Aug 30, 2011

A Fresh, New, Not-So-Fresh Feeling

If you are a woman who came of age any time after 1970, chances are you have read the Judy Blume classic, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Actually, if you’re a man, chances are you too read the book as a voyeuristic journey into the life of a pubescent teenage girl, just as we girls pored through the accounts of spontaneous erections and nocturnal emissions of AYTGIMM’s male counterpart, Then Again, Maybe I Won’t.

Of course, in between adolescent chants of We must, we must, we must increase our bust!, the pages of AYTGIMM were filled with accounts of first menstrual periods, and the awkward brand loyalty of teenagers in regard to feminine hygiene. I’m speaking, of course, about the reluctance of the teenage protagonists to use the fictional Private Lady sanitary napkins endorsed by their mothers and sex education instructors, as the girls instead showed preference to the more youthful branding of Private Lady's competitor, Teenage Softies.

I remember many an adolescent moment, perched upon a toilet sans reading material, studying my own mother’s box of Tampax Super Plus (um giant tampons = SCARY). Tampax was a name which was, at that time, synonymous with “tampon”. It dominated the market, trailed by the newer, plastic-applicatored Playtex, and the completely terrifying, applicatorless OB, which my mother insisted was at the center of a Toxic Shock Syndrome scare in its earliest days. I do not know about the validity of her concerns, as I am unable find information about this "scare" on the web, but I do remember one time we got a sample of OB in the mail. My mother threw them in the trash.

ME: Why are you throwing away the tampons?

MOM: They’re OB. The could kill you.

ME: They’re cotton. And they’re free.

MOM: Fine use them. You’ll get toxic shock syndrome and DIE.

ME: I think that’s only if you leave it in for a week or something. Ugh. Gross?


ME: Um, no?

MOM: Don’t worry. We still have plenty of Tampax.

And of course, last but not least, there was Kotex.

Back in my early-bleeding days, Kotex existed as the forerunner of the old-lady products. If you had a box of Kotex in your shopping cart, you likely also had a bottle of Geritol and a Fleet Enema. Maybe some Efferdent as well. I don’t think I ever met a woman who used Kotex tampons…well, until recently.

Kotex gets a makeover.
In my aformentioned copious hours of reality TV watching, I’ve noticed—now that Comcast has sort-of fixed my service—that everything old is new again, vaginally speaking, that is. It appears that Kotex is the Teenage Softies of the new generation, having undergone a makeover of Heidi Montag proportions. The formerly dull, unhip packaging previously displayed near the bottom of the shelf of feminine hygiene products, has been moved up to the center shelf, its box lacquered out in a sleek black finish. Kotex is hawking its tampons endlessly on MTV (um, new season of Teen Mom!), in ads mocking the cheesy, out-of-touch, woman-running-on-the-beach feminine hygiene ads of my own AYTGIMM years.

But it wasn’t until recently, when I found myself perusing the shelves at Walgreens, feeling particularly frugal, that I found myself with a box of the newfangled Kotex (on sale for nearly half-off) in my hand, surveying its I'm Too Sexy For Your Twat packaging. How bad could they be?

(I ignored the voice of my mother that was screaming TOXIC SHOCK! TOXIC SHOCK! repeatedly in my head.)

I headed to the counter with the Kotex.

When I got home, I opened the box. To my delight, I found each of the 36 tampons wrapped like Starbust candy in candy-coated multicolors. YUM! Within which each sherbety delicious wrapper rested the regal cotton/rayon mouse, encapsulated in an ingenious micro-mini applicator. Fabulous!

I have to admit, I half-expected my vagina to reject this new novelty tampon, to cough it up like an old Jewish man who’s just been told his beef hotdog has pork casing. It did not. And consequently, I felt younger than I had in years.

But back to the great vagina revolution.  To me, the most fascinating rebirth of vagina products has to be the newly-launched Summer’s Eve campaign, AKA, Hail to the V! Indeed, the country’s leading douche brand has taken the vagina by the horns (yikes!), attempting to tackle what has become a dwindling market.

According to a recent report by All Business, douche sales have been taking a tumble over the past few years, a far cry from the 1920s and 30s, when women rushed out in scores to purchase Lysol (yes, Lysol) to sanitize their lady bits. Products like Summer's Eve and Massengill now rely on a small niche market, found to be comprised of mainly Black and Hispanic women. 

