Full disclosure—I’m totally obsessed with a number of things I’m about to talk about—advertising, weird bodily functions and vintage media depicting race, gender and sexuality. More specifically, I’m a huge nerd about examining the questionable ways that different types of representations have influenced our current toxic culture.
Current topic: bleeding is fucking weird. And the various contraptions that the feminine hygiene industry has come up with to “handle” it are also pretty fucking odd. I mean, at the end of the day, from pads and tampons to cups, sponges and rags, to each her own. But bleeding is still weird AF. And the culture that has arisen around it is also weird. Case in point, this Tampax ad. Ladies- do you ever get that Hunger Games-y feeling around that time of the month? Oh you do? Well, by all means…..
So if you have a penis, be grateful. I hope you are. If not, you will be by the end of this post. First of all, you never were made to feel excited about “Protecto” sanitary bloomers in the 1920s. These “reversible, snug fitting and always secure” items were made by what I assume was a company that truly cared about women—the New York-based Rubberized Sheeting & Specialty, Inc. OK, so without sarcasm, here’s my thing. I’m all about some fetishes. Ask my pals. You can get me in a set of rubber pants NO PROBLEM and I will be pleased as punch. But this is a whole other ballgame. Would this be menstruation kink? And if so, dear lord, please get this girl as much chocolate, tea and binge watching of WHATEVER SHE WANTS as she needs!
The Kotex product line is fascinating on a historical level. Started by Kimberly-Clark in 1920 their wares were created from leftover cellucotton from WWI bandages! Because they had a brand name (Kotex, after “cotton” and “texture”) women didn’t have to ask for the ultra-embarrassing “sanitary napkins” at the counter but these pads were no party. Bulky and lacking in any holding sutures, these items had to either be fastened to your undergarments with safety pins or…worn with a goddamn belt. And that belt was no joke. If you’ve ever read Judy Blume’s wonderful book Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret? there’s a great passage in there about trying to figure out the belt/pad contraption.
But let’s talk about the evolution of the belt for a second. Like many things in American culture, a person of color invented this item and was never given proper credit. In general, belts simply attached to the napkins or to pins holding the napkins and made sure everything stayed put. They must’ve felt like weird diapers.
Along comes Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner, an incredible black woman who invented a different kind of sanitary belt that had a moisture-proof pocket. While it looks (again) like something kinky, the usefulness in comparison to the straight-up belts that were being sold was enormous. When the company initially interested in Davidson’s invention found out she was black, the belt was rejected. This belt was finally put into production in the 1950s, almost thirty years after she had first pitched it. Oh and by the way? Kenner also invented the toilet paper holder in your bathroom, and if you have a mounted backwasher in your shower? You can thank her for that too. She became a florist later in life.
Belts didn’t really fade out entirely until the 1970s, when someone figured out how to put adhesive on the back of a damn pad. Apparently that idea took a lot of mental energy to come up with. Tampons were intorduced in the 1930s, but there was a litany of reasons why women stayed away. Women were scared it would make them “not a virgin.” Religious leaders railed against the use of menstrual tampons, saying that using them might lead to sexxxxxy feelingz (oh noes!). Their use increased after WWII however and grew stronger during the 1960s and soared during the 1970s. AHEM. WOMEN’S MOVEMENT. AHEM.
At this juncture, women use many different items, and may choose what they like. The information is out there. To paraphrase Virginia Slims, we’ve come a long way baby!
These first two images look at Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner’s belt (1st picture) versus the average belt in use since the 1920s.
Sometimes, celebrities get involved with the menstruation advertising world. Ali McGraw is here to let us know about the super important Job Hunting Tampon and Cybil Shepard just wants us to be sexy and not really sure about anything but being sure. OK, Kotex. Right on, then. Be a beautiful story. Got it.
The best is when ads for period products get crazy, arty and kooky. Like, y’know, needing pads in space or menstruation psychedelia. Enjoy!
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘All Women Have Periods’: Incredibly strange instructional video from 1979
Bloody hell: Disney made an animated ‘period’ short about menstruation
On the rag: Sci-fi dress warns ‘I’m on my f*cking period’ with LED lights!
Grace Slick sings about her period in ‘Would You Like a Snack?’ (with Frank Zappa)
What if men had periods?