Have you watched This Girl Can’s latest campaign video yet? Portraying a woman using yoga to ease heavy menstrual cramps and showing a tampon string hanging out of her underwear, it is being hailed as taboo-busting and revolutionary in its efforts to end period shame.
While it’s frustrating that it has taken until 2020 for a campaign to represent the unfiltered reality of being on your period, I have to say that I’m totally on board! The video has had such a positive response and it forces us to question why adverts for menstrual products haven’t already done this – especially when 1 in every 4 women have experienced feelings of shame while on their period…
How Do Images And Adverts Reinforce Period Shame?
Negative Images Depict Menstruating Women As Weak
Have you ever searched for images of women on their periods? If you haven’t, allow me to paint a picture: you’ll see images of women curled up, clutching hot water bottles to their stomachs with a pained expression on their faces. If you think I’m exaggerating, you’ll be surprised to know that a review of period-related content from over 100 websites found that 91% of images depicting periods showed women looking vulnerable, weak and/or upset.
This same survey revealed that 56% of women don’t feel as if these images represent them, whilst 40% blame these images for making them feel ashamed of their periods.
Now, I’m lucky, because I’m one of the 56% of women who can’t relate to those images. I rarely suffer when I get my period and can (with the exception of the occasional cramp) just get on with my day as normal. So, it can be tempting for someone like me to entirely dismiss these images, proudly say that such pain is just a myth and insist that women can do anything on their periods.
And Overly Active Images Don’t Help
However, this sort of response, while well-intended, is what led to what I call the ‘unstoppable woman in white’ tampon adverts. You know the one I mean: where the leading woman is wearing white trousers or a mini skirt, being extremely active (usually playing some kind of sport, running or laughing) without a care in the world because her menstrual product is that effective.
While the initial messaging is an empowering one (women can still be active and feel good while on their periods), it also suggests that there is something abnormal about women who feel tired and sluggish when menstruating – and that is where the problem lies. If 56% of menstruators can’t relate to images of women curled up in pain, that still means that 44% can….
Raising Awareness Of Period-Related Suffering To End Period Shame
Did you know that 1 in 10 women suffer from severe period pain and find them hugely debilitating?
If you experience pain that can’t be assuaged by over-the-counter pain medication, then you may suffer from dysmenorrhea or severe menstrual cramps. You see, when you have your period, the muscular wall of your womb contracts to shed its lining. If these contractions become intense spasms, this can cause pain in the lower abdomen, lower back and thighs. It can also cause severe fatigue.
While there really isn’t enough research on dysmenorrhea out there, the women who suffer from it can vouch for how incapacitating it can be. Just ask your friends, I can guarantee that at least one of them will relate to this if you can’t.
Can We Find A Balance And End Period Shame?
So how do we find a balance between raising awareness of period-related conditions like dysmenorrhea without reinforcing the derogatory stereotypes that women are vulnerable on their periods? Well, images of women online, adverts and campaigns need to promote positive change….
Menstrual Product Adverts Are Changing – But Is It Enough?
It’s worth noting that adverts for menstrual products have been changing:
- You no doubt heard about the Thinx advert that was banned in the US at the end of last year because it showed a tampon string hanging out of someone’s underwear
- Or maybe you saw that Bodyform used red liquid rather than blue to represent period blood in their advert
- Or you caught Kotex’ series of adverts from 2010 that parodied typical menstrual adverts by highlighting the ridiculous methods used and ending with the quote ‘why are tampon ads so obnoxious?’.
However, menstrual adverts still focus on two key things: how discreet the packaging is (because we couldn’t possibly bear the thought that the woman in the next stall might hear a wrapper) and how the product blocks odours (which reinforces the idea that periods are smelly and dirty).
There is progress, but there is still a long way to go if we want to end period shame. That’s why menstrual brands could learn a thing or two from This Girl Can’s latest video.
Empowering Campaign Shows The Reality Of Periods
The first truly empowering video that successfully shows the unfiltered reality of having your period is This Girl Can’s latest campaign ‘Me Again’. Among the real women chosen to feature in the video is Hannah who suffers from severe menstrual cramps and uses sport to ease her symptoms.
In the video, you see her at the start lying on her bed with a hot water bottle on her stomach. Later though, we see her at the gym pulling on her leggings over her underwear from which a tampon string can be seen. In the final shot, she is practicing yoga.
A Balanced View Of Periods
There are two reasons why people love this campaign. First, it shows an actual tampon string (which shouldn’t be revolutionary, but really is) and second, it offers a balanced view of periods: at times seriously painful but also manageable when you are taught (or educate yourself on) how to deal with them.
Education Is Key
Hannah suffers greatly during her period. In an interview with Metro, she said: ‘I would go into work and just be in the most intense pain […] I think people don’t appreciate how bad it can get’. So, she decided to educate herself on how to deal with menstrual cramps and discovered that sport can help. She now openly discusses her period, stays active and ignores the stereotypes that surround women on their periods. The whole video encourages menstruators to do the same.
So how can we end period shame? Let’s start by ignoring the adverts that tell us that being on our period isn’t a valid reason to feel tired, dismiss the images that tell us our periods make us weak, and educate ourselves on how we can treat our symptoms. Most importantly though, let’s raise awareness that every menstruator experiences their period differently by openly talking about those experiences until there’s #nofilteronperiods and we don’t blink twice over a tampon string.
This year, I want to openly talk about issues that affect every woman every day. Throughout January and February, I’ll be addressing all things menstruation to help end period shame and have #nofiltersonperiods. You can read my previous article on period poverty here and on the different menstrual products available here.