HelloFlo's new ad for "period starter kits" is getting a lot of hype, and deservedly so, as it is a refreshing break from any other ad campaign about the agony surrounding the curse of Eve.
As something along the lines of a Saturday Night Live skit, the commercial is funny. And I'm sure this is the spirit in which it was created, and in which we are meant to watch. I did laugh, but there was just something off about it.
When I was growing up, my "period starter kit" was a Judy Blume book and the warped wisdom of my tween friends. My mother never said boo about Flo. There were no "care packages!" No "fun and tasty treats!"
When Flo arrived, I was 11. To be honest, Flo was kind of a letdown. I was home alone, and more impressed with myself than with Flo, for I had conquered womanhood without crying or dying.
I told my mom, as sort of an oh-hey-by-the-way, and that was it. Life went on. And menstruation went on, and on, and on, and on, and I learned that Flo was not always a letdown.
I now have a daughter who is 11. We have talked at length about Flo. In fact, we have talked so much about Flo that every time I say the "F-word" her eyeballs shoot straight up into her brain and her body flops around bonelessly.
Commercial Katie, on the other hand, is a girl who wants her period bad enough to lie about it. I get it: She wants to belong. Her friends are getting Flo, and she doesn't want to be the one left holding the pad. She's super sassy alright, in that special Flo-ish way.
Mom's angry with Katie for lying, and angry about her tone.
Most reaction to the ad sings the praises of Mom and denounces Katie as a bratty tween. Sure, at face value, that's true. But at Katie's age, fitting in is a top priority — one important enough to lie for. Is that really so unusual? Do kids never act secretive or lie in order to be accepted by their friends?
My problem is with Katie's mom, who treats the situation as if she and her daughter are peers in battle. Parenting a tween should not be about one-upping. It is about noticing when your child is upset enough to be defensive and upset enough to lie when she feels left out. It is about recognizing when your child has gone off course, and focusing on trying to get her back on.
But that would have made for a boring commercial, so instead we watch Katie's mom invest a lot of time and a few hundred bucks for a boy band, a red velvet fountain, a pop-out cake and a "vagician," just to teach her daughter a lesson. When Katie confesses, Mom unleashes her victorious "I'm-always-right-so-don't-mess-with-me" chortle, and gives Katie her real gift, which is the better-bargain $29.95 "period starter kit."
The mother-daughter dynamic is as mystifying as it is personal, but seeing this oft-complicated bond portrayed as a healthy rivalry is somewhat troublesome.
Most unsettling, though, is the commercial's depiction of punishment-by-humiliation. Tampon and pad commercials have always been bizarre, what with the blue liquid and cheerleaders and slo-mo twirling, but they've always had this undertone of "hiding" something.
It's refreshing that HelloFlo tries to buck that trend with its "first moon party," but the purpose of the party is not to celebrate Katie's coming of age — it's to punish her for lying. And not by, say, taking her phone, but by making fun of her period in front of everyone from Katie's friends (the very people she wants to impress) to Mom's co-workers.
This humiliation leads right back to step one: wanting to hide because of your period.
Invasion Of The Red Army
Back in real life, my daughter and I were in the tampon aisle of the grocery store. I had not stopped to consider moon products in a long time, but I had been thinking about the HelloFlo commercial, so this time I really took a look.
There were so many to choose from. So, so many. Did periods really vary this much? My brain was exploding. My daughter just said, "I like the one with glitter."
Even that confused me. Glitter?
"Why would you need glitter on a maxi pad?" I asked her.
"I don't know," she said. "You're the mom."
Added to the stress of Flo's imposing product wall, I could not handle the pressure of explaining the glitter. Why is glitter a viable marketing strategy? On the other hand, out of all of the pads, that is the one my daughter picked. It was for tweens.
We rushed home and tore open the box even before putting the milk away. We tore open a pad, too. There was no glitter. We ran into the back yard and tilted it at various angles under the sun.
"Why would they DO that?" wailed my daughter.
"FRAUD!" I screamed to the trees.
She ran into the house and came back with a bottle of rainbow glitter, which she merrily sprinkled all over the pad. Then we laughed and leaped around like cheerleaders singing "GLITT-ah is coming OUT of our PAHNTS!"
I guess every mother and daughter faces Flo in their own way.
Later, I asked my daughter to watch the commercial with me.
"What's it about?" she asked suspiciously.
"The F-word," I confessed meekly.
I witnessed the low, half-human growl, the fluttering eyelashes and the whites of her eyes.
Overall, she just seemed befuddled, declaring the uterus pinata and panties on a streamer "strange." She said she had no interest in a period starter kit, because she didn't want "random people sending her things for her private parts."
But the commercial wasn't aimed at her, it was aimed at me. Of course it was, because what mom wouldn't want to see herself portrayed as one step ahead of her kid, doling out exactly what she deserved?
Getting Into Sync
HelloFlo's message seems to be "Let's make your period fun." Because it is nice to get a little sunshine during an otherwise lousy situation.
And really, is there any good way to advertise a tampon? So far, HelloFlo has done it better than anyone else. The commercials have lightened the mood, if nothing else, and made the subject easier to talk about.
At the same time, I think HelloFlo's latest commercial misses the mark in some crucial coming-of-age areas. One is its lack of compassion for an anxious tween girl who is lying to fit in. And the other is opening up the topic by yet again associating menstruation with humiliation and punishment.
If you and your daughter are going to get through this womanhood thing together, you've got to be on the same side. Flo is mighty, but not mightier than that.
You can follow Laurel Dalrymple on Facebook at facebook.com/laurelmdalrymple.