The causes of the market’s decline are not entirely clear, but it is likely that, as more women become educated about the fact that douching is not only unnecessary but can actually be dangerous as well, the companies that market these products have had to rethink their marketing strategy.

Enter: Hail to the V!

These new advertisements, said to target a largely non-white audience, directly attack the argument that opponents of douching have been using for years: that the feminine hygiene industry has set out to denigrate and control women by making them believe that their vaginas are dirty, smelly, and, in general, in perpetual need of a good cleansing. Which is not to say that these new ads don’t perpetuate the same message, because they do. It’s just that now they do so in the name of feminism. Don’t believe me? Take a look for yourself (keeping in mind that the following commercial was released shortly after the company pulled this series of Summer's Eve ads, having received complaints that they were racially offensive).


Oh, the irony.  As my wise friend Janice so eloquently put it, "Those commercials make me feel both empowered as a woman and also worried about how my vagina smells at the same time."

But again, the real irony lies in the fact that a douched vagina is not necessarily a clean vagina. As a matter of fact, the CDC has found that women who douche can actually putting themselves at higher risk for STDs/STIs. According the CDC website, “research has shown that douching changes the vaginal flora (organisms that live in the vagina) in harmful ways, and can force bacteria into the upper reproductive organs from the vagina.”

Dr. Carla Stokes
Sound like a cuntflict of interest? Wait, there’s more. In addition to the new “female empowerment” focus of its new ads, Summer’s Eve also recently announced a partnership with “women's empowerment expert”, Dr. Carla Stokes, as well as with the girls advocacy nonprofit, i am that girl. Summer's Eve currently boasts on its website:

"We're thrilled to be working with these incredible women and their organizations and cannot wait to align our efforts to come out with one strong, powerful message," said Angela Bryant, director U.S. marketing, feminine care for Summer's Eve. "Together with Dr. Stokes and i am that girl, we are ready to change the conversation women are having, or not having, about their bodies and start breaking down the barriers related to feminine health and education."

Carla Stokes, Ph.D., M.P.H., is an educator, researcher, social entrepreneur, and speaker as well as the chief empowerment officer of Dr. Carla LLC™, a health promotion, coaching, personal development, and self-empowerment company for women, youth, parents, and girl advocates. She is passionate about addressing health concerns among women and youth, and founded Helping Our Teen Girls In Real Life Situations, Inc. (HOTGIRLS)®, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health and lives of underserved young women and girls through leadership development, peer health education, youth activism, and media education.

It's hard to argue with a company so seemingly devoted to empowering women and girls, but it's also hard to argue with the fact that even the U.S. government has produced a douching fact sheet warning women of the risks associated with douching.  Again, as the All Business report mentions, the gradual recent upswing in douche sales can mainly be credited to popularity and growth in a select, specific market, specifically Black and Hispanic women residing in poorer communities. Given the fact that that those demographics also represent those women with the highest per-capita rates of new AIDS infections, and given the medical link between douching and the facilitation of STD transmissions, I have to wonder...

who exactly is Summer's Eve seeking to "empower"?  And how?

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Tiny Noodle said...

Those TSS 'pons were called Rely and could absorb up to 20 times their own weight in fluid.

the Tsaritsa said...

My experience with tampons was the opposite-- my mom used OB and I had to learn how to use them too. Probably because of that, I view tampons with applicators as wasteful and unnecessary.

When I first saw those douche ads my jaw dropped. I was actually thinking of blogging about it, but you beat me to it. Douching is unhealthy, we learned that in 8th grade health class. It's crazy that they are still being sold.

TheFabulousMissMims said...

I shook my head all the way thru this read. It's all so true, even down the Skittles-colored, cutesy, glittery polka-dotted revamp of the kotex rag. But in defense of the "hail to the v" ads that are out now, at the end of the commercial, the woman reaches for a bottle of body wash, not a douche :) Anybody else notice behind the woman's head was grocery store signage that said "Fresh DAILY", (yes, daily in all caps) Either way, if I was going to put something unnecessary, and possibly even unhealthy up my hoo-ha, I certainly wasnt going to buy it from the fem-supply rack at the store, but hey thats just me....

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