Let’s be more re­al­is­tic on fe­male hy­giene prod­ucts

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By EM­MAGON­ZA­LEZ

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 em­magon­za­lez@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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