Smelling of Roses?

Tampax present their scented tampons as 'natural', associating them with flowers. But Clare Burgess argues that advertising for menstrual products merely exploits and contributes to women's insecurities about periods and their bodies.

, 11 September 2006

Right now we’re inundated with ways make our time of the month go better. Feel fresh, be in control, but definitely don’t let anyone find out. Our newest tool in our quest to defeat nature? Tampons that look like sweets and sugar packets and smell of flowers.

Yes, it appears the latest problem to hit the long suffering women of the United Kingdom is – imagine this in a stage whisper – a bit of a smell. It’s no secret. Those of you who still receive visits from dear old Aunt Flow will probably have noticed that there is a change in the way your feminine area smells. Now I know some people find this smell is offensive but generally it’s just different. Different enough for a scented tampon? Tampax seem to think so.

Tampax rely on connotation to sell their product as natural

You may have seen the adverts. 1960’s style flowers slide around the screen like a kaleidoscope while the voice over bleats on about how wonderful flowers are in a clichéd stoner voice. Then the straight voice over comes on to introduce the product. Needless to say both voices are men. Through the adverts Tampax exploit the connection between the hippy lifestyle, flowers, and nature. Rather than state it explicitly Tampax rely on connotation to sell their product as natural. Only it’s not.

If the connection is made that perfumed tampons are natural we also come to the conclusion that there is something wrong with the way we usually smell. This takes advantage of the lack of truthful, realistic, education women receive about their own ‘flowers’. A lot of women feel nervous about the way they look, feel and smell especially in front of their partners. Which is why (to use the assumption that the target audience is heterosexual) the male voice over is especially damaging.

the male voice over is especially damaging

Of course all this makes the product appealing to women with an unrealistic body image; the young who haven’t been educated well; and well as the people whose opinion has been shaped by years of dealing with the opinions of friends, family, and lovers. And that is what is truly unfortunate about these products. They do serve a need. And they may help women with a poor image of themselves; women who see their periods as dirty, unnatural and who feel they have to be secretive about them.

Worryingly the adverts for Tampax Compak Fresh aren’t alone. Advertising on – what my Nan would call – proper telly signals an entrance into the mainstream, into acceptability. In the past few months we’ve been offered toilet paper with cleansing lotion (as the advert shows only women I’m assuming this has more to do with the front bottom than the other one), a shower gel with the right PH for your ‘feminine areas’, Alldays Fresh a scented panty liner, and an Allways with a cleansing wipe.

Each of these products feeds off the insecurities of women. So then comes the brutal truth bit: of course companies will continue to make a product that sells. As long as we, as a society, lack education and a realistic body image there will be a market for it. Girls are taught about their bodies in school – often by people handing out samples of Allways or Tampax – however embarrassment, morality, and modesty often stand in the way of true understanding. I thought the cervix and the clitoris where the same thing for years.

embarrassment, morality, and modesty often stand in the way of true understanding

Products are only effective if the society in which they are sold in accepts them. Surely the saddest part of this story is that we do. Until we have realistic expectations of our bodies and the knowledge of ourselves businesses will be out to exploit our fears. But it also means that we can stop this. We have the most simple and profound tool at our disposal: education.

Clare Burgess is still a student at The University of Huddersfield. The study of English Literature and Media Studies comes up with some interesting euphemisms for the words Vagina and Period.

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