Sources: Always. 2014-2016. Always #LikeAGirl. Online. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjJQBjWYDTs; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhB3l1gCz2E; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N433aXwj59E; http://always.com/en-us/about-us/likeagirl-how-it-all-started (accessed December 1, 2016).
It may seem odd to skip from 1981 to the present day, but there are important things happening right now in terms of the conversation surrounding menstruation. By understanding the historical context, where these issues are today begins to make more sense. Advertising for menstrual products has changed a lot in the last ninety years since the days of Kotex. It’s not only possible to advertise on television now, but it’s allowed. In the paper by Marilyn Porter, one lady interviewed expressed how much society had changed: “Ah my. So different now. You can advertise it on TV and everything now.” And this statement was made in the 1980s! Advertisements for pads and tampons show up everywhere, and it’s interesting to see how they’ve evolved since the paper ads.
Today, Always is one of the leading brands of feminine hygiene products in the United States. As other brands have historically done, they have a large focus in education, with various materials for parents and teachers that can be found online. One major shift, though, is their material. Unlike Very Personally Yours and Molly Grows Up, their education has moved away from a focus on biological processes and how to keep yourself happy and clean; rather, it focuses on helping girls through the difficult time of puberty by teaching ways to instill confidence in them. Like Kotex, their ads continue to avoid saying terms such as “period” and “menstruation,” but they also don’t even mention their products! Today, the focus of advertising is rarely the actual product being sold. Budweiser uses Clydesdales to sell beer. Carl’s Jr. uses women in bikinis to sell hamburgers. Numerous food and drink companies use sports to sell their products. Always uses similar tactics to sell their tampons, but in a very positive way. In the midst of Super Bowl XLIX in 2014, the #LikeAGirl campaign began. This series of advertisements focus on the fact that during puberty, a girl’s confidence plummets. Always wants to change this by making the term “Like A Girl” a positive expression, rather than negative.
On the Always website, there’s a video of the director of the #LikeAGirl commercials, Lauren Greenfield, talking about where it all began. They were running a “social experiment” to better understand what “like a girl” means and where the attitudes behind the expression come from. She explains that upon her instructions such as to “run like a girl,” there was a difference in behavior based on age. Starting around ages 12 to 13, the negative associations began to arise. She explained that around the time puberty begins, girls often deal with a confidence crisis, and that being told that “You run like a girl” can be devastating due to the fragility of their identities throughout this time. This focus seems to be a big shift from the Kotex ads of old, which focused on the fact that you can always be happy and fine if you have a Kotex. Always seems to be promoting that it’s more than simply having a period and using a product – young girls are experiencing many challenges as they grow up, and they need to be empowered as young women “to maintain confidence at puberty, redefining #LikeAGirl from being an insult to being an expression of strength and downright amazingness.”
There are three main commercials that Always has released between 2014-2016: “Always #LikeAGirl,” “Unstoppable,” and “Keep Playing.” The advertising team of this company does a really great job tugging at heart strings as you watch. The music, the situation, the words across the screen, everything has the ability to make you feel so glad to be a woman as you recognize the power that you have. Although this may not have been someone’s exact intentions, it’s possible that this whole campaign is in essence a fight against patriarchy by encouraging women to recognize and exercise the power and influence they can have by strengthening their confidence. Overall, though, an interesting focus comes forward in the campaign, and that is girls in sports. Today, we see incredible female athletes posing in bikinis and even nude so as to get attention and recognition for their accomplishments. This is so disheartening, as women shouldn’t have to take their clothes off to be recognized for the amazing things they can do. Always is indirectly fighting against this by focusing on the fact that women are amazing because of those things they can do, not because they have a great body. They share on their website that at puberty more than half of girls drop out of sports, and that 7/10 girls feel they don’t belong in sports. Societal pressures for what being a female athlete means have greatly harmed girls, as it oftentimes isn’t about being a good athlete, but having a good body. By shifting the expression “Like A Girl” to be seen as positive, this can help society move away from these stereotypes. If “Like A Girl” is a positive concept, then it’s a good thing to be a female athlete. Otherwise, it’s going to continue to be about girls needing to be more than just good at sports.
At the end of the first #LikeAGirl commercial, a women states with great confidence that “Yes, I kick like a girl and I swim like a girl and I walk like a girl and I wake up in the morning like a girl because I am a girl. And that is not something to be ashamed of, so I’m going to do it anyway.” There’s a huge theme of moving away from being ashamed to be a girl throughout these advertisements. Their “Unstoppable” commercial is all about the ways in which girls are limited in society – all girls questioned said they’d been told not to do things because they’re a girl, and a poll showed that 72% of girls feel society limits them. These girls expressed some of the expectations society puts upon them, and then talked about how girls can and should be able to do whatever they love and want to do, in essence, being unstoppable. Although not talking about menstruation at all, the links in a historical context are fascinating. Periods have always been a matter of shame, something that must be kept hidden, and that halts a woman’s ability to do and accomplish various activities. In a very feministic style, Always seems to be promoting that these ideas should not be the case. By connecting confidence to tampons, Always is saying that menstruation is nothing to be ashamed of and feel bad about oneself for. Women and girls can be confident no matter the time of the month (to refer back to the Kotex ads). Being a girl is a wonderful thing, and changing the societal meaning of “like a girl” to actually be representative of women is an important task that Always is using their advertising to achieve.