Advertisements for female sanitary products have never been very realistic. A Google search on ‘vintage sanitary ads’ reveals that in the olden days, periods were very much secret business, and products were designed to facilitate your carefree, athletic life without you ever having to say the taboo word period, deal with any actual blood, or ever experience tiredness or cramps.
When I was growing up, the ads were also quite cryptic. Happy girls and women jumping, running, dating – and doing all of this in pristine, tight, white clothing. You wouldn’t know, the first time you watched these ads, what you were being sold.
There might have been brief references to the ‘product’ but these were shrouded in secrecy. The packaging was meant to be ‘discreet’ and the theme was that no one would know. There was also not a single mention of blood. The most daring ads had visuals of a sanitary pad being absorbency-tested with an odd, blue liquid.
Thank goodness, then, for Libra Australia, who have adopted the manifesto of their parent company, Essity, and decided that it is time for Australia to normalise periods, two years after the campaign was released in the UK. “Contrary to popular belief, women don’t bleed blue liquid, they bleed blood,” says the tagline of their campaign, #bloodnormal. “Periods are normal. Showing them should be too.”
About bloody time.
The ad is controversial. It features real-life situations where girls and women deal with having a period. And yes, some of it is unpleasant. After being aired on prime-time Australian TV last month, there were over 600 complaints from viewers that the ads were inappropriate – the highest number of complaints for any ad in 2019. The complaints used words like disgusting, offensive and confronting. But Australia’s industry regulator, Ad Standards, dismissed the complaints as not being in breach of viewing standards but in fact “promoting equality and the demystification of menstruation.”
Perhaps the controversy is precisely the reason why these ads need to continue. Libra aims to educate, not to shock. The more we see it, the more normal it becomes, and normalising periods is the goal of the campaign. The director of the #bloodnormal video, Daniel Wolfe, was inspired by a quote he saw on social media which said, “Can’t wait for the day when women no longer pass tampons to a friend like they are a Class A drug.”
If nothing else, this research from Libra Australia is reason enough for encouraging open conversation about periods:
“67% of teenage girls would rather fail a subject at school than have their class know they were on their period.”
Now that’s confronting.
©2019 Seetha Nambiar Dodd