A joke that went round my school repeatedly was about a little boy going to a shop and buying some sanitary towels. When asked why, he explained that he wanted to be able to dance, and trampoline, ride horses and sky dive.
20 years later, and the same joke is still being told in different forms, as demonstrated by Richard Neill on Bodyform's Facebook page, which you've no doubt read by now.
"Hi, as a man I must ask why you have lied to us for all these years. As a child I watched your advertisements with interest as to how at this wonderful time of the month that the female gets to enjoy so many things ,I felt a little jealous. I mean bike riding, rollercoasters, dancing, parachuting, why couldn’t I get to enjoy this time of joy and ‘blue water’ and wings !! Dam my penis!!"
This nod to the overly sanitised advertising of “feminine hygiene” products clearly touched a nerve, garnering over 86,000 “likes” on Facebook. As BitchBuzz reported earlier this week, Bodyform created a video in response. Destined to go viral, the video shows a fictional Bodyform CEO explaining that they have lied in their advertising in an attempt to protect people from the truth about periods.
The video has been met with widespread pleasure, amusement and praise. The speedy responsiveness, combined with the humour in admitting that water skiing women in white Spandex were perhaps not representative of menstruating women after all, impressed many.
But is it really that subversive? After all, the original ads arguably alienated women from our natural bodily functions by pretending they were blue and sanitised, and the new one explains how horrific and offensive they are.
I spoke to Chella Quint, a comedian and creator of the adbusting Adventures in Menstruating zine. She pointed out that the descriptions that it fights snark with snark are misleading because “they are both on the same side – women are the butt of the joke, in both the original and the response.
"Both the Facebook post and Bodyform's response uphold the stereotype that all periods are awful, all the time. The whole back-and-forth has been entertaining on the surface, but when the loudest voice shouting about periods is saying 'this is the truth', and it's just one truth, it's an advertising win.
“The fake CEO says, 'We did focus groups', and you think they are going to be on 'Are our ads effective?' but then they're on, 'Are periods scary?' - it's just men they're asking, and they're all crying! Bodyform could have been just as witty but taken the opportunity to dispel the myth that periods are scarier than horror movies".
There's no such thing as a happy period...
Caroline Williams, the fake CEO in the ad, states, “There's no such thing as a happy period”. Given that I have the quite hellish disease endometriosis, you might expect that I would agree, given that my periods are exquisitely painful and way heavier than is healthy.
However, even with that to deal with I hate the suggestion that “happy periods” cannot possibly exist. Periods are natural functions that many women's – and some men's – bodies go through and they should not be pitted as something to be ashamed of, to hate, or to hide away from the world in case they cause offence or make men cry.
We might not all celebrate our cycle and dance in celebration of the moon when that first blob of red appears in our pants, but we could certainly do without advertisers reinforcing the cultural norm of shame and humiliation.
Bodyform's recent video did make me laugh, and I thought it was pretty clever from a marketing point of view. However, as Chella concluded, “Don't fall into the trap of 'Yay Bodyform!'”. The female CEO in the video was not only fictional, but Bodyform are a brand owned by a company which has only two women on the Board of Directors, alongside ten men.
Images via Amy_b and dominiqueb's Flickr