Tampon and sanitary pad ads depict a magical menstrual cycle that no woman has ever experienced. No one celebrates their period by skipping in slow motion through fields of daisies wearing a white dress. Cramps don’t make women want to joyously leap along a beach. And nobody's period involves that weird blue liquid that ads use to show you how well their product absorbs blood.
In fact, the thing that is glaringly absent from most period product ads is the mention of, sometimes even the implication of, blood — until now. The UK-based sanitary company Bodyform recently released a bloody empowering commercial, finally admitting not only that periods are about blood, but also that women can do anything they want during their periods.
Media portrayals of periods often show women as weak — overly emotional, hesitant to engage in their usual physical activity, embarrassed. But Bodyform’s ad is reclaiming the period narrative. It shows women bleeding for reasons we usually associate with fearlessness and strength — from boxing to mountain biking to ballet.
The ad shows situations in which women are told blood should not hold them back, proving that period blood is no different. And people are thanking them for it.
Periods are a fact of life — albeit a fact that isn’t always that fun — and period product ads need to stop trying to sell consumers on the idea that their periods are an obstacle that needs to be overcome or something to be ashamed of.
Bodyform’s new ad follows the lead of other taboo-busting campaigns by HelloFlo and THINX Period Underwear, which aim to normalize menstruation and make periods more positive.
Media portrayal of periods supports a stigma that makes women and girls feel unnecessarily embarrassed about a biological process. Those stigmas can keep girls from going to school during their periods, setting them back in their education. They may prevent women and girls from going about their usual activities or engaging in sports and other physical activities. Overall, period shame reinforces the idea that women are incapable of things that men are capable of.
The way we talk about periods in the media, using vague euphemisms (like “girl flu,” “that time,” “crimson tide”) and cutesy nicknames (ie. Aunt Flo), is often the same way menstruation is talked about in sex and health education and with family members. For boys, who don’t experience periods first hand, it can turn periods into some unspeakable, “gross” mystery; and for the girls who do have periods, it can leave them confused and ill-equipped to manage them.
In some cultures the taboo surrounding periods is so great that girls miss school or drop out altogether when they start menstruating. In Africa, one in 10 girls will miss or drop out of school when they start menstruating. In Afghanistan and Nepal, that figure is even higher; three out of 10 girls miss school because of their periods. Globally, there are 500 million girls and women who do not have access to adequate tools or facilities to manage their periods. As a result, they miss out on the opportunities that boys and men have — from education to gaining employment and becoming financially independent.
Bodyform is trying to do away with harmful and awkward stereotypes, in favor of encouraging real discussion about menstruation and women’s bodies.
Glad you like it, @getherfurther – hopefully this is just the start of more honest conversation about periods.— Bodyform (@bodyform) June 14, 2016
Hopefully, more period product advertisements will choose to show periods as empowering, rather than challenging — and save that strange blue liquid for the laundry ads.