Have a Happy"¦..Punctuation Mark.
As contemporary and forward-thinking as today's commercials and sitcoms purport to be when it comes to referencing that "time of the month," not one of them is bold enough to use the biologically-correct term of "menstruation." And while this column will most likely squick out a lot of readers, there might be just as many who will nod their heads in affirmation.
The Most Humiliating Purchase
Long before maxi pads were flapping their adhesive "wings" on TV to entice you to buy their brand, feminine products were considered a dirty little secret. In fact, up until the late 1950s, they were stowed behind the counter at drug stores and were sold as surreptitiously as condoms. Women had to ask the (usually male) pharmacist or cashier for a package of Modess (the major brand at the time). Not only did females have to go through the humiliation of personally requesting the product, they also had to lug that huge box wrapped in its distinctive blue wrapper--which was often too big to fit into a shopping bag and announced itself loud and clear to the other passengers on the bus or streetcar--all the way home.
You Can't Do That on Television
The advertising of feminine products was restricted to print ads (usually in women's or teen-oriented magazines) until the early 1970s.
Future Partridge Family star Susan Dey and Moonlighting's Cybill Shepherd were just two of many aspiring actresses who paid their dues by appearing in such ads.
Technology Forces the Issue
The sanitary products industry had been dominated more or less by two companies until the early 1970s. But suddenly several different factors conspired to rock Madison Avenue. After decades of the same old bulky and belted contraptions, technology suddenly caught up and offered not only self-adhesive pads but also products of various sizes and shapes. Modess and Kotex found themselves competing with Stayfree, Playtex, Always and Carefree. A sizeable portion of the American population comprised of girls born during the Baby Boom was also now entering their adolescent years. These girls were products of the electronic age and were used to getting most of their information via television versus magazines and newspapers. At the same time, TV execs decided to loosen their collar on the topic. Partially inspired by the now-fading hippie movement, (in that "the human body is a beautiful thing/let it all hang out" spirit), but more because there was so much money to be had in the industry, they allowed manufacturer to hawk their wares on television. One of the first celebrity spokespersons in the genre was Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby, who promoted Stayfree pads for several years on TV and in print ads.
In the early 1980s, actress Brenda Vaccaro did a series of TV commercials and print ads for Playtex tampons. Who cares if she was technically on the cusp of menopause at the time; she was still a celebrity willing to use her name to make a formerly taboo product mainstream.
The Cosby's Get into the Act
Interestingly enough, commercials for such products were de rigueur for many years before mainstream TV shows finally decided to tackle the subject. (It also makes some sort of comment on Hollywood's view of the onset of menses that when they do tackle the issue, they make it the entire focus of the episode. Heck, other than Peter Brady's cracking voice, how many shows have spotlighted a young male's venture into adolescence?) But when it comes to girls, TV audiences are subjected to such plots as Cosby's Clair Huxtable wanting to celebrate "Women's Day" when Rudy comes home early from school on that fateful day that every adolescent girl experiences. Roseanne started off on the right foot, emphasizing Darlene's embarrassment when her Aunt Jackie greets her with a very syrupy "Hi, honey, how are you feeling?" (And how many of us have echoed Darlene's mortified response: "God, Mom did you have to tell the whole world?!"), but then the writers ventured off into the typical "this is something to celebrate" territory. Maybe some girls immediately celebrate their sudden unification with the lunar cycle, but my guess is that the typical 11-year-old just wants to be left alone with a bottle of Pamprin when her "entry into womanhood" first occurs.
Married"¦ with Children's Period Piece
Perhaps the first truly realistic portrayal of "that time" was presented on Fox's Married"¦with Children. And it was due to this frank reality (plus the peppering of the dialogue with words like "period" and "menstruation") that the original broadcast of this episode was delayed for two months after filming while the producers battled with Fox's one censor. Indeed, even the title (originally "A Period Piece") had to be changed to "The Camping Show" in order to satisfy the network. Luckily, it finally passed muster so that the audiences could laugh as they saw themselves in either the cranky chocolate-craving too-hot-then-too cold women or the befuddled men walking on eggshells around them.
If you made it this far you're welcome to post your thoughts on feminine hygiene and advertising thereof or its portrayal on television. (But please don't get me started on those Vagisil skunk commercials"¦!) And what about Viagra and Dulcolax ("It shouldn't hurt when you go to the bathroom")? Not to mention the animated Charmin bears with bits of toilet paper stuck to their furry hindquarters"¦. Which previously-taboo subjects gross you out and shouldn't be advertised on TV in your opinion?