Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

All Wrapped Up

February 20th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Saniya Ghanoui

Photo by Jennifer Gaillard // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I always felt that airline travel involves building many short-lasting friendships where people bond over delayed flights, weather problems and luggage issues. Recently I was traveling and had to make a connection in the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport. I was using the restroom and I could hear the lady in the stall next to me change her sanitary napkin. She dropped the plastic wrapping from the new pad and it floated into my stall. Without hesitation, I picked up the wrapper and disposed of it. We both exited our stalls around the same time and as we approached the sinks she turned to me and said quickly but firmly, “Thank you so much for doing that.” I was a bit taken aback but responded “Oh, no problem,” we washed our hands and we bid each other farewell as we left the restroom.

The reason I was taken aback was because I felt she had nothing to thank me for. I simply picked up a piece of wrapping and threw it away. However, the serious tone of her voice told me that she was grateful for what I did. Perhaps it saved her what she deemed the embarrassment of picking it up herself? Or maybe she was just thanking me for a kind gesture. It wasn’t as if I gave her something (like a pad or tampon) that she could thank me for and the act in no way inconvenienced me. I wonder if she would have felt inclined to thank me if she had dropped a candy wrapper or tissue instead.

While there has always been this overall social need to conceal the period, it seems lately that there has been a surge in the desire to conceal menstrual products. Procter and Gamble has a site, Being Girl, that gives the Dos and Don’ts of tampon usage, including practicing at home to “see how quiet you can be when making a quick change.” And silence is one aspect that P&G tends to advertise, especially with its Tampax Pearl product. The wrapper becomes a selling point for Tampax Pearl because of its quiet and easy-to-open tabs that allow for utmost discretion.

I’m sure most re:Cycling readers have seen the U by Kotex line of menstrual products. This line is aimed at a younger crowd, the website has a section for tweens, and takes the idea of concealing in a different direction. Instead of making the products discreet and quiet the company advertises “hot new colors and wrappers.” However, changing the color or design of a tampon wrapper is still missing the point and is just as damaging as advertising products with quiet wrappers. The period is still being hidden. If a woman drops a bright green tampon wrapper on the floor is she now going to be less embarrassed because of the color? It doesn’t matter if the wrapper is white, pastel or a bright color, she shouldn’t be embarrassed at all. That is what needs to change — the embarrassment factor women have about their periods, not the colors of the products used.

  

7 Responses to “All Wrapped Up”

  1. Laura Wershler says:

    It’s funny how such random happenings can get us thinking about the meaning of menstruation in society and our lives. Totally agree that the thing that has to change is to rid us of all of the embarrassment factor about menstruation.

    Two things I’d like to note. The first is that, at first glance, I thought the photo was of a flower in a natural setting. And then I really took a look and saw that it was menstrual refuse. My pro-menstrual bias influencing my perceptions perhaps?

    The second is that I linked to the Being Girl site ( http://www.beinggirl.ie/ ) and read some of the articles. Thanks for the alert to this site. Too bad the information provided is mostly inaccurate and unhelpful. Why can’t these FemCare product people get the info right? In an article called First Period, one of the signs mentioned to indicate your period is coming is discharge, with this information:

    “This is the big sign. You’ll start to experience vaginal discharge that will be either white or yellowish. If you like, you may want to start using Alldays Pantiliners to protect you underwear. You period should start around 6-12 (but up to 18) months after the start of discharge.”

    Really unhelpful. The kind of “discharge” (hate that word) that would indicate a first period is about to happen should have been identified as clear and stretchy like egg white. It’s s telltale sign. Oh, and then there is the pitch for pantiliners included in this so-called informative bit.

    There are lots of issues with the info on this site. And no place to comment. But I can Facebook or email a friend with the link! No thanks, Always.

    Thanks, Saniya. Part of the concealment issue is about concealing the information that would help girls achieve true body literacy.

    • Saniya Ghanoui says:

      Hello Laura,

      Thank you for commenting and I agree that one of the best ways to overcome this constant need of concealment is to stop concealing necessary, but accurate, information that girls need about their bodies and their periods.

      What I’m also concerned about is the language that is being used to communicate to these young women. On the Being Girl site words and phrases such as “emergency,” “protection,” “what a pain,” and (my personal favorite) “every month you’re bound to feel your worst,” are used in many of the articles, no matter what the topic. No wonder girls feel as if their periods are an inconvenience.

