Imagine a dainty woman clothed in a flowing dress, roaming through a field as a breeze blows through her beautifully styled hair. She speaks softly as she describes what “fresh” means to her – which includes how she feels after blasting a vinegar concoction into her birthing canal (Lottoman17). Now, doesn’t that sound refreshing? This is just one example of how women have been used as spokespeople in feminine hygiene advertising. Over the years, marketers have created many different ways to advertise various feminine hygiene products, such as the douche, tampons, feminine napkins, and vaginal deodorants.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, feminine hygiene magazine ads were completely bogus because women were portrayed as being ignorant and neglectful of their intimate parts during menstruation and times of experiencing vaginal odor, which was considered a real cause of failing marriages. A communication specialist of the Gerson Institute explains that in the 1950s “a now-notorious series of manipulative ad campaigns aimed at housewives informed them that their vaginas were dirty and smelly, and made them repulsive to their husbands” (Bacaj, par. 5). One example is found in a Lysol® magazine ad (yes, Lysol® disinfectant was used for douching and as a spermicide) titled, “Please, Dave…Don’t Let Me Be Locked Out From You!” A woman is seen struggling to get out of a room that her husband locked her into because he found her vagina unsavory. Animated chains and locks are placed on the door along with the words, “doubt,” “inhibitions,” and “ignorance” (see fig. 1).
Women in ‘50s feminine hygiene ads were made to seem ignorant of the proper supplies supposedly needed to maintain cleanliness, but the real ignorance was prevalent in the fact that they were not aware of their lady parts being self-cleaning. At that time, a couple more decades would need to pass before the undermining and degradation of women in advertising would soften and/or come to an end.
As the feminist movement became stronger in the 1970s, women in many feminine hygiene ads were seen participating in sports and outdoor activities while menstruating. This is seen in a Rely® tampon commercial in which several women talk about the tampon all while participating in activities, such as swimming, camping, fishing, tennis, golfing, and flying jet planes (PublicDomainMoviesYT). Another example is found in a 1978 New Freedom® beltless feminine napkin commercial. As in the Rely® ad, many women are seen being active while, in the background, the words “You sure look a lot like a New Freedom® baby and, lady, that’s the way you want to be” are sung (Dickert). The name of the brand and jingle lyrics coincided with the times. During the ‘70s, it finally became accepted for women to be seen doing other things aside from looking pretty or being shamed in feminine hygiene ads. This was a great improvement compared to‘50s adverts when women were expected to stay home, ensuring that everything be tidy and clean – which included their… (you guessed it).
Many feminine hygiene commercials in the ‘80s were meant to be touching and personal by exhibiting the emotional bonds between women. During this time there was a backlash against feminism. Editor, Miriam Forman-Brunnel, says that many “post-feminist scholars and psychologists in the 1980s…returned to the idea that strong, positive mother-daughter relationships exist in the lives of real women [and]…adult women function as mentors to young girls” (197). An example of this kind of bond is a found in a famous Massengill® commercial, where a teenage girl and her mother are going for a nice evening stroll on the beach. The daughter then asks her mother a highly personal question, “Do you douche?” The mother quickly confirms and suggests to her daughter that she use the Massengill® brand. At the end of the commercial the mother strokes her daughter’s hair and says, “You’ll see how clean and fresh Massengill® makes you feel.” (Xwatchthis12). That’s a completely typical scenario, right? In a 1986 Stayfree® Maxi Pads commercial, you see a montage of women bonding and celebrating with each other (Wwwgjackca). As a lot of ‘80s female hygiene commercials showcased products to women by displaying the strong bonds between women, it seemed that the marketers wanted to send a message: if your mother or close friends do it, you should do it, too.
In the ‘90s and early 2000s, feminine hygiene ads consisted of a lot of untypical dancing and excessive happiness, making menstruating seem more fun and exciting than they actually were. For example, in a FDS® commercial, women are seen at a club partying and dancing the night away as a woman in the background talks about how feminine deodorant spray makes women feel confident by keeping them fresh and dry (Thompson). Another example is found in a Playtex® Gentle Glide commercial in which a montage displays women happily dancing in a synchronized fashion. At one point, a group of women are even dancing in all-white clothing (Lexy0505). This is not very realistic as many women are usually irritable and experience painful menstrual cramps during that time of the month. Further, most women are not going to risk ruining their day, and possibly their week, by dancing and wearing white while their vaginas bleed profusely. Commercials in the ‘90s and early 2000s were extremely exaggerated and unrealistic. It’s as if marketers were trying to cover up the truth about menstruation.
