Why Is Period Blood So Controversial?
This ad for period underwear was recently banned on social media for violating rules around sensational or violent content.
The problem was the period blood that the ad showed.
What’s The Deal?
So, how does stigma like this affect the lives of people who menstruate? And what does a story like this say about advertising’s attitudes towards periods?
Underwear company Modibodi launched its campaign called The New Way to Period back in September.
It was given the okay to run on Facebook but then it got picked up by the moderating AI and kicked off the platform.
It was barred for violating guidelines that aim to stop shocking, sensational or violent content appearing on feeds.
YouTube also banned the ad but the way that these platforms were censoring period content was leading to some serious backlash.
Eventually the platforms gave in and Modibodi’s ad, in its entirety, has been reposted.
But What Are The Wider Consequences Of A Story Like This?
Modibodi’s CEO, Kristy Chong, told me that when it comes to getting rid of the stigma that has always existed around menstruation, advertising has an important role to play.
Kristy Chong: “I can share with you the positive feedback that we’ve had from customers – ‘thank you for showing the reality of periods, thank you for showing what it’s like for me, thank you for showing my daughter what real periods look like and making her not feel ashamed’ – it shows how far we’ve come as a society.”
Period Blood Has Always Been Pretty Controversial On Social Media
There are heaps of examples of this, including one back in 2015 when the poet Rupi Kaur posted a self-portrait with a small period blood stain visible on her pants.
Instagram removed the photo, which caused a massive social media storm at the time. That led to the platform reposting it and apologising to Rupi.
Modibodi isn’t the first company to get into trouble for trying to show the true experience of menstruation.
Libra launched its Blood Normal campaign in Australia last year.
It was the first campaign to show period blood on TV, instead of blue dye which was commonly used in the past, and it became the most complained-about ad of the year.
It seems like wherever there’s visible period blood, there’s a lot of anger about it.
But Why Is It So Important To Try And Dispel Stigma Around Periods?
Across cultures, periods have historically been associated with being unhygienic and shameful.
So it’s typically something that people who menstruate will go to great lengths to hide, even from intimate partners.
That can have a whole heap of effects.
For a start, 25% of young Australian women are embarrassed to buy sanitary products.
Feminist writer Karen Pickering also says that on a personal level, period stigma can have these “knock-on effects” for how we understand the rest of our reproductive systems, because it discourages women from learning more about their whole reproductive cycle.
On a global level, period stigma and shame can contribute to serious human rights problems because of social exclusion including gender discrimination, violence, poverty and untreated health problems.
That’s why ads that aim to normalise periods like Modibodi’s are important.
KC: “As a brand I feel it is our responsibility to educate and to make sure people feel comfortable … it’s just all part of being human. And again, the more we can educate, and be bold, and expose and show, and demonstrate that it’s really not that bad it’s just a little bit of blood … it’s not just for women, or people who menstruate, it’s for the other people out there who don’t menstruate to understand.”
Kristy believes brands have a big role to play here alongside influencers, parents, and menstrual educators in schools.
She thinks that even though periods have become more visible across various forms of media, there’s more work to be done in this space.
KC: “I really hope the next time ourselves, or someone else, puts out an ad that’s talking around people’s bodily leakage that it doesn’t get banned. It’s not sensational, it’s not violent so yeah we’ve got ways to go.”
Period stigma is still a massive problem and stories like Modibodi’s really highlight a general unwillingness to face menstruation in public spaces.
Advertisers can do their part to help break the taboo but ultimately, the continued backlash to images of periods show how far we have to go, and how this needs to become a much bigger conversation for all.