August 05th, 2013

“I need feminine products.”

This is the four-word note I would leave in the driver’s seat of my mom’s giant conversion van once a month when I got my period. I’d have rather ruined every pair of undies I owned than speak the words out loud: “I need pads.” I would have absolutely died. My soul would have ceased to be. Rather, this silent monthly communique would let her know of my mortifyingly embarrassing need, and I’d return from school to find a folded-over brown paper sack on my bed.

I was no where near as enthusiastic or confident about getting my period as the young girl is in the Camp Gyno video, released this week by HelloFlo.com. The 30-something me has watched and laughed myself to tears because it strikes such a level of truth. The 13-year-old me, the one who skipped a chance to sit in a dunk tank rather than learn how to use a tampon from my mom, froze in fear. I couldn’t even say “period” to my mother, much less say “red badge of courage” to more than four million Internet strangers!

The young star of the video is Macy, an almost-ten-year-old girl who “gets” the period better than I did then, maybe even better than I do now.

“Macy auditioned and literally knocked our socks off. She walked away and we had the chills,” said Naama Bloom, founder of HelloFlo.com. She said their goal was to find an 11- or 12-year-old, but Macy stole the show with her enthusiasm and maturity. And while concerns have been raised asking if she is too young to represent the Camp Gyno, Naama qualifies that girls are getting their periods as early as 8 and as late as 14.

“There are some very young, very frightened girls out there,” Naama said, which helps support the mission of HelloFlo.com, a new pad and tampon delivery service she started that syncs delivery with your cycle and throws in candy, too! She can’t really put her finger on the reason why our periods and vaginas are so taboo, but thinks it’s mostly cultural.

Naama grew up in New Jersey, but in her Israeli family she was raised to be less constrained with fewer hangups about this kind of stuff. In the States, we’re obviously much more reserved, and that has an affect on our young daughters.

My own mother was much like Naama’s, very open and very willing to talk as much about my body and puberty as I would have allowed her – which was absolutely forboden from my standpoint. But a lot of women aren’t comfortable having these conversations, making it difficult to discuss this change of life at all, which in turns creates a lot of “frightened” girls who are left to garner the information for themselves.

That’s why HelloFlo.com’s starter kit doesn’t only come with tampons, pads, and of course candy, but also educational components and a discussion guide for parents. “There are important conversations to be had,” Naama says. This kit and her candid and hilarious take on the period have to help.

Naama has spoken with several women who said they put the entire tampon inside, not understanding what the applicator was. She recounted the story of another woman who’d started her period and was very excited. A month later when it returned, she had no idea that it wasn’t a one-time occurrence. For those of us who’ve had our periods for 10, 20, or 30 years, Naama reminds that we may forget some of the basics, and the starter kit can be as helpful to moms as it can the young recipients to get the right and thorough information into their hands.

In less than two minutes, The Camp Gyno is able to achieve what tampon marketers have been trying to do for decades. Only live online for five days and it’s being heralded as the “best tampon ad in the history of the world” and “ad of the year.” Naama knows the video has hit a nerve, and holds that “this business is a good idea.” For as much praise and celebrating as she and HelloFlo.com are enjoying this week, haters are still going to hate.

Dabney F. thought the video rated quite high on the inappropriateness meter, commenting on Youtube, “I would never let [my kids] participate in a video like this. Vagina talk belongs at home and it is NOT fodder for comedy of any kind.”

Naama says she’s mostly avoided a lot of the comment threads, but defends that she never set out to step on any toes.

“I know that people are not happy with the direction that we took. I feel like we were very careful not to make ‘vagina’ a punch line,” she told me. “But this is not about knocking girls for their body parts. It’s about being reflective of how girls talk, the experiences they go through. I absolutely respect that some people may not like it, it’s not the message they want for their children. That’s their choice. We weren’t trying to be exceptionally provocative, we’re trying to speak in the language and use common vernacular that girls and women are using today.”

So I have to ask, why is it inappropriate to have a sense of humor about your period?

Periods are awful, in my opinion. Other than this young girl waving a flag announcing the arrival of hers, I’ve never met anyone who celebrated their monthly menses. Mine causes nearly debilitating aches in my hips and knees, excruciating headaches, nausea, and of course those fabled mood swings. So I laugh about it, because honestly there often isn’t much else (at some point there’s such a thing as too much Aleve). If we can’t laugh at all the dysfunction a vagina brings to a woman’s life, then how are we supposed to muddle through the roughly 350 periods we experience in a lifetime?

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to laugh about it. And probably cry a little, too, all while teaching my daughter to do the same. And now, because of HelloFlo.com, I’m going to complain about the fact that my last 200 or so periods didn’t come with candy. We’ve been cheated, ladies! How have Tampax and Hershey’s not brainstormed this most epic of all product-placement-partnerships?

“Ninety-nine point nine percent of the women I spoke to said ‘you’re going to have chocolate in the box right?'” said Naama. “It makes getting a package in the mail with tampons in it seem like a lot more fun, make it not something you dread, but something you can embrace more. If candy helps people embrace it then why not?”

Maybe we need the Camp Gyno in our lives; frankly, we’ve probably needed her for a while. We need her to lighten the mood surrounding a period. We need her to make that dramatic shift in a girl’s life a little easier. We need her to let us know it’s OK to laugh about the down there nether bits. And we need a better way to sell tampons without kayaking and horseback riding.

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