Why The Blue Dye?
Blood is not blue — yet for some reason, the period product commercials we see on TV represent menstrual blood with an alien-like blue liquid instead of blood-red fluid. So why is period blood represented by a weird blue liquid, and why have period commercials been doing this for decades? The answer: period stigmas.
The history of blue dye used in menstrual product commercials is deeply rooted in cultural stigmas surrounding menstruation. Stigmas such as menstruation being viewed as “impure” meant that discretion became highly valued in period product advertising. In 1920, Kotex became the first successful mass-market menstrual product company after selling their pads using a discreet business model: Kotex pads were sold in drug stores with a money tin placed beside the pad display so that people who menstruate could discreetly purchase Kotex pads without needing to ask a salesperson. The purchase of menstrual products was done with the utmost secrecy, and periods and menstruation were treated as “hush-hush”.
“Using something that looks like actual blood to stand in for menstrual blood has been, in every preceding decade of tampon and pad advertisement, as completely off-limits as full-frontal nudity.” — JR Thorpe (Bustle)
Before 1985, pads were not shown and the word “period” was not even mentioned in on-screen period product commercials. According to Bustle writer, JR Thorpe, “After Courtney Cox, in a Tampax ad in 1985, became the first person to say "period" onscreen, American advertisers now felt capable of showing pads onscreen, but needed to balance the need to demonstrate the products' absorption with the audience's possible cultural disgust reflex at seeing any menstrual blood-like substance. Their solution? Blue liquid.” During the 1990s, the blue liquid used to represent period blood was introduced into menstrual product advertising. Since then, the blue dye has persisted for decades in period product marketing, with menstrual product companies using the strange blue liquid to demonstrate the absorbency of their product.
Unfortunately, using blue liquid in commercials isn’t the only example of stigmas influencing the way period products are advertised. The cultural taboos surrounding menstruation can be seen frequently in period product commercials, and these ads are EVERYWHERE: the use of euphemisms like “time of the month” and “full moon” to avoid saying the word menstruation, and people who menstruate wearing white pants looking so relieved in fear that their periods might leak. These are just some of the ways that cultural stigmas and taboos persist in period product marketing.
BUT, the good news is that times are changing! In 2011, Always became the first mass-market menstrual product company to show a red dot on a pad in one of their advertisements. Following the same movement as Always, in 2017 the UK-based company, Libresse, created their #BloodNormal campaign for their Bodyform pads. The #BloodNormal campaign features a commercial showing blood-red fluid poured onto a menstrual pad, as well as a more accurate depiction of periods.
As activists and brands work to normalize conversations on menstruation and tackle the cultural taboos and stigmas associated with periods, it’s clear that times are changing and period product companies are following suit. However, these efforts are still met with resistance from longstanding cultural stigmas surrounding menstruation. After Libresse aired their #BloodNormal commercial for their Bodyform pads, the ad was quickly banned on Facebook. The resistance against normalizing periods emphasizes that there is still more work to be done in the fight against period stigmas and taboos.
As stated by Libresse in their #BloodNormal campaign, “Periods are normal. Showing them should be too.”
We want to continue normalizing period conversations and building a supportive network for people who menstruate. To learn more about how you can tackle period stigmas and taboos contact us at email@example.com, subscribe to our newsletter, or connect with us on social media! Thank you for reading! Don’t forget to wear your masks, wash your hands, and stay safe!