The following essay is an analysis of an ad for the brand ‘Thinx’, who have come up with a new menstruation product in the form of underwear that can be used to replace pads, tampons and menstrual cups. I will begin the essay by looking at the context and target audience, following on with a discussion around gender assumptions and how femininity is being challenged. Then I take a closer look at the visuals of the advertisement itself and how they work to convey a particular message and finish up the essay with how the brand, and the ad, are specifically attempting to breakdown the status quo, not just of the products but around the whole taboo issue of periods.
The ad depicted above is aimed at ‘menstruating humans’ (taken from another advertisement within the same campaign), this in and of itself is already breaking down assumptions around gender as we often think of a very feminine representative advertising/using feminine hygiene products (itself a problematic term). This ad is using a transgender man which is the first of its kind for this particular product. You can see when you take a look at the full campaign that the brand is trying to be as inclusive as possible, there are women from different backgrounds, as well as different sizes included in the campaign. The overall simplicity of the ad emphasises the inclusivity of this particular product; and the context of where the ads were placed (NYC Subway) also says something about the targeted audience.
I argue that this particular advertisement challenges, rather than mobilises, many assumptions around gender, including assumptions surrounding transgender people. We assume that only humans who look like women are the humans who menstruate, and this ad directly challenges that. Although advertising for these products (historically very stereotypically gendered to women) have been around for decades, periods and menstruation is still seen as a taboo topic. These Thinx ads are attempting to fight the taboo and normalise periods, and trying to show the people represented in their ads as strong and empowered humans. In reality, Thinx are not doing anything overly shocking aside from calling a period exactly what it is, yet we have been conditioned to avoid the reality of periods (eg. the use of blue instead of red ink to show the effectiveness of the product). While researching this ad, I found that Outfront Media (the company that sells the advertising space in the Subway) almost didn’t approve the ads because of the use of the word ‘period’ as well as the ‘suggestive’ and ‘inappropriate’ use of the fruit (Cauterucci, 2015). But if you take a look at other ads that have been approved and presented in the Subway we can see this as a shocking double standard, and one can understand why Thinx (who has a female CEO) is attempting to breakdown these taboos.
Throughout post-feminist discourse many scholars argue that the body is representative of our femininity/masculinity, and Gill argues that the body itself is more representational of our identity than our social, structural or psychological features (2007, p. 149). So by using a transgender model in their ad, Thinx have directly challenged the connotations that our systems attach to the word ‘feminine’ and/or ‘masculine’. Terms like ‘she’ and ‘her’ are words we use as labels to facilitate assumptions about the human experience. As this ad suggests not all people who present their outer body as male (or even as female) necessarily experience menstruation, something we have come to associate with women and femininity. Helene Shugart discusses the threat that ‘metrosexuals’ pose to normative masculinity; from that we can only assume that a transgender man must pose an even greater threat. She references Faludi and the term ‘ornamentalisation’ which refers to shifting of the gaze; “men.. are now available for display and objectification in ways that, historically, women have been” (Shugart, 2008, p. 285). Shugart goes further in saying that this ornamentalisation of men is based on their feminisation and one could argue that the use of the transgender model is yet another threat against masculinity, and potentially, the patriarchy.
The dominant part of the visual ad is the use of a transgender male model; this alone represents a manipulation of our assumptions in regards to gender and ‘feminine hygiene’ products. The piece of art that is on the wall behind the man is a photo used in another Thinx ad, which is the yolk of the egg falling off an edge. This represents the shedding of the egg inside the uterus and is actually quite a clever, non-threatening and inoffensive image to depict the monthly cycle of women. The text on the ad really is simple, clear and relatable. It is also worth noting that these ads use the word ‘period’, a new concept within the feminine hygiene industry. As discussed earlier the use of the word period is one of the reasons the ad was nearly unapproved and sparked controversy before it was even released. The colour scheme has also been left quite neutral and hasn’t reinforced any gendered stereotypes, again making this as inclusive as possible. These Thinx ads have not only challenged how we view gender, but have challenged the way we view ‘feminine’ hygiene products overall. Thinx have really impacted the market, both through the product itself (a whole new way of dealing with menstruation), as well as the way it has advertised the brand.
For many humans who experience menstruation Thinx and these ads have really challenged the status quo and brought something very real and refreshing to the public eye. The controversy surrounding the ads highlights how these ads are still seen as quite threatening and confronting to a lot of people, predominately cis-males, but also to people of both genders who experience ingrained misogyny. It still baffles me that something as natural as menstruation can still be seen as such a taboo topic, especially considering it is vital to our very existence. Both men and women have been conditioned to view menstruation as dirty and shameful, a conditioning that I argue has come from patriarchal systems as another means of oppressing women. Since the 1990’s post-feminism dominated discourses surrounding gender and many assumptions were generally accepted as truths. Gill claims that “..discourses of natural gender difference can be used to freeze in place existing inequalities by representing them as inevitable” (Gill, 2007, p. 159). This understanding of naturally occurring gender difference needs to be broken down and Thinx have made a successful attempt to begin that process. By using a transgender model as the subject of focus, Thinx attempts to normalise trans people especially within the discourse around feminine hygiene. Thinx are directly challenging gender assumptions in both the product context but also within the larger societal context.
Cauterucci, C, 2015, Ads for Period Underwear Might be Too Lewd for the NYC Subway’, XX Factor, viewed 20 April 2018, http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2015/10/21/ads_for_thinx_period_underwear_might_be_too_lewd_for_the_subway.html
Gill, R, 2007, ‘Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a sensibility’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 147-166
Monllos, 2016, ‘2016 Campaign’, [images] A Trans Man Stars in an Inclusive New Subway Ad for Period Underwear Brand Thinx, AdWeek, viewed 20 April 2018 http://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/inclusive-new-subway-ads-period-underwear-brand-thinx-feature-trans-man-171508/
Shugart, H, 2008, ‘Managing Masculinities: The Metrosexual Moment’, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 280-300