‘That time of the month’, better known as ‘the Curse’- Periods remain to exist as a non-acceptance in India. Cultural norms and religious taboos on menstruation have been compounded by traditional associations with ‘evil spirits’, shame and embarrassment surrounding sexual reproduction, which impact girls’ and women’s emotional state, mentality and lifestyle, but most importantly their health. These beliefs are further concreted by the low level of education provided about puberty, menstruation and reproductive health- until teenagers become self-taught out of own experiences.
A topic that is still not openly discussed due to the compulsion of keeping in mind certain ‘sensibilities’ and respecting society’s feelings at large is further disturbed and made worse due to highly unrealistic expectations laid down by the Pop Culture- mainly advertisements.
The manner in which menstrual products are represented in the Indian Ads- it has a lot to do with how the society perceives ‘it’ in the first place. Not only do these ads depict society’s stigmatised view of menstruation as being ‘filthy’, but also further validate it. With the sole purpose of selling the product, it seems to not matter for such advertisements if they end up manifesting negative cultural perceptions surrounding menstruation, and as a result strengthening the stigma attached to women’s bodies.
It is important to deconstruct the underlying meaning of the recurrent imagery and language used in these commercials; the remise under which they are created are concocted under one theme: Women Empowerment.
Women/girls in these ads are shown jumping fences, running for social causes, and becoming abnormally bright and breezy only because they are wearing a certain company’s sanitary pad- one which will protect them, save them and boost their confidence. At the same time, these ads also depict menstruation as a debilitating evil- one that affects our sleep, school grades, and career prospects; women are shown to have compromised their true identity while being low on self esteem during ‘that time’.
Another imagery that often makes a reappearance in these ads is the colour White– from clothes to bed sheets to walls to curtains. What won’t be immediately evident to a consumer is that here, ‘white’ is the major subtext; marking a clear distinction between regular days (non-period) and period days.
Along with white clothing, sports and adventure are a common trope in advertising for period products. It’s not really clear what skydiving, exercise, and changing flat tires has to do with our period, but many companies use images of happy, sporty, carefree women to sell their products. The message that you can do anything during your period can be empowering, but can also be an affront if you experience severe pain or tiredness during menstruation.
It is respectable that these ads try to create awareness about a natural bodily process, but hypocritically enough, eventually confirm to the social standards.
Sanitary Products advertisements are so unspecific, that as children, we would have never guessed that their main purpose was to absorb blood secreted from a female body; for us, they were just ‘some’ products that seemed like diapers. This major issue arises because of the colour of blood portrayed in these ads. Instead of showcasing the true picture and help desensitise the society towards ‘blood’, companies find it convenient and comforting to portray the same period blood as blue- the colour of water- to show consumers how absorbent their products are.
Advertisers feel capable of showing pads/tampons/other sanitary products onscreen, but believe to neutralise the audience’s possible ‘cultural disgust’ reflex at seeing any menstrual blood-like substance. The debut of a liquid that merely bears resemblance to blood in Indian advertisements instead of an inorganic, lab-brewed blue liquid will represent a new point in a long journey of de-mystifying and re-imaging menstrual flow; helping people understand what’s ‘normal’ and what could be an underlying medical issue.
They are often sexist, strange, and silly, but advertisements for menstrual products are an important source of information about periods for many people. Advertising reaches huge audiences and has the power to spread stigma and shame around menstruation—or to inform and empower viewers. It’s about time we realised what we want; how we want it; but most importantly, if we want it today.
“When she bleeds the smells, I know change colour. There is iron in her soul on those days. She smells like a gun.”
― Jeanette Winterson