The challenge that advertisers face when promoting the sale of menstrual products is how to visually demonstrate how the product works or the aspects of the cycle that product addresses without showing actual menstrual blood or a woman’s anatomy. One well established solution is the use of blue liquid to demonstrate absorbency or the ubiquitous white clothing every menstruating woman is thought to prefer.

Creative metaphors and symbols abound.

Recently, a TV ad and associated web site have appeared marketing a product to treat what is called (in Capital Letters) “Heavy Menstrual Bleeding (HMB).” The web site states, “Heavy Menstrual Bleeding (HMB) is a medical condition also known as Menorrhagia.” Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, “Menorrhagia is a medical condition also known as heavy medical bleeding,” but maybe that’s just being picky.

The home page of the site claims that “Millions of women don’t have normal periods. Their periods are too heavy. But how much is too much?” The last sentence is printed in large type in a bright menstrual red color. Later, citing the US census, the site claims that there may be as many as 22 million women in the US who “suffer” from HMB, leaving unanswered how they define “normal,” a statistical term, if such a large number of women have the condition.

Since the ads and the site are the creation of a drug company, Ferring Pharmaceuticals, and the advice given is the usual “speak to your doctor” if you have these conditions, obviously there is a financial interest involved. Nothing new there. But it is fascinating to see how women’s bodies and their menstrual flow are visually constructed.

In this case, women are likened to a variety of drinking glasses containing some clear water. There are tall, slender glasses, short, round glasses, wine glasses with stems, glasses that bulge in the middle, glasses that flare out at the top. Each glass (there are nine different ones on the home page) has a different level of water in it, one only a quarter full, another three quarters, another half full, etc. We are to understand that this represents the wide variety in women’s bodies as well as the variations in the amount of menstrual blood each one produces each month.

I suppose that still water at a high level in a clear glass is an effective metaphor for a menstruating body, but when they did the video version of the promotion, they got carried away. The first image is of at lest three dozen different glasses with the suggestion of many more off to both sides of the frame. Then, as gentle music plays and a soft woman’s voice tells about HMB and that it can be treated, we see a number of glasses with low water levels. The narrator tells us that, “Every month millions of women have perfectly normal periods,” as the camera pans glasses with small amounts of water, but then, as we learn that “millions of other women don’t have normal periods,” we see a variety of glasses sinking into water or running over with water dripping down the lip or whirling through the air in slow motion as their contents spew across the frame in large and small blobs and droplets. The women represented by these glasses are in trouble and while a large glass tumbles out of control, its contents spewing every which way, the phone number and web site info settle on the screen.

I suppose it’s a good thing they used clear water. Had it been red it would have resembled a horror movie. But maybe that’s what was actually intended.

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