Ending The Menstruation Stigma: Bodyform Gets Bloody Real

by Kate Harveston

I have so many feelings (all good!) about a new Bodyform advertisement that is out right now, which is the first to ever show red liquid tied to menstruation. This is a big deal.

But first, let’s dig into why this is such a big deal.

There’s so much that’s still unsaid about the stigma tied to menstruation. The world’s general view of a natural bodily function experienced by half the entire population is still nowhere near where it should be.

This is such an emotive and tense subject for many of us, because the fact that menstruation is and has been stigmatized for so long epitomizes one of the biggest injustices that we, as women, face—that women and girls’ bodies and lives are not their own.

Who Do Our Bodies Belong To?

As women, it can sometimes feel as though our bodies are not our own. With legislative actions that will primarily affect women being thrown around so carelessly by men, it can seem as though society is trying to say that we should not be in control of our own lives.

Women’s bodies have also always been particularly prime game for criticism and judgment. Historically, almost anything we do, wear and say is subject to extreme and condemning judgment. The fascination with our physical embodiment is a prime example.

Women and girls are both hated and objectified for their bodies and sexuality—you’re either a “tease” or a “slut,” with little to no in-between. We always seem to owe something to men, to someone else, to society, and whatever we do as modern women is often deemed to have an undercurrent of improperness.

It’s A Period: Deal With It

And then bring periods into the discussion. Yes, we have a unique monthly bodily function so that we can continue the human race, should we choose. Surely this is a miracle? Surely the fact we can produce life from our womb is nothing short of deserving of common decency and respect?

One would think. Unfortunately, however, menstruation is routinely stigmatized, and has been for pretty much ever. It’s often still deemed unattractive and loathsome in the Western world, and in some countries, such as India, women on their periods are outright shamed and made to feel dirty, immoral, unfeminine (which would be laughably ironic if it wasn’t so sad), and unworthy of public life.

It’s interesting, because if men had periods and therefore the associated ability to bear life, menstruation might just become the most masculine, jealousy-inducing event ever. A sign of virility, the beginning of manhood! Parties and gifts would ensue. Sanitary towels would be federally funded and women would undergo training programs to learn how to be sensitive during a man’s menstruation.

But men have historically been the superior group, and whatever a superior group has or does not have will be used to justify its prejudices. As feminist writer Gloria Steinem puts it, logic has nothing to do with oppression.”

Bringing Menstruation Out Of The Dark

But back to the real world. Up until 2016, a real-life sanitary pad had never been featured in an advertisement before, and now one year later we finally see what looks like real period blood in a TV ad. Enter Bodyform. Their recent ad moves to end the menstruation stigma all together by showing not blue, but RED liquid, as well as period blood in the shower. The tagline: “Periods are normal. Showing them should be too. #bloodnormal”

It’s important that the media starts de-stigmatizing menstruation so that the message can travel and reach a variety of audiences. As I touched on, period shaming in the developing world remains rife:

  • In India, a quarter of girls miss school during their periods due to the fact that they are viewed as “unclean” during this time of the month.
  • In Kenya, girls are sexual abuse targets once it is known they are menstruating.
  • In Nepal, women and girls are exiled to animal shelters during menstruation to banish “impurity” from the family homes. This renders them even more vulnerable to sexual attacks, exposure to the elements, and disease.

Furthermore, many can’t even protect themselves during their periods, as 65 percent of women and girls cannot afford tampons or pads.

Period shaming impacts women and girls’ understanding of their own sexuality and knowledge of their bodies, and this shame has a massive domino effect on women and girls embracing themselves, their bodies, and their confidence in general. Our bodies should not be mysteries to us. We need to be able to own them with pride.

Ending Shame Through Raising Awareness

Bodyform is just one factor working to raise us up and tackle the body shame so many of us have experienced, and it’s doing that in the best way possible—by not conforming to the archaic view that periods are so disgusting that we can’t even depict them in their true form—blood. Half of the world, an entire gender, has been shamed for far too long, and it has continued for far too long. So, thanks, Bodyform, for one small but important move among many aimed at shifting global attitudes.

Kate Harveston is an online journalist who enjoys writing about women’s issues. If you like her work, you can find more of it here on Cycledork or on her blog, Only Slightly Biased, where she writes about culture and politics.

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