Embarrassed by Our Bodies: a Story by Tampax

During our discussion about periods, tampons, and DivaCups on Thursday, I began thinking about all of the tampon and pad commercials I’ve seen on TV and how much all of them emphasize the need to keep our need for their products a secret from the rest of the world.  I specifically thought of a commercial for Tampax Compak tampons, which are half the size of the average tampon (that comes with an applicator–o.b. tampons by Johnson &Johnson are even smaller than Compak and more environmentally friendly), in which a girl tries to do a stealthy hand-off of a Compak tampon to another female classmate in need. Her teacher sees and assumes she is passing a note and asks her to bring it up to the class, then says he “hope[s] she brought enough for everyone” when he doesn’t recognize the little plastic packet.  The girl responds that she has enough for the girls as the rest of the girls knowingly laugh with her.  The message this commercial is sending is supposed to be empowering because she does not have to physically hide her tampons anymore since Tampax has done it for her, supposedly making the product discreet and unrecognizable, but it is still telling us that the fact that we have periods needs to be a secret.

At first, Tampax was revolutionary because they were the first “feminine product” company to use the word “period” in a 1985 commercial (starring Courteney Cox from Friends), but their progress seems to have stopped there, as they continue to tell women they should hide the fact that they have said periods, even though everyone is aware that women get periods.  Pretty much any promotional spot for feminine care products mention discretion and even self-help videos made by young girls to teach younger girls about periods establish that “no one has to know.”

I am not sure why, but even when I was young I really resented the idea that I was supposed to hide the fact that I had my period and kind of went out of my way to let the people around me know that I had to change my tampon or that I had really bad period cramps.  On one hand, I think I was trying to be combative and make people uncomfortable because I felt physically uncomfortable, but having to hide my tampon when going to the bathroom was/is more effort than I am willing to put into hiding the natural functions of my body.  After class on Thursday (which also happened to be the first day of my period, sorry TMI), I went home and ranted to my housemates about how frustrated I felt. I concluded the rant by yelling that I had to go change the tampon that I had to set aside money to pay for while my male housemates could spend that extra $10 in their pockets on anything they wanted to. One of my female housemates thought this moment was the opportune time to tell me about the “women’s survival kit” her aunt had given to her as a Hannukah gift: a small, patent leather pouch that held an array of “female necessities,”  like a tampon, hair spray, and two earring backs.  This idea of “female survival” just reminded me of the conversation we had about the commodification of rape culture with anti-rape underwear and the cost of “surviving” as a woman in our culture.  From the cost of tampons to anti-rape wear to the makeup we are expected to buy, it seems like a lot of our resources (including the time/energy it takes to apply/change/buy these things, among others) are already spent before we even know it.

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7 thoughts on “Embarrassed by Our Bodies: a Story by Tampax

  1. “On one hand, I think I was trying to be combative and make people uncomfortable because I felt physically uncomfortable, but having to hide my tampon when going to the bathroom was/is more effort than I am willing to put into hiding the natural functions of my body.”

    HA, I loved this! I was actually having a conversation about this the other day, as I was staying at a (male) friend’s apartment with a (female) friend of mine. I was on my period at the time, and we were talking about my taking out the bathroom trash before he came home. Now, I would have done this regardless, as it’s basic good manners to clean up after yourself in someone else’s home, menstrual blood or not. But then my friend started talking about how at home, her father, after seeing a bloody tampon in the bathroom trash, went into a rage, and how that eventually she was assigned a separate container for any period related trash. She agreed with her father’s actions, stating that period blood is disgusting and that no man should have to see it. Basically, she was disgusted by her own body’s actions. I really didn’t know how to respond to that – it’s a body! It’s natural! You shouldn’t have to be ashamed or hide something that 52% percent of the population experience!

    • I am very disturbed by this. I don’t excuse men. But I feel that there should be exception when fathers of girls are involved. What is a female supposed to do when she gets her period? Get another father- or be one parent less- until she stops bleeding? If one takes such an attitude of his own people….

      When I think of my own father- who had more than five daughters- and remember how distressed he would be when no one asked him for money to buy pads. He would ask “Don’t girls in this house have periods? Who is buying you pads?” and once when my sister Tina asked, he was very excited- like he had achieved something as a father, to be trusted with information like that. I am not certain though he felt the same about my mother’s cycle. We were different because we were his.
      (I romanticize my father a lot so take this with a pinch of salt.)

      • Your story about your father reminded me of one about mine when my sister got her cycle. (Even my use of cycle kind of scares me). My mom was on a business trip when it happened. I remember my sister screaming (she’s the oldest so we had no idea what was happening) from the bathroom and my dad running up the stairs to check on her. My sister started frantically explaining what was happening and eventually my dad got the hint and ran to the nearest drug store. I remember he came back with every single product he could find in the Feminine Care aisle. It was a hilarious moment now that I look back but really shows how unprepared young girls are when it comes their period.

        PS. I am ashamed at my urges to use weird words for period through out this post. (Almost wrote fairy god mother and present)…

  2. Thank you so much for writing this! Your post reminds me of the common rationalization of “PMSing” for certain female behavior. I have a very good male friend who often attributes my moodiness, emotion, etc. to that “time of the month”. He means it mostly in jest, I’m sure. It amuses me, though, that the mystery and obscurity and “secretness” (as you articulate) surrounding female body processes are so easily used as justification for a less-than-desirable mood.

    • Yes, thank you! I also meant to write about how annoying it is that people feel so comfortable writing off emotions by saying that we are just “PMSing,” but can’t handle someone walking across a room with a tampon in their hand, but it slipped my mind!

  3. Thanks for writing this! Have you seen The Camp Gyno commercial for Flow Boxes? It is one of the only advertisements i’ve seen about girls getting excited about getting their first period and not be embarrassed about when they’ll have their next, Check it out

  4. Pingback: If Men Could Menstruate | Girlpower

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