Erin Petersen

Defending menses

By - May 21st, 2010 04:00 am
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Golly, I’m kinda loving Kotex right now — for their new found sense of girl power, that is, but not  for their products. Let me explain.

The new “U by Kotex” campaign finally has the balls…nay, the vagina enough to actually say “vagina” in a series of commercials for their pads and tampons. In the hilarious TV and print ads, young women (and, awesomely, men) lift the veil of manufactured femininity from women’s products and tell it like it is.

Instead of slow-motion frolicking through fields of lilies or practicing pilates in white spandex, the mainstays for these particular types of ads (most of which reinforce the belief that women are inherently vain, vapid and weak) Kotex pokes fun at the myriad ways commercials sidestep the dreaded menses.

There are no words.

On their website, you can even create your own spoof ad by writing funny captions to go along with still frames from what appear to be the most ridiculous tampon ads ever. My favorite suggested caption: “Hello, I’m looking for the Red Tent.”

The rise in number of hygienic products for women seemed to peak around the same time of the consumer craze in the 1950s. Manufacturers were great a creating problems out of nothing, and then of course swooping down with a wonder product to fix everything. Creams, sprays, powders and douches were (are) staples, adding to the myth that menstruation is shameful, smelly and unclean, an idea that’s damaging to mind and body.

Case in point: the Lysol douche. Oh! The horrors! How will I ever land a fella with this old thing? I know — why not hose my delicate insides with a cocktail of toxic chemicals that can also be used to clean the toilet? Because vaginas and toilets are a lot alike, right?

I’m ranting, but you get the point. When it comes to areas of female maintenance, marketing teams ride the coattails of fear — fear of odor, of ruining those snazzy pants, of everyone knowing that you’re the girl whose got her period. To this, the U campaign says “who cares?” By partnering with Girls For a Change, an advocacy group that works with hi-risk female youth, Kotex is trying to de-stigmatize vaginal issues, and hopefully encourage women and girls to take an active role in their own health.

Society (and I’m not just talking about Americans here –I don’t even want to get started on the havoc wreaked upon women in other countries) distances itself from issues that make us uncomfortable.There are many women who were taught very little about their bodies outside of oppressive misinformation, and many of us grew up in places where you just didn’t talk about those sorts of things.

Cultural taboos coupled with a desire for propriety created another generation of women who are embarrassed to talk about their reproductive health, putting them at higher risk for unwanted pregnancies or STD’s/STI’s and chipping away at self-esteem.

Kotex has even made an apology for it’s past ads, which employed the same tactics and schmaltzy soft-focus sea breeze vignettes that they’re lampooning now.

“Your daintiest frocks…”

Then again, Kotex could (and should) go one step further and make products that are more environmentally friendly. Disposable pads and plastic tampon applicators are not biodegradable. Women spend an obscene amount of money every year on items that are just going to be thrown away.( Kotex is made by Kimberly Clark, also the maker of Huggies brand disposable diapers and a whole mess of other products destined for the landfill.)

Reusable napkins and latex cups are sustainable options — not to mention WAY cheaper — but most women shy away, again, because they feel that there’s something patently dirty about them. Oh yeah, and while we’re nagging on the overabundance of “white” in all those obnoxious commercials, why do we still use bleached white tampons? That’s bleach as in chlorine bleach. In your body. For hours at a time.

Ok, technically there hasn’t been chlorine bleaching since the mid-90s, but harmful byproducts like dioxin are still present, which according to research by the EPA can lead to weakened immune systems, increased risk for pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis and reduced fertility.

The FDA says that the dioxin levels in tampons are below a detectable level, but since it is a cumulative chemical, and since most women use about 11,000 tampons per year…well, you see where I’m going with this.

So kudos to Kotex, really, for starting the conversation and for being one of the first major corporate purveyors of period accoutrement to speak up against the stigmatization of the female body. It has the potential to inspire millions of women to be more empowered and unabashedly in tune with their bodies — at which point, they’ll hopefully dump Kotex for Lunapads and The Keeper.

Alright, that’s enough for now. Moon mother OUT.

Categories: ADversary

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