On June 17, HelloFlo, a company that sends care packages to women (timed to their monthly cycle) that include everything from pads and tampons to chocolate to beginners’ guides, followed up its hilarious commercial “The Camp Gyno” with the clever and funny “First Moon Party.”
Both the website (which includes a blog and an advice section) and the commercials are aimed at girls who are going through puberty: The theme of the two commercials is girls getting their first periods. In “The Camp Gyno,” a girl’s first period brings her popularity and respect (at first) when she proclaims herself the camp’s expert on menstruation. In the new commercial, a girl named Katie is so anxious about being the last in her friend group to start her period that she lies and pretends she got it (even going so far as to use red nail polish on a pad). Katie’s mother immediately knows she is lying but plays along and throws her an embarrassing First Moon party as punishment.
Instead of discussing the discreteness of the menstrual pads or dressing all the actors in white, the commercials make an effort to focus on the excitement that surrounds getting your first period and the innocence and slight embarrassment of discovering your changing body. Commendably, they do not make periods cutesy; both acknowledge that periods are exciting at first but can also be scary, especially when you don’t know what your body is doing. Rather than focusing on the “I am a woman now” mantra that seems to be shoved down girls’ throats when they first wade through the crimson tide, HelloFlo teaches girls that while periods may symbolize bodily changes, they don’t change who you are.
Although the commercials are certainly entertaining, however, they are also problematic.
While quirky and entertaining, the “First Moon Party” commercial turns a celebration into a punishment. As Laurel Dalrymple wrote for NPR:
My problem is with Katie’s mom, who treats the situation as if she and her daughter are peers in battle. Parenting a tween should not be about one-upping. It is about noticing when your child is upset enough to be defensive and upset enough to lie when she feels left out. It is about recognizing when your child has gone off course, and focusing on trying to get her back on.
It’s refreshing that HelloFlo tries to buck that trend with its ‘first moon party,’ but the purpose of the party is not to celebrate Katie’s coming of age—it’s to punish her for lying. And not by, say, taking her phone, but by making fun of her period in front of everyone from Katie’s friends (the very people she wants to impress) to Mom’s co-workers.
Both of the protagonists in these commercials are feisty girls who go humorously over the top, but some of the humor stems from them being humiliated and/or put down. By associating zealous excitement over getting your first period with humiliation and punishment, HelloFlo unfortunately contributes to the already-present culture of shame that surrounds periods. Hopefully the next commercial will not make such fun of girls in order to sell a product. Otherwise, as the headline from Dalrymple’s article suggests, the conversation turns into meanstruation.
Simone Lieban Levine is a rising junior at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and an intern for Ms. Follow her on Twitter: @though_she_be.