When I heard the buzz that there was, floating around the media ether, a new advertisement for a feminine hygiene product that showed real blood, I felt the same way my grandmother must have felt when the newspapers announced she could now buy luggage with wheels on it. This is great, but did no one really think of it before now?
That we have been forced to watch, for decades, various disembodied female hands wipe the most vomitous of ground-beef spills from nondescript surfaces with their preferred brand of paper towel, and yet have not witnessed a single pad or tampon come into contact with blood (or even blood-colored liquids), is just as laughable as the male squeamishness around most female bodily processes. And don’t let me begin to complain about the ratio of period blood to actual vomit on network television: of these things, only one is disgusting—is actually a common symbolic stand-in for the experience of disgust. But I digress.
Playing period-coy is a common theme in advertising, and has long been a source of frustration and derision from the feminist corners of the internet. And so it was with great hype that this fabled commercial surfed its way to my computer screen. But after a couple views, I remain palpably un-hyped.
“Blood” casts off the usual tropes of the period commercial. There is no attractive young woman in white pants flirting with a dude on a beach, no harried 30-something professional in a light gray suit aping exasperation as she makes an extra trip to the office restrooms. The commercial swaps these for a series of women participating in some manner of physical activity and suffering minor bumps and scrapes as they do so. The lenses are wide, the pacing is erratic, the color treatment is under-saturated: think Christopher Nolan if Christopher Nolan ever put women in his films.
Among the women depicted are boxers, rugby players, a ballet dancer, a mountain biker, and my personal favorite because it is so incongruous, a warrior wench on a horse wielding a broadsword. Each woman is slender, conventionally attractive, and doing something that makes it easy for the average observer to admire her. Save a lone jogger, all the women are white.
The ad’s homogeneity generates friction between the subjects depicted and the music playing alongside them: a track called “Native Puppy Love” by Canadian band A Tribe Called Red, whose members are all First Nation. The energetic, tribal music attempts to bind the women in the commercial together, to evoke a timelessness of female resilience, a long genetic history of witnessing and dealing with blood. Perhaps this tool might have succeeded if the clip’s directors had recognized that universal experience applies to women of all shades and sizes—universality was never effectively conveyed through whitewashing.
But, setting the soundtrack aside, it was not the intention of Bodyform to celebrate diversity. The intention was to sell a product by convincing their audience—menstruating humans—that they understand that audience’s needs and desires better than Kotex. Young women don’t want to see another floating pad soaking up windshield wiper fluid much more effectively than another floating pad: they want to see people they admire getting down and dirty and bleeding all over the patriarchy. And while the action-heavy 80 seconds certainly conveys an element of toughness, it fails utterly to legitimize the experience necessitating Bodyform’s existence.
To those who come across “Blood” by accident, the product it’s selling isn’t clear until the end of the spot—in fact, a choppy montage of athletic women falling down repeatedly suggests athletic wear, not feminine hygiene products. But with about 20 seconds to go, Bodyform goes for the reveal: the words “No blood should hold us back” hover in a wide shot of a flat grey sky, with the warrior woman galloping across the lower edge of the frame. (Why is she by herself? Who is she charging? Where are her enemies?) After this brief moment of stillness, of visual calm, the montage ramps up, flipping feverishly between scenes. The final action shot shows a boxer in tight Dutch braids getting socked squarely in the face as blood and spit fly towards the camera. Finally, Bodyform reveals its brand: the title and logo display themselves proudly over reversed video of blood diffusing through water—bubbles wiggle downward as blooms of red liquid recede into themselves until they disappear.
The look of the thing is undeniably exciting. It’s novel, it’s aspirational, and it showcases a facet of female strength too often forgotten about in traditional media. We’re hardcore, you guys. But by desensitizing the viewer to somatic blood, the kind that results from scrapes and mishaps and issues forth from innocent areas of the body such as knees and elbows, “Blood” only succeeds in plunging menstrual blood further into taboo. If we can sell pads and tampons by showing off the mangled flesh of a ballet dancer’s toes after she peels off pointe shoes soaked in blood, why on earth are we still unable to stomach a small red spot on a pair of pants or—God forbid—a menstrual pad?