Advert­ising is an import­ant means of present­ing and dis­trib­ut­ing vari­ous products to the pub­lic. But how is men­stru­ation in advert­ising actu­ally por­trayed? Shouldn’t it be just as diverse, hon­est and ver­sat­ile as the cur­rent soci­ety in 2021? Wrong! Sophia took a closer look at period advertising:

The blue men­strual blood of period industry advertising

Have you ever noticed that men­stru­ation is always depic­ted with blue blood in advert­ise­ments on TV? Do you bleed blue? Prob­ably not. Most men­stru­at­ors are more likely to find mucousy and light to dark red blood in their fully soaked pad instead of the blue, clin­ical fluid that TV com­mer­cials always present to us. Why is nat­ural men­strual blood not shown in advert­ising? Because socially, it is still seen as some­thing unpleas­ant and dis­gust­ing. It is not for noth­ing that the big brands for men­strual products advert­ise in TV com­mer­cials with catch­words like: “pro­tec­tion, fresh­ness, clean­li­ness, free­dom”. This implies that peri­ods are some­thing dan­ger­ous, smelly, dirty, and also mean restric­tions and lack of free­dom. Advert­ising wants us to under­stand that men­stru­at­ors need men­strual products in order not to be at the mercy of this “danger”.

Who men­stru­ates in tele­vi­sion commercials? 

Have you also noticed that men­stru­ation is very often rep­res­en­ted in advert­ise­ments by young, pretty, thin cis women walk­ing around with clear skin, bright smiles and little white dresses? First of all, do you wear white clothes on the first day of your men­stru­ation, when the bleed­ing is par­tic­u­larly heavy? I think very few people dare to do that because, as we all know, it can go wrong. Blood is very dif­fi­cult to wash out of white clothes! On the first day of your period, many men­stru­at­ors also get skin prob­lems and often have to deal with blem­ishes and a bloated belly. This is def­in­itely not the time when men­stru­at­ors feel like the ideal of beauty that we see every day in advertising. 

Men­stru­ation is also more diverse than the norm­at­ive image of the thin, beau­ti­ful young woman would have us believe. There are much more diverse body images of men­stru­at­ors, as well as all age groups. Very young or older people are never shown, although men­arche can begin as early as eleven (or earlier) and many men­stru­at­ors bleed monthly until their mid-forties. And any­way, why are only women shown? Even though most men­stru­at­ors are women, non-bin­ary people and trans men also men­stru­ate.  Shouldn’t advert­ising also sup­port the vis­ib­il­ity of these groups?

menstrual advertising, period advertising, vulvani, sophia, maya, blue blood, advertising, period blood on tv, menstruation in advertising, pad advertising, tampon advertising, always advertising, blue liquid, bloody pad advertising

Men­stru­ation in advert­ising: the period as an obstacle?

Men­stru­ation is per­ceived as an obstacle in advert­ising and in our soci­ety in gen­eral. This is because men­stru­at­ors often need rest dur­ing their period and feel less energy than dur­ing the other phases of the cycle. In the mer­ito­cracy in which we live it is seen as a “weak­ness”. Because of that advert­ising tries to make men­stru­at­ing women believe that they can ignore their period with period products and that they will be able to per­form com­pletely again. 

A rel­at­ively new Always advert­ise­ment is par­tic­u­larly exem­plary of this phe­nomenon. The advert­ise­ment in ques­tion shows an ener­getic woman with strong arms, con­fid­ently and power­fully car­ry­ing out a mov­ing day. She grabs hold and clears out the lorry with the heavy fur­niture. On the one hand, it’s really cool; the cliché image of fem­in­in­ity in the old advert­ise­ments of the petite woman jump­ing over flower mead­ows in a little white dress is not repro­duced any fur­ther. The prob­lem­atic thing, how­ever, is that this woman says: “Whether I have my period or not, I always want to give 100 %! But I often don’t feel suf­fi­ciently pro­tec­ted,” and that’s where the Always Ultra is sup­posed to help. 

So the advert­ising repro­duces the image of the men­stru­at­ing body that has to be sup­pressed, that still has to func­tion. Even though at that moment it simply can­not func­tion in a purely bio­lo­gical way as it would oth­er­wiseThis is highly prob­lem­atic because this woman is set as the norm: She can clear out a heavy mov­ing van des­pite her period. But this is not the norm and does not have to be. Shouldn’t the advert­ise­ments rather show a per­son read­ing a book in a relaxed way dur­ing her period, with a hot water bottle on her stom­ach and a tea in her hand?

Don’t be influ­enced by the por­trayal of men­stru­ation in advertising!

In many cases, advert­ising plays on the fact that the greatest fear of all men­stru­at­ors should be that their men­stru­ation will be “dis­covered”. As if the biggest goal of men­stru­at­ors is to pre­tend that they are not men­stru­at­ing. Non-men­stru­at­ing people are set as the norm. Men­stru­ation is por­trayed in advert­ising as a bur­den and “abnor­mal­ity” that needs to be con­tained with men­strual products. As if men­stru­at­ors were oth­er­wise com­pletely at the mercy of their periods. 

We don’t have to feel at the mercy of our peri­ods. It is neither dirty nor dan­ger­ous and one norm among many. Men­stru­ation is part of our body and we can deal with it. Of course, period products make men­stru­at­ing “easier” for many men­stru­at­ors, but it is also pos­sible without. Free bleed­ing is already a wide­spread prac­tice, that lets us get closer to our bod­ies and our periods. 

So don’t let the advert­ising fool you. The por­trayal of men­stru­ation in advert­ising is not real­istic! Your period doesn’t have to be blue and clin­ical and smell like bath­room cleaner. You don’t have to be beam­ing with joy on the first day, you can also be annoyed and slumped on the sofa in baggy clothes. You don’t have to be dressed to the nines, you don’t have to wear a white dress and, above all, blem­ishes on your skin are per­fectly nor­mal dur­ing your period! There’s really no need to move on the first day of your period. You can take it easy. And above all, you don’t neces­sar­ily need men­strual products to sur­vive. They are not your saviour in times of need, you are not at the mercy of your men­stru­ation! So feel free to bleed freely and red and even in bed with chocol­ate in your jog­ging outfit!

Read­ing recommendations:

You feel like read­ing more about the sub­ject? Then I can recom­mend a sci­entific paper and two books:

Sophia, Vulvani. Menstruation in der Werbung, menstruation in advertising. Tabuisierung der Menstruation, The taboo of menstruation
Stu­dent & Editor | + posts

Sophia will soon be study­ing for her master's degree in cul­tural anthro­po­logy. Fem­in­ist top­ics are very close to her heart. She wrote her bach­elor thesis on the topic of men­stru­ation and inter­viewed vari­ous men­stru­at­ing people about how they deal with their men­stru­ation. By con­stantly examin­ing her own bod­ily pro­cesses, she has found a beau­ti­ful way to deal with her men­stru­ation and cycle, des­pite monthly period pains. Oth­er­wise she works in the art and cul­ture asso­ci­ation aRaum e.V. and likes to spend time with her friends.