The Event took place on December 18, 2009, in room C25 at Lakeside Middle School. It was a chilly afternoon in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and it was also the Friday leading up to Christmas break. Every 7th grader in Ms. Newsome’s class knew what that meant: Pajama Day, the most glorious day of the school year, when teachers hand out cookies and milk instead of worksheets, and the scores of movies like “The Polar Express” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” resound through the halls instead of lecturing voices. I sauntered into 1st period that day in my pastel-pink Hello Kitty onesie, blissfully unaware that the next 50 minutes would not be relaxing like I imagined but instead a total bloodbath.
The events leading up to The Event started approximately 15 minutes into class, according to my records. Newsome had just finished handing out Double Stuf Oreos. She asked my milk preference: regular or strawberry? I chose strawberry. That’s when resident bully Sam Larson looked up from his glass of regular milk and told me only dumb girls chose strawberry. I, of course, had to defend my gender’s honor, so I challenged him to arm-wrestle. For feminism.
Larson was stronger than I had anticipated (he was very thin). I was exerting all of my strength just seconds into the battle. My entire body was tense with stress. Larson’s hand was inching closer and closer to the desk and defeat when …
My underwear suddenly feels hot. My inner thighs are wet. My blood freezes, and my heart drops. No way did I just pee my pants. I let go of Larson’s hand and venture a look at my crotch to be confronted with a rebellious blotch of red creeping into the innocent pink fabric of my PJs.
I stand up. I run to the bathroom. I peel off my once-blue underwear. My heart is going thousands of beats per minute, and my hands aren’t as steady. I can’t have peed myself; pee is yellow. It can’t have been my period; that’s the light-blue fluid poured on pads. I am bleeding from my vagina. That means I am dying.
Spoiler alert: I was not dying.
It was 2009. Always Infinity’s “Disappearing Act” commercial was on the air. In it, a woman in a white pantsuit with a matching magician’s wand swirls blue liquid in a flask and pours it onto the pad while proclaiming that it has “an amazing material that’s four times more absorbent than you may need, making fluids seem to … Poof.” Cue the disappearance of the mysterious blue liquid and the fade-in of the Always logo. At first it’s hard to imagine that a girl who had been educated for 12 consecutive years thought period blood was blue, not red, just because of a commercial, but it wasn’t just the one commercial. Dozens of these commercials, all of them using the anti-freeze colored liquid, were on the air. On TV shows, mothers felt uncomfortable talking about bleeding with their children. Adult women concealed their hygiene products, and adult men pretended they didn’t exist.
It was only in August of 2011 that Always ran the first feminine-hygiene ad to show red “blood.” The ad was published just in print, and featured a small, red circle on a white pad.
Contrast the commercials featuring the sterile blue liquid and white clothing to ads today. One of the most popular, a 2013 ad for the relatively new company Hello Flo, is entitled “Camp Gyno”. In it, a gap-toothed girl wallows at a camp all by her lonesome self because she’s the new girl, and she doesn’t know anybody. Then, everything changes: The Event happens to her, but it’s not an ordeal that needs capital letters anymore. For her, it’s a “red badge of courage”. She’s the first to get that particular badge, so she’s suddenly the self-proclaimed Camp Gyno, resident expert on all things menstruation. Suddenly, having a period translates into social power. Her reign ends when the girls at camp start to receive Hello Flo care packages that include tampons and booklets about periods. “It’s like Santa for your vagina!” she proclaims.
Always’ ads have been keeping up with the trend toward period positivity and girl power as well. The newest award-winning ad they’ve produced, #likeagirl, starts with the simple question, “What does it mean to do something like a girl?” The answers given from people who are not young girls are very different from those given by actual young girls. Running like a girl means running slowly to a young boy, but to a young girl, it means running with all her weight behind it. The ad aims to highlight the differences between the way girls are perceived and how they perceive themselves, and what changes as they grow into women. Tampax Pearl adverts now feature girls zip-lining, playing soccer and performing onstage.
The trend in advertising seems to be a reflection of a more sex-positive, period-positive society; we’ve progressed from the blue liquid and women in white to ads lauding young girls’ strength. This means that the era of period shaming and the sexism that it stems from is over now, right?
Nah. Corporations like P&G don’t really promote girl power and a healthy, shame-free relationship with menstruation. They don’t care about equality, or we would be seeing it in their leadership or the ads they approve for their other subsidiaries. Bounty, Dawn and Gain commercials all have smiling moms fulfilled by cleaning up the messes their boys make. P&G also owns Axe Body Spray. The ads promoting the men’s spray consist of a man spraying Axe and suddenly becoming the object of attention from women who look like Victoria’s Secret models. The advertisements companies churn out will fall in the direction the wind blows that day. It just happens that today, period shaming is out and girl power is in.