Very Personally Yours (4/10)

Source: Kotex. Very Personally Yours. Chicago: International Cellucotton Products Co., 1948

As the United States moved past WWII, consumerism as a form of menstrual management continued to increase. As Brumberg mentions in “Something Happens to Girls,” the industry was moving more and more into preparing girls for menarche, rather than simply supporting the modern woman. It can be argued that the industry was taking the place of mothers, but, again, as Brumberg discusses, they were simply filling a longstanding void. Girls needed to be prepared for menarche, and if their mothers weren’t doing it, someone else was needed. Companies saw this as a tactic to gain consumers from a young age, such as can be seen with Kotex. In 1946, Kotex partnered with Disney to create the first corporate-sponsored educational film on menstruation. The Story of Menstruation was followed by a booklet entitled Very Personally Yours, to go along with the film. The front cover gives no hint as to what the contents are, but once opened it becomes very obvious what’s discussed. Looking through Very Personally Yours shows in various ways where the conversation was at in regards to menstruation.

Very Personally Yours is an educational booklet to help young girls better understand menstruation. The writing and pictures are stylized in a way to attract a younger reader, keeping it simple enough for them to understand and feel as if it’s speaking to them. This was obviously written in a time before the “teenager” was an important part of the young years, as right at the beginning it describes menarche as “your graduation from ‘little girl’ to grown-up.” This booklet was written to pre-menstrual girls, some of whom likely started menstruation as young as 10 or 11. I personally would not describe them as “grown-ups,” but that seems to be what the booklet alluded to, especially with the follow up of “You began to menstruate. And this told you that you were making your bow to life as a woman.” This can be linked back to the earlier Progressive era and the movement to be “modern.” A new era is mentioned – “The Atomic Age,” which “moves at a fast clip, and has little time for girls who make a fuss about menstruation.” These girls must take advantage of “every known comfort trick” in order to fit in to this age, or so Kotex would have them believe. Girls would feel a desire to do this however possible so that they could fit in, especially because upon menarche, “You have an entire set of new problems,” as Very Personally Yours gladly reminds readers. Without explicitly stating so, they carry on with the tradition that periods need to be managed in a specific way for girls to be able to be “modern.” As Freidenfelds and Mandzuik both discuss in their articles that look at history and discuss the Progressive era, this menstrual management needed to be scientific. Very Personally Yours carries on with this tradition as well, but in a rather positive way. They keep their explanation thorough and simple so that a young girl can understand what’s happening to her body when she begins menstruation. They also emphasize that it’s a natural and normal process, relating it to fingernails and hair – other parts of the body that are discarded when in excess. Focus on menstrual management is also discussed in a rather scientific manner – what helps relieve cramps, the importance of good diet and exercise, etc. More accurate information helped with the scientific side of things during the 1940s, but there were still inaccuracies stated as fact that were left to be corrected at a later time.

Very Personally Yours had a goal to normalize menstruation, describing it as a “very commonplace routine” and explaining that “paying attention to it makes about as much sense as brooding over your digestive process.” In a way, these statements could be seen paradoxical to other aspects of the book, which focus on the “how-tos” of menstrual management, but it always comes back around to the concept of living a healthy life so that your period is easier to manage. Even with this focus on the normalcy, though, their debunking of common myths about menstruation wasn’t entirely accurate based on today’s knowledge. “Science is gradually clearing away the cobwebs that used to clutter our thinking about menstruation,” and it continued to do so after this booklet was completed as well. For example, the booklet corrected the concept that Freidenfelds discusses as an up through the early 1900s in her book – that you should not bathe or shower during menstruation. They vehemently corrected this, but made it clear that “Of course, the water shouldn’t be too hot, because it may increase the flow. Nor should the water be too cold – for that may check the flow.” This is an excellent example of how our understanding of menstruation continued to change over time, as these statements are inaccurate. In fact, an article posted on the “U by Kotex” webpage even states that “pretty much the only thing that will change your flow is your own body” as they bust the myth that “Hot water increases period flow” (link to article below). Other statements are made that carry on some of the older myths, such as being sure to dry your hair in a warm room without getting chilled, avoiding doing the jitterbug while menstruating, and the importance of “young, unmarried girls” consulting a doctor before tampon use, but all in all many misconceptions are addressed within the article. This enables young girls to have a clearer understanding of menstruation when they begin, providing answers for some common questions that may arise.

An important consideration of corporations providing education to young children is the agenda they pursue. Some of the final pages of Very Personally Yours seemed to turn into advertisements. It’s a very smart business move – it’s been proven time and time again that early brand introduction creates loyalty as a young person grows up. The ethics of this may come a bit into question, though, as the intention of Kotex in this situation is obviously not to simply teach about menstruation – it’s to get that brand loyalty from pre-menstrual girls. One whole page is dedicated to the history of modern management compared to the “B.K.” or “Before Kotex” time, and comments in passing that refer to “your Kotex napkin” are made throughout the booklet. Kotex recognized that these young girls would be the future consumers of their products. It makes sense to start them out early connecting “Kotex” to “menstruation;” after all, “more women choose Kotex than all other sanitary napkins” and “a napkin with lasting softness – the kind Kotex gives” and “Kotex gives you flat tapered ends – pressed ends that prevent revealing outlines” and “you can select the size of your Kotex.” These young girls are an easy target as they’ve likely never tried any menstrual management products before. Kotex seems like the obvious choice for what they want to use as it’s all about the comfort and ease of use. They even bring up the brand in discussion of the still-controversial tampons! Their advertising turns rather shameless here, with their statement of “Be sure to read and follow the directions that come with a dependable brand. And speaking of dependable brands… there is something in a name! Especially the good, familiar name of Kotex which, to millions of women, means “tops” in sanitary protection.” Using education as advertising is a strong argument against corporations teaching young girls about menstruation. The only problem is, who will teach them if the companies that want their money don’t? Ideally, this knowledge would come from mothers and even from schools, but in the 1930s and 1940s, this wasn’t happening enough. It only made sense for business to step in and provide the knowledge of both why girls need napkins and where they can get them.


One thought on “Very Personally Yours (4/10)

  1. A lot of conservative Americans talk about the privatization of a lot of government functions – some in favor of privatizing education. This is reflective of some of the consequences of privatizing education might be. Kotex is eager to teach girls about menstruation, but some of the things they teach might not be the best for girls – it is just what is best for the company. But then again, if the parents weren’t doing it, this might not be the worst way to go.


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