“Why are there period ads everywhere?” reads the bold lettering on an ad developed by Thinx, a new company that has created underwear built to absorb period blood. “The better question is,” they also posit, “Why shouldn’t there be?”
The salient question was originally aimed towards commuters on the New York subway system, but it has recently been co-opted by Thinx itself to defend the circulation of those very ads. For the last month, the company has been attempting to launch a subway ad campaign for their innovative product, but the Metropolitan Transit Authority group that sells the ad space has recently slowed down their efforts.
The ads themselves have not necessarily been outright approved or rejected, but significant concern has been expressed over the images they convey. The MTA’s contractor, Outfront Media, has asked Thinx to go back to the drawing board and redesign their “inappropriate” ads.
Here’s the problem though: there’s nothing on the ad that should be redesigned. Thinx’s design does feature women in the “period panties,” but the images are far from racy. The models in the ads are not scantily clad; they’re wearing relatively demure tank tops and even turtlenecks along with the underwear. In addition, the models are juxtaposed with unassuming images of grapefruit and cracked eggs, which are meant to be subtle symbols of the female anatomy and menstruation. Outfront, however, has disagreed with the content, telling Thinx’s CEO Miki Agrawal that the models still seem to have “a bit too much skin,” and that the foods are explicitly “suggestive” regardless of context.
And if that’s not enough, featuring the word “period” in an ad for products that have to do with periods is apparently also just too heavy for people to handle. According to Outfront, some of the designs even bordered on “advocacy” for discussing periods — as if discussing women’s biological functions was such a scandalous and horrible thing to do, right?
If Thinx’s ads are suggestive of menstruation, it’s because that’s literally the point. The company is trying to sell their product honestly and realistically, and very much trying to de-stigmatize the conversation about periods. The fact that their efforts are being shot down just shows how hypocritical, sexist and manipulative ad companies can be. No one bats an eye when approving images of women being objectified and degraded to be projected on huge billboards in Times Square, but when an ad about underwear for periods comes along, suddenly everyone tries to think of the “riding public.”
For Thinx CEO Miki Agrawal, the pushback is simply a “sexist double standard,” and I wholeheartedly agree. The ad campaign is an excellent way to change how we discuss periods, and to make the dialogue less uncomfortable for all people. No one is asking for dialogue or ads that graphically detail the process of menstruation — what people are asking for is an end to the whispering and the shame that accompanies so many conversations about periods. The discouragement from Outfront Media, however, isn’t even allowing this to happen, and that’s what’s truly inappropriate.