Elle May talks Instagram censorship and mysterious blue liquids
This article is part of That’s What She Said’s ‘Period Week’. To read the introduction to ‘Period Week’ check out Maya Jones’ article: https://twssmagazine.com/2015/06/01/its-period-week/
Earlier today, in a University building foyer, I was asked where the nearest newsagent was. I asked the girl in front of me what she needed and, looking over at the porters, she answered in hushed tones: ‘tampons.’
I hate the taboo around periods. Around half the population have them, once a month, for a large portion of their lives. It’s nothing new. In fact, I would say it’s getting pretty old. And I resent that moment of panic in the loo when I realise I’ve forgotten my emergency sanitary towel, that fear that blood is going to soak through my jeans, showing everyone the bloody truth: that I’m on my period.
However, it’s come to my attention that I should relax about this; if people take the adverts for so-called ‘feminine hygiene products’ at face value, then I should expect my menstrual blood to be, not red, but… blue. A nice clean, bright, non-offensive blue.
Since advertisements for sanitary products began, the P&G family brands (including Tampax and Always) have cleverly sanitised our periods, ensuring that the adverts aren’t too stomach-churning. Because, really, when you’re eating your dinner in front of a gory horror or action film, or taking time out from violently killing people in a video game, the last thing you want to see during the break is menstrual blood. It’s that special, nasty blood we don’t like to talk about, or see.
When Rupi Kaur recently published her beautiful series of photos depicting her lying on her bed with bloodstained sweat pants and a small blood soak on her sheets, Instagram removed the photo. She said she wanted to ‘demystify’ periods yet, according to Instagram, this didn’t follow the ‘Community Guidelines.’ Apparently, our communities can’t deal with period blood, despite it being something that around half of us produce, touch, smell and see on a monthly basis.
It seems that our ‘flow’ is more non-pc, more problematic, more controversial than the site’s vast objectifying content. As Rupi directly stated in response, “I will not apologise for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in underwear but not be ok with a small leak when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified, pornified, and treated less than human.”
‘Less than human,’ because, we bleed too – but we can’t show you the redness. ‘Apologise,’ because we are expected to control our periods, hide them from view so that you can finish your cheese sandwich in peace, minus the nausea.
Elissa Stein, co-author of the book Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation, rightly argued in the New York Times that “Fem-care advertising is so sterilized and so removed from what a period is.” We never see blood, we never see the discomfort, the pain, the exhaustion and cramps. Instead, we see happy, bouncy women speaking alongside a clean white pad, covered in a little blue liquid.
This was highlighted in the recent ‘If Maxi Pad Ads Used Red Instead of Blue’ spoof advert by UBC comedy, where red liquid was poured over sanitary towels to demonstrate their absorbance capacity. The comment section, exhibiting the intellectual prowess of YouTube’s inhabitants, was riddled with comments from both men and women, claiming, ‘I need to lie down’ and ‘I find this more terrifying than disgusting.’
In reality, I reckon everyone could deal with seeing a menstrual blood stain while still managing to finish eating their sandwich. After all, we probably have all seen one: on ourselves, on our beds, on our sisters, mothers, or a stranger. Advertising seems to perpetuate a myth surrounding menstruation that we are all, women and men alike, freaked out by period blood. It encourages us to be scared and embarrassed by it, by not only hiding the blood from our eyes, but substituting it with an unnatural, clinically-associated colour.
On the plus side, Always’ has launched the ‘Like a Girl’ campaign, the main advert of which defies the stereotypes of weakness surrounding the phrase by showing women of all ages ‘run, throw and jump’ ‘Like a Girl’ – i.e like a normal person. The recent ‘Hello Flo’ spoof advert, where a mother punishes her daughter for faking her first period by throwing her a ‘First Moon Party,’ also works to defy the taboo. The vagician and bobbing uteruses are a highlight, and the young teenager forged her period in the first place because she attached such pride to being a ‘blood sister’. The period itself is the prettiest I have ever seen, faked as it is with ‘rubylicious glittery nailpolish,’ which largely makes fun of the modern beautification of periods. As her mother jokes at the end, “Would she think I wouldn’t know? Periods don’t have glitter in them.”
That is, unless you’re Hannah Altman, a young photographer who recently published a series of artwork using exactly that: glitter in the place of period blood, armpit hair, vomit and tears. This series sought to reflect the ridiculous expectation on women to hide their natural bodily functions, to make them acceptable, pretty, glittery. As one of Rupi Kaur’s poem’s reads:
‘Apparently it’s ungraceful of me
to mention my period in public
cause the actual biology
of my body is too real.’
So, let’s make advertising for period products real. Because, despite popular belief, I don’t ride the average blue wave – I ride the crimson wave.