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A Short (& Entertaining) History of Period Advertising

We live in an age when nothing seems off limits. We know intimate details of our friends’ sex lives. We avidly follow celebrity dating routines. Yet the topic of menstruation can still be taboo in some circles – and not just in the company of men.

However, that taboo is finally being attacked by Fourth Wave Feminism and open discussion in the media. The progress that has been made is clearly illustrated if we take a look back at advertising for menstrual products from the last few decades.

In the 1950s and 1960s, adverts usually featured elegant women dressed to the nines - the emphasis was on maintaining the perfect image to match one's perfect family.

                                           Kotex Advert, 1950s. Image: AdVintage

In the late 1960s and 1970s tampons became an increasingly popular choice. Adverts became groovier and the theme generally revolved around freedom and being carefree. Horseriding in white pants was a great example of denoting confidence.

                                            Tampax Advert, 1968. Image: Tampax

In the late 1970s super absorbent tampons made with synthetic fibres were brought to the market by Rely. Its tag line was, “Rely. It even absorbs the worry” …until 50 women died of TSS having used the product.

It was in the same decade that Stayfree also introduced the 'Beltless Feminine Napkin'.

                                                                        Stayfree Pad Ad, 1970s

The 1980s brought women super absorbent pads. These were featured on TV, using coloured water to demonstrate its great features. Not only that, women were finally encouraged to be active even whilst on their period. Courtney Cox actually became the first person to say ‘period’ on screen. It was only then that the advertisers began to feel that they could show these products on TV regularly...although they felt balance was necessary due to a possible ‘cultural disgust reflex’.

The 1990s saw the introduction of ‘wings’ and of course the bizarre blue liquid which was to become ubiquitous throughout advertising for the next couple of decades.

                                                  Always Ultra Pads, 1990s. Image: Always

In fact it wasn’t really until 2017 that Bodyform finally took a giant step forward and showed ‘period blood’ when advertising its product. Hallelujah! It’s about time.

                                                      Bodyform Advert, 2017. Image: Bodyform

There is, of course, still some taboo around periods – it’s going to take time to eradicate centuries of prejudice. However, we've come a long way.

Periods are normal and it is important that we teach this to our children, boys and girls alike. I remember when I was in school and got my first period. I was so petrified of being laughed at, I ended up in tears at the school nurse’s office and was sent home. No young lady should stop doing anything because they have their period or feel that they are judged because of it. Perception is projection.

Commercials for menstruation are about more than the product. They're about us. Women. These adverts show just how far we've come in a relatively short time. 

Written by Laura Lohk for Grace & Green

Grace & Green is a revolutionary new hygiene company which is empowering women by connecting them with period products which are good for the body as well as sustainable for the planet. 

Join the movement today and go into the draw to win a year's subscription of organic period products or a menstrual cup. 

Edited by Skye Rytenskild 


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