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Unrealistic Sanitary Pad Ads That Show A Cheery Girl Seem To Be Made For The Men Watching…

Posted: April 13, 2021

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Sanitary pad ads set unrealistic standards for women to ‘fly and slay’ while bleeding, masking the issues of health and discomfort suffered by women.

A bright young girl’s movement is restricted. She is unable to go about her routine life because she is on her periods. But wait! The moment she uses a sanitary pad, she is able to not just walk but run and fly.

The image evoked here is a common representation of periods in commercials on Indian television. A girl is armed with a sanitary pad to conquer the world, wearing the whitest of whites.

Here’s a look at my reality: I’m a woman in my 30s, who has been fighting period cramps, weakness, dizziness and backaches for the last 10-12 years. I took off from work almost every month on the first day when I was working full time as a journalist in Delhi. I could not do the chores or even get up from my bed as a mother of a toddler. I have been doing everything to try and live a ‘normal’ life during my periods.

My partner tries to ‘help’ when I bleed, but does he understand it?

I am fortunate (I know I shouldn’t be calling myself that for something that should be the norm!) to have a partner who supports me through my ‘difficult’ days. He gives me the space to rest and recover at the beginning of each cycle.

He tries his best to cook, clean, and take care of our daughter. I lay in bed with a hot water bottle, and a book to distract myself from the suffering.

And yet, the other day while watching one of the sanitary pad advertisements on TV, he commented in jest, “Why are you never flying around during your periods like these girls?” He chuckled and looked at me.

Honestly, I did not find it funny at all, even knowing that he was just pulling my leg. It’s not like he doesn’t know or has not witnessed how painful periods can be for a woman!

Looking at the unrealistic women in ads who fly and slay

That night, I thought about his comment. It made me go back to all the sanitary pads commercials I watched as a teenager, and then as a woman in my 20s. All of them showed a woman growing ‘wings’ the moment she used the latest chic pad.

She is uncomfortable, she feels the ‘geelapan’ in one moment. She is out in the streets in the next instance – jumping and having a good time with her friends or colleagues. She wears the whitest of pants (never understood the logic behind this!).  She has a face-to-face smile now that she is using the best pad in town. She shows no signs of cramps or even the slightest of discomfort. She is now ‘free’ to stay and slay!

But, is this how women experience periods? Irrespective of their age, I know many women who need to rest, and take care of themselves during periods. These ads don’t represent all of us, do they?

Therefore, they might be setting the wrong  or unrealistic standards for women, and those around them when it comes to physical activity during a menstrual cycle.

Heavy & painful periods can lead to serious problems

When I worked night shifts as a journalist, I pushed myself on my first day of period to go to work.  I collapsed near the restroom. I remember another time when my parents had to be informed because my BP dropped to its lowest, and I blacked out. I was bleeding that heavily!

My mother often suggested that I inform my boss about this situation. Everytime, I stubbornly replied that I can manage it all by taking up to three painkillers a day. And, I have done it.

But, why did I do it? To prove something to myself? Or to the other women around me? Or to adhere to the standards I watched being set through these commercials as a 20-something girl?

I might not know the real reason but I definitely know that it’s time for these commercials to become more inclusive. They need to show the other side too.

I have friends who have made the hot water bottle their partner for life. I know women who have taken many painkillers in their 20s to manage their period pain, and act normal. They ended up having medical complications later in life.

Women’s bodies respond to periods differently

I know we don’t live in a world that treats men and women equally.  I see some women telling other others to suck it up, and not use their period pain as an excuse to take the day off. A lot needs to be done in terms of making it a women-friendly world because the realities of our bodies are hidden away from men. 

And, it is often overlooked and compensated by women to fit into the men’s world as if it’s a side-effect of being a woman.

Men need to watch commercials that show how much a woman can suffer during her periods regularly. Young boys need to watch these commercials so that they understand that it is not always a pain-free experience or about ‘geelapan’ month after month.

Women need to watch these ads so that they can empathize, and be more sensitive to those who need more support and care for period pain, even if they don’t.

It’s only then that we can take another step towards a world which is more aware, empathetic, and sensitive towards the experiences of a woman.

Image source: Austin Schmid on unsplash

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A former journalist, a freelance content creator and a mom blogger who can be found

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