOTION? ALWAYS HAS ALWAYS BEEN HERE FOR YOU IN 5 [OR INSERT NUMBER] DIFFERENT STYLES. NO MATTER HOW BAD THIS MONTH IS, WE GOT YOU COVERED.
ALSO, HAVE THIS CHOCOLATE.”
(Editor’s Note: All copyright/trademark/whatever for this pitch goes to Ray Sonne.)
Honestly, feminine hygiene products are my top five dream brands, along with cleaning supplies, which I intend to sell to bachelors in the form of shaming them for how they can’t get laid because of how disgusting their apartments are.
Romona: The worst part is when they show women dressed in white clothes from head-to-toe, smirking at everyone because they’re secretly bleeding. It’s a completely bizarre advertising approach to me. Sure, we get it, this pad-or-tampon will not leak and stains will not soak into your clothes. But they repeatedly air women running around town, flipping their hair, and laughing their asses off because they are wearing white clothes while on their period. I mean, all white is a fairly rare fashion choice for most people, but it’s very common in ads.
Ray: Also that non-leak claim is a DIRTY LIE. My period spilled off the sides of my pads and stained the edges of the crotches of my undies unless I wore pads with wings. The only thing I’ve ever used that is leak-proof is my Thinx.
Alenka: Haha Romona, I never wear white, because I spill coffee on EVERYTHING. Where are my commercials for Tide Bleach Pens with people running around in white, holding uncovered coffee mugs?
Wendy: It’s all a lie! And the lies hurt us all:
“Hi, as a man I must ask why you have lied to us for all these years. As a child I watched your advertisements with interest as to how at this wonderful time of the month that the female gets to enjoy so many things, I felt a little jealous. I mean bike riding, rollercoasters, dancing, parachuting, why couldn’t I get to enjoy this time of joy and ‘blue water’ and wings!! Damn my penis!! Then I got a girlfriend, was so happy and couldn’t wait for this joyous adventurous time of the month to happen … you lied!! There was no joy, no extreme sports, no blue water spilling over wings and no rocking soundtrack, oh no no no …”
The priceless response from Bodyform though:
Alenka: Jokes aside, people who don’t identify as women also have periods! Thinx recently did an ad campaign that featured a trans man talking about his period, and they offer boxer briefs (although only for light days). These very femme, cis woman-targeted period commercials only enhance the negative feels a lot of trans and NB people feel surrounding periods. Please fix this and stop making people feel worse when they’re already getting gut punched by nature.
Catie: Anything that frames the body or bodily functions as inherently gross or something to be ashamed of is a problem. The problem to me isn’t that individual people can’t find periods gross or a pain to put up with, but because this cultural stigma means it has become this shameful secret as though half the population doesn’t deal with it on a regular basis. That taboo status makes menstruation an isolating and confusing issue for many people, which can have a direct impact on their health.
When companies sell tissue, the ad isn’t all about how horribly icky snot is and that you need tissues, because otherwise people will know your nose is stuffed up. Consumers understand that snot can be gross and what a pain it is to be stuffy. It seems nonsensical to me that the same approach can’t be taken with feminine hygiene products.
Melissa: I just want to lay down and sleep when I’m on my period, not frolic in a meadow in my all-white dress. I want an ad to tell me, “You might not feel well, but we’ll at least make you feel a little bit better,” because there’s no way any product is going to take care of everything that’s going on in my body. It would be nice to have some reassurance that I’m not just a big baby who can’t handle it and that it’s okay to not feel like climbing a mountain or playing tennis.
Lela: The blue water poured on pads bothers me. My period is never blue or the consistency of water. Give me red brown sludge or give me death.
Any company out there you think is doing period advertising right?
Wendy: I love Kotex’s efforts to get in your face about periods. The #UHeroes campaign they ran at San Diego Comic Con pleased me to no end, and they haven’t stopped.
Kotex also works with HelloFlo, which started as a subscription service that provides people with monthly menstruation kits. They have since expanded to cover all the transitional periods (dur hur hur) in women’s lives and produce hilariously on point educational videos about menstruation, menopause, and more. Special love for their postnatal products and videos. New mothers often hear about how wonderful pregnancy and having a new baby is and how you forget the pain when you look into those little eyes, lalala. Few people ever talk about the reality of leaking, discomfort, raging emotions, hemorrhoids, constipation, postpartum depression, the leaking, the leaking, the leaking …
Romona: I completely agree with you, Wendy. I was very surprised over how much I bled in the months after my pregnancy. Nobody had told me to expect that, and none of the pregnancy information I read fully explained this. I understood to expect some post-birth bleeding, but it went on for two months, and it was heavy almost every day. It’s good to hear that Kotex features products specific to postnatal women; I had no idea.
Alenka: I also love the Kotex ads! As a side note, I had zero idea that leaking post-pregnancy was a thing either, but I learned about it from an episode of Jane the Virgin, where she talks about needing pads! It’s not just advertising that has power to change this conversation, but also media in general. Conversations about taboo topics on mainstream television shows are often important earmarks that either reveal changes in a cultural conversation or aid and push forward changes in cultural conversations. Get on it, TV and movies!
Wendy: Side note: Women are also very likely to poop in the middle of childbirth. I learned that from an episode of Scrubs and pass on this important tidbit to pending moms all the time now. When you’re splayed out in a bed or in a birthing pool with people standing between your legs, it’s helpful to know what’s going on down there during what can be a very frightening and invasive event.
Alenka: I mentioned these above, but that Thinx commercial featuring a trans model is pretty rad, and I really enjoyed the Gladrags promotional videos. Gladrags lets people give testimonials where they explain, unabashedly, how reusable menstrual products have been beneficial. In Erika Moen’s videos, she even talks about how she cleans her cloth pads, which was really helpful information for me! They basically have an advertising campaign that doubles as useful education, which is genius.
Catie: I agree; I love the no-nonsense, informational approach I’ve seen from Kotex lately! While I can’t remember specific ads, I’m also encouraged to see more mainstream conversation about Diva cups, reuseable pads, and Thinx panties. The simple knowledge that there are alternative ways to deal with your period can be powerful, because it pushes back against this concept that there is a “right” or “normal” way you have to deal with it. I remember this weird stigma against girls who used pads during high school, as if they were immature because they hadn’t “graduated” to using tampons yet. I love seeing more ads and conversation that emphasize every person’s menstruation experience is different and it’s okay to explore different options that work best for you.
Lela: I co-sign all of the above.
Okay, readers, now it is your turn. What are your biggest pet peeves about period myths? Are there any other cool companies or products that we didn’t mention?