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Clever Marketing Got Periods Right But That's About It

HelloFlo—a start-up that offers a starter kit of supplies and information about menstruation for young women, as well as subscriptions for monthly care packages—went viral last year with the very funny video "The Camp Gyno," about a girl who is the first to get her period while at summer camp. The spot went viral for its frank discussion of female anatomy, and its attitude that having a period not a mark of shame, but a "badge of courage."

This year, HelloFlo hoped to do it all over again with their follow-up ad, "First Moon Party, also created by Jamie T. McCelland and Pete Marquis, the minds behind the first video. While "The Camp Gyno" resonated with women who got their period early, "First Moon Party" targets those of us whose periods came later.

Like "The Camp Gyno," the new spot ignores the "blue liquid" advertising clichés—but "First Moon Party" went all the way, with games such as "pin the pad on the period" and "bobbing for ovaries," a piñata shaped like a uterus (complete with Fallopian tubes!), and Katie's dad, sporting a red unitard, bursting out of a giant cake.

Without a doubt, "First Moon Party" is the funniest, most vivid way I've seen for a company to show that we should celebrate this change in our bodies instead of trying to erase it, or treat it like a toxic thing.

But this ad has a huge problem—one that for me, made it impossible to enjoy its humor. All I could see was a parent humiliating her child.

Katie is so worried that she will be an outsider among her friends that she pretends that she's gotten her period, going as far as to paint a pad with red nail polish—after praying and doing thigh exercises fail to make a difference. This young girl is desperately reaching out to share in her friends' experience, faking it until she makes it.

Then her mother comes in with the painted pad in her hand, asking to know what it is (did she really need to ask?). Katie, embarrassed (and who wouldn't be?), gets on the defensive and responds, "What do you think it is? I'm on my ladies' days."

At this point, I was really expecting the mother to reassure Katie that people don't sexually develop uniformly, that many things factor into puberty, that this is normal for our species, that she is as much a woman now as she would be after her period.

Instead, she decides that the fact that her daughter lied to her—and in that tone!—is more important than Katie's worries. Instead of helping Katie feel okay about herself and her body, this mom decides to get even.

So Katie's mother arranges a "First Moon Party," and invites everyone: grandparents, her own coworkers, her daughter's friends, and a dreamy boy band. This is how we get into that wonderland of games and piñatas celebrating the female body.

Except that it's not a celebration. The party is a device to shame a young girl who is deeply concerned about her body, and about what it means that her body's development doesn't match that of her friends. Katie's friends and family were invited over to play a part in an afternoon of shaming that results in an exasperated Katie finally confessing to her mother that she faked her period.

The spot ends with Katie pulling away when her mom touches her shoulder, and I don't blame her. Her mother ought to have been a source of information and warmth. Instead, she chose retaliatory humiliation.

Her mother's response to that confession is to chuckle at her victory. Her victory over her preteen daughter. Seriously?

Oh, and Katie's mom hands her a box of HelloFlo, for the period Katie hasn't had yet—the period which is causing her so much anxiety. The kit takes the place of any actual conversation, presumably because the kit contains information about how people develop at different rates and she shouldn't worry. Or maybe because there's candy. Or something.

Instead of talking about how it's good to be open about the female body, to bring it out of the shadows, out of girls' slumber parties and girls' night outs and into one's community by having a party, her mother then delivers the final blow: She reveals that the party is her way of grounding Katie for lying.

The spot ends with Katie pulling away when her mom touches her shoulder, and I don't blame her. Her mother ought to have been a source of information and warmth. Instead, she chose retaliatory humiliation.

Even the awesomeness of red-dipped marshmallows, the Cherry Slush Club, a "vagician," and a period that looks like Florida can't make up for the disservice Katie's mom did her when she turned that painted pad into something that, at the end of the day, was all about her—instead of being about her daughter.

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