A history of feminine protection

When I was eight or nine, my older (but still prepubescent) sister brought home a booklet from school about “becoming a woman”. The booklet was all pastel colours and lovely 70s-style young girls (well, it *was* the 70s). I don’t see it in the list of booklets on the Museum of Menstruation site. It, like others of the time, was a precursor to the Procter & Gamble “Have a happy period” marketing plan. I’m guessing it was created by Kimberly-Clark or Tampax. No, boys will never know you have your period. And, no, you’re not ill so you don’t have to stay in bed for a couple of days. And, yes, you can wear your white pants and hang out with your friends at the beach. No one will ever know.

My mother took that opportunity to teach both of us about the intricacies of “that time of the month” and the various options available to us. She never shared the true horrors to come, which was both blessing and curse. You’re never truly prepared but a little reality check would have lessened the absolutely shocking grossness of the ordeal when it finally did arrive. (I like to horrify my nieces when they hit puberty by telling them that, however disgusting and painful and gross it is now, just wait until you’re older. It gets worse and worse until you hit menopause or die. Mwahahahahaha!)

For several years after that, we had a special stash of products in the bathroom cupboard, ready and waiting. Tampons were fascinating — the cross-sectional diagrams of how to insert them really don’t hit home at that age, but they sure were fun to dunk in water. This was back in the days when TV ads for feminine hygiene products were blissfully vague (“Sometimes I just don’t feel fresh.”)…and so were we. When my period finally arrived, I remember crying. I can see random snapshots of the night it happened in my head even now, but I don’t remember the next day, or the next. I do remember having to wash my night clothes and bedding every morning during “that time of the month” for years after that, though. Vividly. What I wouldn’t have given for a nice Always pad or ten.

Back then, you really had two choices: Playtex tampons and Kotex maxipads with a belt. You remember those pads, the ones in the massive pink or powder blue boxes with the huge flowers on them. I can remember hating to go to the drugstore to pick them up (“OMG the boys will know we have <furtive whisper>our periods</furtive whisper>!!”) so we’d frequently send my father in. The ladies behind the counter would carefully wrap the giant boxes discretely in brown paper, as if that would camouflage them so no one would know what you were carrying out.  (I was surprised a few years ago to find a checkout clerk attempting to hide my small package of Always in a brown paper bag that she then placed in the plastic bag with the other items. I’d thought that went away with the blissfully unaware television ads.) The pads were thick, bulky, and short with fabric at each end for gripping by the garter-belt-like sanitary belt. Kind of the first thong, capable of giving you nasty wedgey. And only passably absorbant. No, no one will notice you walking funny, or that blood stain on your new white pants. How lucky are you to be a woman. Thankfully, feminine protection has advanced by lightyears. Adhesives got better; pads got thinner, longer, and more effective, developed wings. I might have been a different person had Always existed during my formative years.

The Museum of Menstruation is an overwhelming font of knowledge about all that is and was menstruation. You want to relive the horrors? That’s your place. Trying to place that box image or booklet that has been haunting your nightmares for decades? That’s also your place. Wondering how thankful you should be for advances in sanitary napkin or tampon technology? You’ll find out there. (A hint: the answer should be “very much” — even if you’re a man, trust me.)

Other fun links to explore:


3 thoughts on “A history of feminine protection

  1. Oh, thanks for reminding me about those horrid Kotex pads with the belts. (Shudder). Personally, I think the whole feminie hygiene product market is horrid. Yes, they’ve made some progress, but jamming $15 bleached cotton plugs up your twat isn’t healthy for you or your wallet. Enter the Diva Cup. Now that’s a brilliant invention. A one-time purchase that’ll last you 10 years. Safe, natural – no leaking, no mess, no landfill dumping, no flushing, no carrying around pads or tampons, easy enough for anyone to use. And did I mention economical? Why should women be hostage to these monthly feminie hygiene supplies?

  2. thank you Louise…….I will now without guilt go change my very politically incorrect tampon…
    I really do care about the environment, but I have to draw the line at giving up the convenience and sanitation of my feminine hygiene products.
    Aren’t these very computers and the power to supply them creating much more of an impact?

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