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In Honor of Periods, Pad Commercials, and Menstrual Cramps


Jul 1 2014
Why suppressing our cycles isn’t always the answer.

Recent ads from Verizon and Always Sanitary Pads pack a powerful message to pre-teen girls on what it is like to be dismissed as "like a girl." In contrast, the latest video from menstruation marketer HelloFlo, which provides monthly "special delivery" packages for a girl's "hoo-ha," comes with a snarky kid narrator and her gleefully revengeful mother.

The advertised discrete brown box arrives every month from HelloFlo to take care of all those messy adolescent menstrual needs, plus candy to console cramps and monthly crabbiness. Meant to be a satirical and humorous take on modern mother/daughter communication, many moms found the HelloFlo clip to fall flat and farcical, with one NPR commentator dubbing it meanstration.

As a family physician (and mother of a daughter), I am dismayed by this type of marketing and what it says about mothers, daughters, and our view of menstruation. Sure, we love to laugh at absurdity; it makes us cringe and squirm at an uncomfortable underlying reality. But the message here is actually one of humiliation, not sensitivity to an early adolescent who so feels enough pressure to be grown-up that she'll fake it and lie.

The early desperation for our first period is a trope that goes back long before Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. I was a very skinny 14-year before my period started and definitely felt that pressure of being left behind, with my little "Kotex starter package" gathering dust in my closet.

As grown women, we may be baffled at our daughters' pleas for menstruation to start, knowing what a hassle and honest to goodness pain it can be, yet another timeless and recurring truth of womanhood. Humanity has always been ambivalent about the inevitable monthly menstruation cycle, and even today's primetime, in-your-face feminine hygiene, pad, and tampon ads haven't changed that. Let's face it, if we can find a way to avoid monthly cycles that doesn't involve being pregnant or prematurely menopausal, we're ready to sign up. (That goes especially for the many women who struggle with painful, difficult periods due to gynecologic disorders such as uterine fibroids, endometriosis, polycystic ovaries, severe premenstrual mood dysphoria or PMS, or other hormonal imbalances.)

So the modern demand grows for birth control pills, injections, implants, patches, vaginal rings, IUDs, and other suppressive hormone treatments. Some popular forms of birth control prevent cycles and bleeding altogether.

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In Honor of Periods, Pad Commercials, and Menstrual Cramps