This weekend saw the launch of a new BodyForm campaign. Yes, that is the least inspiring sentence since the app on your phone last told you “your period is due in 2 days”. But stick with this one – there are no rollerblades, no skydivers, and no anonymous blue liquids.
Instead, we have the grazed knees of a runner who’s tripped, the bleeding knuckles of a ballerina flexing her toes and the bloodied, gritted faces of rugby players on the field. As well as a non-specific medieval warrior princess looking fierce on her stallion, but whatever, point taken. “Women bleed in sport all the time, but it doesn’t hold them back. Why should periods be any different?”
It’s difficult not to be cheering by the end, if indeed you have, by then, got over the shock of seeing actual blood in a sanitary product ad. I have a small quibble with fact that the bleeding we see on screen is that of injury, a body that has taken a blow, rather than referencing the entirely different bleeding that is menstrual blood – a body working perfectly, but change is slow, and the point they are making is still strong.
It’s been half a century of euphemism for “feminine hygiene” advertising, a strange and disconcerting world of white bikinis, charmingly outdoorsy activities and veiled references to secrets. It wasn’t until 1986 that the word "period" was actually said on US TV: it was Tampax who broke the taboo, declaring that their product “will change the way you feel about your period.” At the time, Mark Miller of William Esty, Tampax’s ad agency, talked about how he had to prove to the networks that the ad wouldn’t be offensive. “Over the past five years everyone has gotten more straightforward. It just doesn’t make sense any longer to show a woman in a long white dress, drifting through a field of wildflowers, saying something like, ‘It makes me feel fresh.’” I suspect he had no idea that change would move at such a snail’s pace.
BodyForm haven’t simply frisbee-ed their film onto the internet, hoping for some viral love and left it there. The ad spearheads a #redfit campaign which aims to help women better understand their cycles
What is particularly heartening about where we are 30 years later is that BodyForm haven’t simply frisbee-ed their film onto the internet, hoping for some viral love and left it there. The ad spearheads a #redfit campaign which aims to help women better understand their cycles and how to both stay fit despite their period, *and* make the rest of the month work to our favour. They’ve teamed up with sports scientists, the healthy fast food chain Leon and Frame gyms, explaining what the hormonal shifts each week of your cycle mean. By taking the month as a whole, they have shifted the conversation from ‘how to cope with this one horrendous week’ to how to understand the larger situation in a wider context. This, coupled with an ad which presents us with the sort of unglamorous, unashamed toughness that it takes to get through Day 28 in all its majesty, is a game changer.
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And this approach is not just unique because it is free from shame, and almost free from euphemism, but because it directly addresses the fact that women in sport are woefully under-served by sports science. Despite female bodies working differently from male ones, female participants only make up 36-39% of participants in the clinical trials for the three main sports and exercise journals. Only a third of participants for clinical trials into heart disease are female, despite it being the number one killer of women. And often results are not recorded separately.
This bias in sports and exercise science is not reflected in real life: far from it. Running USA’s most recent State of the Sport report, which charts the demographics of competitive running, states that women made up 43 percent of marathon finishers in 2014, and the numbers rise with shorter distances. Women make up 58 percent of 5k races, 59 percent of 10ks, and 61 percent of half-marathons.
The sport we do is not being reflected in the research done into it, and BodyForm has nudged the conversation in the right direction, from duvet days to training plans. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t take another 30 years for any further progress to be made.