In today’s feminine hygiene commercials, controversy and realism is prevalent. There isn’t as much tiptoeing around topics regarding the female anatomy these days – at least not with younger people. Deborah Mitchell, executive director for the Center for Brand and Product Management at the University of Wisconsin School of Business, says that, “Gen Y people are more relaxed about their bodies, so there’s more attention to products that people would have been embarrassed to talk about before” (Anderson, par. 4). Mitchell is right as we can find current feminine hygiene commercials that do not beat-around-the-bush when it comes to keeping a vagina maintained. One example is found in a hilarious commercial ad by Sofy® BeFresh in which a beautiful woman is seen getting a notification on her phone, reminding her that her period is about to begin. Instantly, she turns into a chubbier, more negative and emotional version of herself. In each scene, she is seen doing something that is stereotypical of a menstruating woman, such as eating for no reason, crying, having irrational thoughts, and moping around in lounge clothes (Vance). Although this commercial caused a bit of controversy, it is not too far from the truth. Another example of realism can be seen in current U by Kotex® commercials where the “Save the Undies” campaign is advertised. The woman in the ad says, “When we talk about periods, we’re real” (U by Kotex®). She’s referring to the replacement of the commonly used blue liquid with red soda and other reddish liquids that seem more realistic. Today’s feminine hygiene adverts are more factual as people have become less sensitive to the reality that women menstruate. Finally, the truth about female reproductive organs doesn’t seem so taboo and is easier to talk about.
Over the years, marketers have come up with many different ways of influencing women to buy their products, and as time goes on, it seems as though society’s thoughts on a woman’s period become increasingly positive and factual. We do not know the future, but being on the path marketers are on, feminine hygiene could possibly be a thing that is embraced, accepted, and easy to talk about.
Anderson, Mae. “No More Dancing Around Issues in Feminine Hygiene”. CNSNews. CNSNews. 15 Sept. 2011. 14 Nov. 2015.
Bacaj, Ally. “The Dirty Secrets of Feminine Hygiene Products”. Gerson. Gerson Institute. 19 Sept. 2014. Web. 4 Oct. 2015.
Dickert, Rick. “New Freedom Commercial – 1978”. YouTube. YouTube, 4 Nov. 2013. Web. 4 Oct. 2015.
Forman-Brunnel, Miriam. “Daughters and Mothers”. Girlhood in America: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1. 2001. Web.
Lexy0505. “Platex commercial”. YouTube. YouTube, 19 Nov. 2007. Web. 4 Oct. 2015.
Lottoman17. “Summer’s Eve’ Feminine Hygiene  TV commercial – 1981.” YouTube. YouTube, 29 Aug. 2009. Web. 4 Oct. 2015.
PublicDomainMoviesYT. “Old Rely Tampons From Proctor and Gambel Commercial”. YouTube. YouTube, 8 Aug. 2013. Web. 4 Oct. 2015.
Thompson, Brian. “1990 FDS Powder Commercial”. YouTube. YouTube, 10 Aug. 2010. Web. 4 Oct. 2015.
U by Kotex®. “How to Save the Undies Mystery Liquid.” YouTube. YouTube, 5 May 2014. Web. 4 Oct. 2015.
Vance, Sophia. Sofy BeFresh Menstrual Pads Ad Slammed for ‘Fat Shaming’ Women on Periods News.” YouTube. YouTube, 20 Aug. 2015. Web. 4 Oct. 2015
Wwwgjackca. “Really Creepy 80s StayFree Pads Commercial”. YouTube. YouTube, 23 March 2011. Web. 4 Oct. 2015.
Xwatchthis12. “Douche Commercial.” YouTube. YouTube, 9 Sept. 2006. Web. 4 Oct. 2015.