THE BLOG
07/09/2014 04:55 pm ET | Updated Sep 08, 2014

Laughing at Periods

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I, like millions of others, laughed out loud at Hello Flo's latest ad that went viral. It was sassy, funny and well-written with moments of brilliance. I was amused.

I was also uncomfortable.

Snappy and engaging as the commercial was, in the end it reeked of the same message that menstrual ads have been guilty of since they were first introduced: menstruation is a source of embarrassment and shame. This went one step further. Commemorating periods in public was a punishment for bad behavior.

Whew. That's one powerful message I'm not sure the filmmakers or the Hello Flo folks intended.

Several years ago, I wrote a book about menstruation. My goal was to encourage straightforward communication, to lessen the discomfort and embarrassment inherit to menstrual conversations. To make them, if not out in the wide open, at least more accessible to girls and women. People asked if those discussions were already, in fact, getting more commonplace.

Then, and now, the answer is yes and no.

Five years ago, when Flow was released, menstrual suppression drugs were all the rage. Thinly-veiled campaigns for birth control hit the media and periods, or lack thereof, was a hot topic. So while menstruation was in the zeitgeist, it was talking about not having to suffer through them anymore that garnered attention.

Hard to find a more negative stance than you never need to bother with bleeding again. Take a pill and you're set free from staining and cramps, mood swings and inconvenience. Not to mention basic biology.

So yes, people were talking more. But it wasn't positive. Or even neutral.

The conversation has progressed since then. Five years ago, when Flow was released, no one would have said "vagina" in a commercial. It's doubtful a uterus piñata or a first flow party would have even been a thought bubble in an ad team's brainstorming sessions. A girl psyched to get her first period is not a subject anyone would've touched. That's a major step forward. Last time periods were even remotely promoted as a plus was in the 1940s and 1950s. Femcare companies talked about menstruation as a precursor to marriage and motherhood (the 3 M's of growing up) which, at the time, were what girls were taught to strive for.

Hello Flo's ads, featuring strong, outspoken girls, confident and owning their periods, are great.

Mostly.

At the end of this newest offering, when the girl wonders why she wasn't grounded her for faking her first, her mom replies that's what the first moon party was for. Wow. Hosting that elaborately themed shindig was her punishment. Making her uncomfortable in front of friends and relatives was payback. Public acknowledgment of a normal, natural part of growing up was meant to teach her a lesson about lying.

I, too, was initially caught up in the idea of a vagician, of the pin-the-pad on the period game, with the visual pun of slow moving ketchup representing blood.

But, dig a little deeper and those were meant to humiliate, not celebrate.

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