Let’s be more realistic on female hygiene products
Recently I foundmyself recalling with a Chinese friend our best and worst memories of school. She remembered physical education as her most hated class, but also that by saying just two powerful words, she was able to skip it: “li jia”.
Roughly translated they mean “having a break”, but they also refer to the menstrual period.
It was not uncommon for Chinese girls, she told me, to use the words to excuse themselves from any physical activities.
Back home in Spain, most ofmy classmates would have preferred to suffer in silence rather than telling anyone that it was “their time of the month”.
It would have meant huge embarrassment to admit they could not go on with their normal life, and need a break.
According to theUnited Kingdom-based Charity Plan, menstruation affects women around 3,500 days of their lifetime. For women across the globe, it’s simply a personal and unavoidable fact of life.
But what might differ for women in different markets are the taboos and stigmas that surround this natural process, and in turn the feminine hygiene products that are available.
For example, in European television ads, sanitary napkin and tampon manufacturers encourage women to simply continue with their lives as normal when their period comes.
The women in these ads act merrily as if nothing has happened.
Most feature athletic-looking females swimming, cycling, even mountain climbing, proving that their products allow life to go on smoothly.
These “ulta-active” adverts promote the full gamut of products: Ultra-thin sanitary napkins, odorless towels, silky tampons, under the general motto “less is more”.
The message is that given women are enjoying an increasingly dynamic role in society, they demand sanitary protection that allows them to maintain their fast-paced life.
These “perfect-world” adverts, however, are generally mocked in theWest as patronizing, and are as far as possible from reality.
But here in China, the whole approach is different.
Hyperactivity is the polar opposite of the message the adverts try to get across. Instead, they promote the concept of “li jia”, or “take it easy” during those days.
Their slogans focus instead on “more is better”.
The Chinese brands insist this is not a time for women to completely forget about their periods, and their campaigns focus on extreme comfort, or products that can help women.
Consequently, most local women here prefer disposable sanitary napkins, while tampons are less common and can only be found in specialized shops.
Additionally, the sanitary pads available tend to be larger than those found in theWest, with one well-known Chinese brand selling a 41 centimeters-long maxi pad (that compares to around 22 cm for extra long pads in theWest).
Extremely comfortable designs and not-so-discreet super absorbent products seem to be the norm here.
And in a country where many babies are not diapered but dressed in crotchless pants, I find it ironic that a product resembling a giant diaper is being sold in China for women.
Understandably, female hygiene products here have gone through various trends, while still depending on local customs.
But nonetheless, I might have hoped that the products available might have kept better pace with other areas of such a fast-changing society.
Although I still find theWesternstyle products a lot more convenient and practical to use, I also hate the dishonest and patronizing way this subject is dealt with there, while I like the “li jia” concept that promotes comfort above all else.
Having a period should definitely not change a woman’s daily routine. Equally, we should not pretend that it is not an uncomfortable event for many.
But the diaper-like towels and jumbo-size pads available do nothing to ease the lives of modern Chinese women.
I wonder if manufacturers here and in theWest could work more closely on developing easy and convenient products that make Chinese women feel more confident, and comfortable, while still feeling and looking good.
The creation of advertising campaigns which avoid pretending as if nothing has happened, must surely be the way ahead.
The future success of the products available in any country surely lies in successfully adapting to the next wave of cultural and societal changes, as well as simply meeting the practical needs.
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org