For girls, growing up in the 21st century means contending with the media from a very young age. Be it Disney princesses or iPhone apps, the media’s influence is seemingly inescapable. But, what about getting your period? How do media messages affect girls’ perception of menstruation?
I remember being thoroughly embarrassed as a kid by commercials for maxipads that went on and on about wings and absorption. Looking back, most of what I learned from the media about periods revolved around hygiene and shame.
Joan Jacobs Brumberg agrees. In her book The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls, Brumberg argues that feminine hygiene, not adult womanhood or female sexuality, became the primary topic of conversation around periods beginning in the 1950s.
“Instead of seeing menarche as a marker of an important internal change in a girl—specifically, her new capacity for reproduction—modern mothers typically stress the importance of outside appearances for their daughters: keeping clean, avoiding soiled clothes, and purchasing the right ‘equipment,’” writes Brumberg.
I’d add “media” next to “mothers.”
Brumberg cautions that such limited focus on the visual aspects of maturation, i.e. getting your period, rather than internal biological processes “sets the stage for obsessive over attention to other aspects of the changing body, such as shape and size.” Written in 1997, Brumberg’s words still ring true—there’s a lack conversation about the emotional, social significance of getting your period.
Recently though, I’ve noticed some refreshingly honest and open voices join to the period conversation.
The U by Kotex ad offers a period “Reality Check” by spoofing other feminine product ads. The narrator explains how she likes “to twirl, maybe in slow motion” while she’s on her period. Adding, “And I do it in my white spandex.”
When feminine care company Kimberly-Clark launched U by Kotex, a new product line of pads and tampons in 2010, they also launched a social movement. The U by Kotex website is an online space for girls and women to break the silence, ask questions, and share stories around periods and vaginal health. Kotex is aptly calling the movement “Break the Cycle.”
The British feminine product company Bodyform followed suit in 2012, producing an ad in response to a Facebook complaint about unrealistic advertising (read: running on the beach in white linens while on your period). The Bodyform ad is witty and well crafted. Learn about the truth of periods here.
Lastly, a friend of mine recently told me about The Period Store. A website, online store, and blog about periods and period supplies (including snacks!), The Period Store portrays real women, honest conversation, and good products for surviving and thriving during your period. I might soon subscribe to their monthly-delivered packages filled with period products, chocolate, tea, ibuprofen, and art. Yay!
I think U by Kotex, Bodyform’s cheeky ad, and The Period Store are fostering honest conversation about periods that is closer to Brumberg’s idea of “adult womanhood and female sexuality,” and less about hygiene and being clean and proper girls. More importantly, the websites and social forums offer support from other women and girls during what can be a confusing, and change-filled period of maturation for adolescent girls.