This week, Kotex is launching a new campaign “that aims to encourage women to talk candidly and without embarrassment about periods and vaginal care”. Research statistics from the brand indicate that “vaginally-aware women” are more likely to have a positive body image (40% vs. 31%) and to be satisfied with their level of self-confidence (64% vs. 43%) and ability to express themselves (76% vs. 55%). In the same survey, 70% of women said they wish society would change the way it talks about vaginal health, but less than half feel like they can do anything about it.

Of course, this means new products from Kotex. But from where I sit, there’s little new here. The products seem to be the same old Kotex pads and tampons, now individually wrapped in bright, “fierce” colors instead of the usual pastels. The same old plastic applicators are now yellow, blue, or green, instead of just pink.  The anti-ad advertisement technique (see video at right) was pioneered by Sprite (a CocaColaTM product) in their mid-1990s “Image is Nothing. Obey Your Thirst.” campaign. The Sprite ad was featured in Douglas Rushkoff’s 2001 film, The Merchants of Cool, as an example of how corporate advertising appropriates youth culture to appeal to young people.

And that seems to be what Kotex is doing with “Break the Cycle.” The new web site has a hip, blocky style and multiple ways to interact with the company and with other customers (hello, Twitter! hi there, Facebook!). Quotes from girls and young women appear throughout the site, many in handwritten fonts. The FAQ file (“Real Answers“) features three answers to each question: one from a peer, one from a mom, and one from a health expert.

At the same time, this looks likes an honest effort to increase education and honesty about menstruation and vaginal health. Kotex surveyed 1,607 North American girls and women aged 14-35 about their knowledge of menstruation, vaginal health, and self-esteem and body image. The findings won’t surprise anyone at re:Cycling:

Chart summarizing some of findings from Kotex study.

  • Most women are satisfied with their personal relationships, self-confidence, and level of happiness – a majority describes themselves as intelligent, independent, and happy. However, the majority are not satisfied with what their body looks like and only a minority describe themselves as beautiful or sexy.
  • Many women think of their vaginal area as ugly and are self-conscious about what a potential sexual partner might think of how their vagina looks.

The specific findings about menstruation are sadly familiar; I recall finding similar statistics in a widely-cited survey conducted in 1981 on a similar population when I first began studying menstruation 20 years ago.

  • Society’s attitudes toward vaginal health – menstruation in particular – have had an effect on how women experience certain milestones, communicate with each other, and how they feel about

    • More than half of women (59%) felt awkward around others when they first got their period, and about 3 in 5 (62%) report that they felt uncomfortable discussing the experience with other people, even their close friends and family.
    • Though a majority (66%) say getting their period didn’t really change anything else about who they are or how they behave, more than half (55%) report that they became more self-conscious about their body once they started menstruating, and even now, more than half of women (54%) feel dirty when they have their period, and 2 in 3 (67%) don’t want people knowing when they’re menstruating.
    • One in three women (32%) think buying period products is embarrassing.
    • More than 4 in 5 (84%) say they feel the need to hide their tampon or pad on their way to the bathroom in a public place (e.g., work, school, restaurant) – more than half (54%) strongly agree with this statement.

Despite my cynicism about the ad and disappointment in plastic products, I am glad to see a femcare company promoting openness about menstruation and vaginal health. “Vaginally aware women” sure beats “have a happy period” and “stop Mother Nature”.

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