Stills from the AWWA ad showing real period blood (Images: Supplied)
Stills from the AWWA ad showing real period blood (Images: Supplied)

SocietyNovember 1, 2021

Banned ad reveals persistent shame about period blood, says underwear company

Stills from the AWWA ad showing real period blood (Images: Supplied)
Stills from the AWWA ad showing real period blood (Images: Supplied)

Earlier this month, Facebook deemed an ad showing period blood in violation of their ‘shock and scare policy’. The founder of the company behind the ad wants to know why people are so scared of a little blood.

The first TV ad made by local period underwear startup Awwa starts with two flatmates as they get their period at the same time. One, using the period underwear, wakes up, gets ready for the day, goes outside and spends time in nature. The other wakes with blood-stained sheets and a patch of red in the crotch of her undies. She then spends all day checking, changing out pads and rolling the used ones into old toilet rolls to dispose of discreetly.

It is a reality that will hit home for the millions of people around the world who get a period. The onscreen depiction of whakamā – from bleeding through another pair of pants, hiding the sound of a tampon wrapper opening in the work toilets and trying to carry on with life as normal – is a reminder of the persistent taboo that menstruation carries in society. 

The Awwa ad was accepted to run on Youtube and TVNZ’s On Demand platform, where it’s been seen by thousands of people while they’re streaming shows. 

But under Facebook’s rules for advertising, the ad could not be boosted on Facebook or Instagram. Awwa CEO Michele Wilson (Tainui, Ngāti Paoa) says her small team poured a lot of time and heart into the video, in an attempt to destigmatise periods and period blood. But for Facebook, the blood violated its “shock and scare policy” that doesn’t allow ads containing “shocking, sensational, disrespectful or excessively violent content”.

Wilson lives by the maramataka, the Māori lunar calendar that dictates different energies for living based on the moon’s cycle, and says Facebook’s policy is perpetuating “a colonising whakaaro that blood and the active menstruation should be kept away and secret”. Wilson has spent a lot of time researching ikura – periods – and says the difference in attitudes towards periods in traditional te ao Māori and the western world is startling. 

“For our tūpuna it was spoken [about] openly. Both girls and boys were educated about how to care for themselves and how tāne can care for the wāhine. A period was tapu – sacred – because our tūpuna believed that our te awa atua was an ancient river that linked us all the way back to our creation stories.”

The periods shown in traditional advertising have ranged from the powerful everywoman playing tennis in a white skirt and running a boardroom meeting, to the mysterious blue liquid poured over pads – a trope that seemed particularly popular in the 90s and early 2000s. Wilson thinks it’s time these fantastical depictions of menstruation came to an end. 

“What do all of these things reflect on how people feel about themselves? We see tampons being played with by kittens, boyfriends plastering themselves with pads pretending to be robots. How is any girl going to know what a period is and what it looks like?”

Facebook eventually accepted a shortened version of the ad that featured the blood-soaked pads and underwear hidden by comments from customers saying how much they loved the original ad.

“Thank you for showing the reality of a menstrual cycle,” says one of the comments. “A far cry from the ads I grew up with!” says another. 

Says Wilson: “It’s no wonder that there’s so much whakamā, so much shame, so much period poverty because we’re just not allowed to talk about what a period is. Awwa just wanted to portray an honest depiction of a period. The truths, the realities, the emotions and the difficulties and seeing real blood was really important.”

In comments to Stuff, a Facebook spokesperson said while the full advert can’t be promoted on the site, it still sits on the Awwa Facebook page, and the censored version can be promoted. Without promotion, the full ad is only visible to people who already follow the company’s page, or are tagged in the comments. 

Wilson says Awwa won’t stop pushing the messaging and imagery of real menstrual blood. She wants period shame to become a thing of the past.

“I’ve made it my life’s mission to help women decolonise themselves in terms of their periods, because it’s a beautiful thing when you can take time out for your ikura and reconnect with yourself and the environment as well.”

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