I realized something while talking to a friend recently. The advertising industry — poor things — have been forced to perpetuate two lies (well, many, but these are the ones we will concern ourselves with for now) for decades, leading to gross misinformation among the (mostly male) public. I'm here to set the record straight today. This is going to be very hard to read for many people, I know, but I want to clarify what these false claims are — and what's actually going on behind the scenes — because everyone deserves to know the truth.
So here goes.
Women don't secrete a gentle-looking, powder blue liquid when we're on our period. Our blood is, sadly, just an unordinary red — the same kind that shows up in blood donation ads. And when we're on our period, we also shed our endometrium (the lining of the uterus, for the uninitiated) — which is the whole point of having a menstrual cycle in the first place. But I can forgive the advertising industry for not wanting to include that detail; imagine the gooey pastes in pleasant, floral colors they would have to fabricate if the endometrium was actually taken into consideration. It's too much work! And more importantly, it would really upset the men — the ones making the ads, and the ones who are sometimes put in harm's way by airing these ads at times when they're near the TV. (And if you don't believe me, just look at the comments on this video where someone obviously not in their right mind tried to imagine what a period ad would look like, if it used, you know, the real color of blood.)
Also, despite what the advertisements show, we don't take a razor (or wax strips or hair removal creams) to already hairless limbs. You see, the cost of buying these adds up because we pay more for everything as compared to men in general, so for maximum efficiencies, we normally wait for our hair to grow back before we attack our skin with whatever hair removal tool we have chosen from patriarchy's war chest that day. Depending on our bodies and the preferred method, that can take anything from five days to two weeks (unless you're Indian like me, and your hair grows back in 37 minutes out of deference to your genes). Either way, mainstream media are not allowed to show you a picture of something as repulsive as a hairy, female limb, but I assure you: the hair strikes back with full force — on our faces, on our legs, on our arms, in our underarms — and sits there for as long as we let it. Which is not long, of course, because our lives rely so heavily on daily interaction with males and grossing them out won't get us closer to that promotion we've been working for or that cocktail we are paying $17 for, so we make sure we're always aiming for that "smooth, silky feeling" the ads promised us. (As a fun aside, watch this Veet ad where they actually dared to show a hairy leg, but substituted the supposed female owner of said leg with a large, conventionally unattractive man to drive the point home. That's two forms of body shaming in one ad. Creative. Geniuses.)
There are, of course, advertisers who are not good at this sort of thing. Remember what happened to period underwear company THINX when it tried to use symbolic imagery — food, to be specific — to allude to the evil machinations of the vagina in their ads for the MTA? They had to fight the MTA. And if you live in NYC or are even remotely familiar with the MTA, you know what a project that can be, especially if the Chairman of the MTA himself comes out to declare that your work makes him "uncomfortable". In response, THINX tried to point to the breast augmentation ads that proliferate the same trains to make a case around the MTA's supposed hypocrisy — why was it OK to use oranges and grapefruits to create dissatisfaction amongst women (including young, already insecure, teenaged girls) with a certain breast size and nudge them toward cosmetic surgery, but not to show the "natural workings" of women's menstrual systems?
I'm giggling as I type this because that question is so naive. The answer is simple. Men are comfortable with breasts — heck, some even love them! Society has sexualized breasts for centuries, so men have had ample time to not only make their peace with these organs but also, position them as some sort of metric of female attractiveness. Hence, the ad goading women to look down disappointedly at their chests, look back up at the ad, and make note of the company's contact information so they can later go and hand over indecent amounts of money to someone in the hopes of meeting up to yet another high standard reserved just for their gender. But you'll be hard pressed to produce a man who loves — or can even tolerate — menstrual blood and female hair that is not on the head as much as he loves or tolerates breasts. And until we can find one, there should be no ads around them. Period. (No pun intended.) It's only fair.
Unfortunately for some of us, THINX's ads have now been up for more than 18 months in some sort of small victory for this thing called feminism. It's appalling that this is what the world has come to, but I'm doing my part to show support. Since these ads went live, every time I've been on the train basking in their orange glow, I've been sending sympathetic "they won the battle, but you'll win the war" glances to my fellow male passengers who have to suffer through very suggestive images of citrus fruits. In this horrifying time, it's the least I can do.
Either way, there you have it. The next time you watch an ad for a Tampax or a Veet, you know exactly who it's being made for, and why. The advertising industry has all my sympathy; they have a difficult job: ads for women's products must take into account men's sensitive sensibilities while also selling to women's basic physical needs. I hope you'll join me in applauding their fine, fine work so far; I, for one, cannot wait to see them top the specimens linked to above, but something tells me that we won't have to wait too long.