Confronting Menstrual Myths

by July 18, 2013
filed under Life

I was 10 years old, lying on the floor in the basement with some pillows and an old blanket, resting after having taken some Tylenol for the unfamiliar cramps. The first few drops of blood became evident earlier in the day as my body was starting to achieve an early puberty.

After a couple of years of irregular spotting, excruciating pain, bizarre mood swings and other symptoms of that common experience known to women as their period, I began to get used to the physical and emotional changes that were taking place in my body on a semi-regular basis. I say “semi-regular” because the idea of a regular, predictable menstrual cycle was one of the first menstrual myths I had to deal with and disillusion – some women’s hormonal systems don’t accommodate the perfect, expected, 28 day cycle.

Myths about menstruation were perpetrated in the plethora of television advertisements for women’s sanitary products (pads and tampons). In the fictional world of these ads, menstrual blood appeared as a blue liquid weaving its way across the absorbent fibres of a sanitary napkin. The women were slim, smiling and physically active, often riding bicycles or playing tennis.

I, on the other hand, was bloated, cramping and miserable. Burning my toast brought me to tears. Minor infractions against my personal space or possessions would result in my voice being raised to levels typically reserved for extreme heights or fears.

As I have gotten older and have learned how to deal with my menstrual difficulties, those advertisements have remained the same. The women are still beautiful, clear-skinned, active and happy. “Have a happy period” reads the tag line of one sanitary product brand. In response to this brand’s ads, one brave, astute and wonderful man wrote a response on the company’s, Bodyform’s, Facebook page.

Basically, he said that he noticed the same things about these advertisements that I did and was led to think that periods must mark a special time of pleasure for women. Not knowing any better, he even went so far as to envy us. That was until he had a girlfriend, who at that time of the month, he observed, changed from a “gentle, normal skin coloured lady to the little girl from the exorcist [sic] with added venom and extra 360 degree head spin.”

The company responded to this gentleman with a hilarious and brilliant short video. Bodyform facetiously explained that its advertisements use “metaphorical” imagery that doesn’t in fact reflect the reality of women’s periods. You can read the entire exchange and view Bodyform’s video here.

While effectively handed with humour, this situation, on a more serious note, brings about the question of honesty in advertising. Young women need to be informed about the changes that their bodies undergo during menstruation without that information being glossed over. Certainly, there are some women who are not as heavily affected by their periods as others but pretending that the less-than-desirable side effects of a woman’s period don’t exist (at least, if she uses a specific sanitary product) ultimately can cause worries about being “normal.”

However, as the man in the above exchange proves, it is those people who don’t get a period – men – who are also being done a disservice. If their only education about women’s monthlies is from advertising, it is no wonder they are so flabbergasted when faced with a real, live menstruating woman who is acting like the polar opposite of the women in those ads.

There has to be a balance between honesty and getting a message across in a way that won’t freak out a segment of an ad’s viewers. As Bodyform’s response proves, humour is an effective way of getting a message across. Perhaps one day a commercial can be created that is effective in its ability to actually help women deal with a period that feels more like an exclamation point.

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