Periods and Advertisements
Tired of period euphemisms and metaphors? So are we!
Treating pads, cups and tampons like stolen nuclear launch codes, buried in secret compartments and sneaked into discreet pouches is what we’ve all done. Using code names for ‘that time of the month’ is a legit creativity gig. But when you look beyond the humor of the situation, it’s a bloody mess.
Advertisements- the one true form of reaching huge audiences- have the power to either spread stigma and shame around periods, or inform and empower viewers.
Yet, all they have majorly been is - sexist, shameful and silly. Forget fifty years ago, they still project how ‘period’ is a dirty word and whole heartedly contribute their share to period poverty. Not only do these ads depict society’s stigmatized view of menstruation as being filthy and taboo, but they also further validate it.
Don’t ‘whisper’ it:
As much as people tend to ignore a pad commercial on TV, periods are a reality. Talking about them is normal. What’s not normal is the rage at an attempt to awareness.
Brands like Modess in the 1940s advertised periods using glamorous models and a tagline “Modess…Because.” That’s it? People probably needed to be psychics to know what the product actually was. It took until 1985 for the word period to be said on TV for the first time.
At a time when innumerable menstruators have no hygienic alternatives to use, it’s of little surprise that we’re still repulsed by the mere sight of a clean pad. A major part of this phobia stems from the way you see others around you react to it. Periods and pads are nothing to be ashamed of.
We do not bleed blue:
And neither do we get abnormal bouts of energy. Ads sugar-coat periods in every way imaginable. The actual words ‘blood’ and ‘vagina’ are of course, blacklisted. So is everything even suggestive of how menstruation actually works. Blue fluids, wrapped in pastel colors and flowery themes tell you to ‘love yourself’ and marathon your way away from stains. Why not a convenient ‘daag acche hai’ here? Apparently, these stains ruin your chances of success and happiness with a prince charming. Girl meets boy. But, oh wait, why can’t she make a move? PERIOD ALERT!
These advertisements are so far from an actual period, never showing a bathroom, period cramps or mood swings. It’s always happy, playful, sporty women. The ubiquitous blue liquid used in many ads sends a confusing message to young people about what periods are and what these products are for. It also suggests that period blood is too disgusting to show on TV, when blood is regularly shown in sports, shows and films.
Kudos to the brand Libra for their #BloodNormal campaign for taking a stand to address the stigma and openly showing the experience of a period ‘in true color’ and as an ordinary part of life.
The Period Pride Walk:
Why run to the bathroom with a pad like a ninja on a mission? The fact that the ad assumes that a woman is somehow compromising with her true identity, or is always low on self-esteem when she’s on her period makes menstruation look like some kind of a disease. It’s time to address the elephant in the room, and normalize it. Walk with your period and walk with pride.
That doesn’t mean you make gender-inclusive trust circles and talk about period pains at home or work, constantly. Or start slapping a fine on any man or woman who says “she’s cranky, must be PMS”. It would be nice, however, if we could walk the length of a populated office or restaurant or campus, not clutching a pad, cup or tampon like some dirty secret we must hide. But in the way of this period pride walk is a life time of psychological conditioning.
Speaking of pride, it’s about time for trans-representation and queer inclusion in these ads. On a basic level, these ads need to start from awareness and gender-neutrality.
Thinx, a company that sells period underwear, was the first to feature a trans male model in their ad campaign. That’s a start, and we need to go all ahead from here.
What’s with the white?
From clothes to bedsheets to walls and curtains, everything is white, only to intensify the horror of a blood stain. The desperation shows in eliminating anything and everything that proves a person to be bleeding.
Why not switch to saying ‘stains are okay. stains happen’? If we can laugh stains off, why can’t advertisers?
Refreshingly, empowering ads like Bodyform show periods for what they are, without women twirling and laughing at nothing in particular or the weird blue liquid. This commercial makes no unwanted effort to hide the realities of menstruation and also challenges gender stereotypes. Way to go.
Women on their period can do anything:
A happy period is a myth. These ads depict a magical menstrual cycle, which no one has ever experienced. It’s not really clear what skydiving, exams and changing flat tires has to do with your period, but many companies use images of energetic, carefree women to sell their products.
Periods aren’t an obstacle that needs to be overcome. The message that you can do anything during your period can be empowering, but can also be an affront if you experience severe pain or tiredness during menstruation.
Through decades, advertising has moved on – a bit. Women in ads now get to cycle bikes, ride horses, do yoga, paraglide and even – in one memorable effort – be eaten by a shark. Now, instead of dire warnings about “lost daintiness”, we get the promise of odour-neutralising products. The vaginal deodorant industry is a prime example of manufacturers creating a problem so they can sell the solution. Your vagina is not dirty and there’s nothing wrong with the way it smells.
Coming to the ‘virtually undetectable’ and ‘discreet’ wrappers that don’t make the slightest of a sound on tearing them open- because heaven forbid anyone finds out that you’re on your period. It’s not a secret, and shouldn’t be treated like one.
More power to the #BreakTheCycle campaign for encouraging transparency and owning your period.
Just say it:
Period slang phrases projected in ads seep their way into our daily conversations. Right from ‘that time of the month’ to shark week, happy birthday, crimson wave, code red and of course ‘wo wale din’. As an epic example of period shaming, there’s zero period power in advertising. Seems more like a play of chinese whisper than your monthly cycle.
The time, energy and creativity invested in these ads should be more about busting taboos, unlearning myths and heirlooms of stupidity handed down to every successive generation. There’s nothing embarrassing other than our inability to have a grown-up conversation about them.
Periods are normal, showing them should be too.
Written by Nibha Patil
Cover Source : WaterAid/Aileen Ng