The XX Factor

Your Sanitary Pad Is Showing Its Age

There’s been some snarky coverage of the contest Kotex is launching to reimagine feminine hygiene products - specifically, pads - with bright colors and playful designs. The company brought in Patricia Field, the outré costume designer from Sex and the City , to mentor the three finalists whose designs are chosen. At the risk of sounding too gung-ho on a marketing campaign - Kotex has plenty of well-paid MBAs to cheerlead already - I have to say, this feels like an idea whose time has come.

The design of much feminine hygiene packaging feels straight out of the 1960s. All those pastels , the flowers and the butterflies - they are supposed to counteract our deeply embedded cultural sense that menstruation is dirty. Instead, they just wind up reinforcing it. Like the phrase “feminine hygiene” itself, the ultra-dainty aesthetic is a kind of euphemism, reminding the woman grabbing a box of tampons off the shelf that she should feel mildly embarrassed. (Not to mention that words like “hygiene” and “sanitary” reinforce the theme of uncleanliness.)

Last year Kotex launched a line called U by Kotex, with an ad asking the question , “Why are tampon ads so ridiculous?” and lampooning the genre’s staple images - women riding horses, dancing, running on the beach. (The New York Times reported that three broadcast networks nixed the word “vagina” from the ad; then two of them rejected the ad with the substitute phrase “down there.”) The packaging for U by Kotex is black accented with bright colors, and according to AdAge , the line has sold well enough that it has “helped reverse a generation of declining shares for Kotex.”

So, yes to the designs that people are uploading to the Kotex website; yes to stars and fish and cheetah prints on sanitary pads. (Maybe not so much to the image one person uploaded of Robert Pattinson’s face on a pad.) It seems like just a matter of time before the other brands lose the butterflies altogether. In a rambling and somewhat eccentric interview with Fashionista about her role in the contest, Field suggests that everything, even sanitary pads, should be beautiful: “I want my environments to please my eyes, my ears, and make me happy so I can burst out like a supernova.”