Bleeding Barbies

Ottawa XPress – Shotgun – September 22, 2005

I’m pretty pissed about something. And yes it’s also my PMS talking, thanks.

Feminists are ragging on the latest Always Have a Happy Period feminine hygiene campaign ( that encourages women to treat and pamper themselves during the cursed Time of the Month.

“It’s like Barbie gets her period,” says Liz Armstrong in a recent Ottawa Citizen article. A writer and health activist who co-authored a book called Whitewash in 1992 about the health risks associated with feminine hygiene products, Armstrong calls the Always campaign “fluffy and silly.”

The ads feature uplifting slogans like, “The shortest distance between sad and happy is a credit line,” “This is the time of the month that chocolate was created for,” and, “This is the time no toenail should go unpolished.”

Treats, chocolates and pedicures. Personally, I like these things when my uterus painfully sheds tissue. Sorry, was that too “fluffy?”

Let’s get real. At this juncture, I am suffering the cruel and constant sensation of debilitating constipation. And yet, it has nothing to do with needing to take a big dump. Blame it on my period.

Did you know that’s what the abdominal pains feel like when some women have their period? They’re excruciating and in severe cases, make her flush and dizzy. She has to call in sick. Cancel a hot date. She keeps having to pee. Breasts are sore, she breaks out and she’s gaseous. And, an irrational urge for Easter Cream Eggs off – season is not unheard of.

And yet, Always’ light-hearted mantras to see suffering women through a bad time are being criticized for their blatant commercial purposes. Armstrong also claims, “This ad campaign, while cloaked in the language of affirmation and female bonding, is really about selling.”

But women were shopping to make themselves feel better long before Always came along with catchy one-liners. In fact, the Always campaign was fuelled by consumer feedback showing that women crave little indulgences at particular times in their cycle, so why not cater to this?

Critics like Aimée Darcel, founder of the Blood Sisters Project in Montreal, which educates young women about menstrual health, is quoted in the same article, saying, “The appeal of the faux-empowerment is exactly what makes the campaign so manipulative.”We’re talking about encouragements to finance a $5.99 bucket of ice cream that makes some women feel better. What’s the big deal?

I suppose the hotheads attacking the ads would suggest less consumerist approaches to dealing with the Woman’s Curse like, “Ask for a hug,” or, “Make some healthy soup.”

And, they wouldn’t be wrong. They’d just be boring. This is advertising, folks. What the fuck do you expect?

Fluff and silly sells like Barbie is a household name. If Barbie gets her period, we’d all know about it. And this is a grand thing. If Always’ light menstrual-themed slogans are popularized, they will get easily absorbed into society. The result: people talking about menstruation. The effect: understanding. As well, the breaking down of the hush-hush that currently surrounds a woman’s period.

I HATE that women can’t justify publicly their headaches or their irritability by saying, “I’ve got my period.” Instead, on top of the physical discomfort, add the social one of having to resort to sissy gestures like rubbing their abdomen, or lies like, “It’s just a little bug” despite an uber-healthy and active month up until then. Some get accused of being hung over!

If women could just come out and say: “I’M MENSTRUATING” – and have it be handled with a joke like, “Let me get you that chocolate bar,” or an offer like, “Would you like to reschedule your exam?” rather than, “What’s her problem?” – I’m guessing that the stress surrounding women’s periods could diminish.

As for you women who breeze through your period unscathed, you may also be the same chicks who can take the Pill, which can often alleviate the awful symptoms of PMS – and even your period. So, you may be thinking my defence of the Always ad campaign is uninteresting at best.

But you girls are also the ones who get to fuck a guy on the fly without first getting the chalkboard out and mapping a game plan of various plays with diaphragms, spermicidal shields, expensive female condoms, sponges, and withdrawal and rhythm methods. So shut your trap already.

Your Pills are cheap, aren’t they? Compare their price with my $50 for drugs to treat “dymenorrhea” – or killer cramps –followed by $7 for Advil and $106 for migraine medicine to treat the doozer that follows the hormonal flux post-menstrually.

You girls can take your Pill, or even variations like Seasonale® that stops eight of your 12 periods a year. You think Always has got a campaign going on! Next week’s Shotgun will let you in on a wonder drug that was the focus of a CBC documentary called “Menstruation Suppression.” Imagine no period.

Until then, women shouldn’t hide their pain – and they sure as fuck shouldn’t feel they’re vacant bimbos just because they treat themselves to a few trifles to get by.

Let these condescending feminists with their overgrown toenails poo-poo the Always ad campaign all they want. I don’t have to listen to that shit. I wear Always – with wings. Look – that’s me flying away.

Bye bye flighty Barbie.

– Sylvie Hill