      The article called Treat Yourself opens with the sentence “getting your period can be a real bummer,” and that is the message that I despise the most. Adolescence can be a trying time for many and societal norms regarding communication and menstruation do not allow for young people to openly ask questions they need to know. With statements declaring that their period is a “bummer” why would they want to learn more about something that society says they should hate?

      This article, Treat Yourself, currently holds a rating of four out of five stars from readers’ votes, indicating that those reading the piece (I will assume a majority of them are young women) agree with what is said. This needs to change.

      -Saniya

  2. Elizabeth Kissling says:

    I still can’t get past the advice to practice at home to “see how quiet you can be when making a quick change.”

    I’m trying to imagine myself at 12 years old or so, waiting for my first period, and taking a box of tampons (or pads) into my bedroom — or worse, our shared family bathroom — and closing the door and practicing quietly unwrapping them. How long would it take before a family member would pound on the door yelling, “eeee-LIZ-uh-BETH!! What are you DOING in there?!?”

    I’m sure my sister and brother would have laughed and laughed, my dad would have responded something like Hank Hill, and my mom would have assured me that they’ll definitely be quiet now, since I do still have to use all those unwrapped tampons!!

    Problem solved — I guess I wouldn’t hear the wrappers over all that yelling.

  3. Julie Sygiel says:

    Hi everyone– I don’t usually comment but this post speaks to many challenges I approach when writing about our line of fashionable underwear to wear during your period. The undies are made from a special combination of fabrics that are super absorbent, breathable, and leak resistant so they are designed to be worn in conjunction with your regular routine as an additional layer of backup. Our customers love wearing them in important, high stress situations as well as everyday occasions when they want to feel extra protection. We often site examples of wearing the garments under an expensive dress, at a wedding or social situation, during a sporting event, or simply when wearing white pants in the summertime. However, it is difficult to balance the line between “don’t be embarrassed by a period spill– wear Sexy Period underwear” and not wanting to make women feel embarrassed by periods. I think we can all agree that it’s not pleasant to experience a spill onto outer clothes/sheets (or to worry about this occurrence). My challenge has been to separate the “period spill incident” from the overall period cycle. In my opinion, we are alleviating select negative experiences that happen while menstruating, and by bringing the topic of menstruation up in public settings (think male-dominated, business/startup world), we are contributing to a greater overall dialogue and education about menstruation. Would love to hear thoughts on this dilemma in our branding if anyone would like to reply here or email me at julie@sexyperiod.com.

    • Saniya Ghanoui says:

      Hello Julie,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I agree that bringing the topic up in public settings (especially in male-dominated worlds) does a great deal in contributing to the dialogue and hopefully opening up minds to our natural bodies.

      I also agree that most women probably try to avoid “spills” and “stains” when menstruating. I admit I do. However, a concern I have is the manner in which society reacts when a spill or stain does occur. It isn’t the end of the world and it’s not a “problem” or “disgusting” when such an act happens. I look at the recent time when singer Christina Aguilera had something (spray tan or menstrual blood?) dripping down her leg. The vibe I got from the way this incident was communicated, I felt more people were repulsed by the idea of blood (natural) than spray tan (unnatural). This doesn’t make sense to me.

      In my opinion, the fact that someone like you in your line of work is conscious about the way in which you are communicating to women is a positive step.

      -Saniya

  4. Jo says:

    Wow, I looked at some of the tips on that site and they’re horrible! Being as quiet as you can, trying to find the best ways of hiding tampons, not leaving wrappers lying around because OH NO, someone might know that someone had her period! (Ok, so I also think you should not leave wrappers lying around, but for the reason that it’s littering.) All these horrible ways of making you feel extra bad about your period. Thanks.

    On a related note, I’ve never understood applicator tampons – why waste all that material just so that (God help you) you don’t have to touch anything “down there.” Seriously, girls should be taught to know about their own vulvas and vaginas! When I used to use tampons I’d always try to insert them way to far so that it was painful, because the diagrams always showed a really high cervix. Now I use a mentrual cup and know that my cervix sits really low during my period. (Also, I’m really really desensitised to the gloopiness of blood and clots and everything else!)

    I wish people would move past “so you’re a woman now and that’s great – but make sure no-one ever sees any signs of it, because no-one wants to know that!” to a state where people weren’t scared to ask their friends for a spare tampon, or felt the need to be as quiet as possible in the toilets when unwrapping a pad.

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