There are few experiences in life that suck more than when your intention and its impact become radically disconnected. And yet that’s what happened recently when we learned that one of our marketing campaigns had the unintended impact of making someone feel shamed for using disposable menstrual products to meet their needs.
For a group of people who take extra care to ensure we’re as considerate and inclusive as possible, hearing this feedback was kind of a massive blow: where did we go wrong? We were also criticized for self promotion as a for-profit business: in other words, capitalizing on a shaming message to make money.
We don’t deny that we (shamelessly!) market our products as healthy, environmentally responsible alternatives to disposable menstrual products, whose marketing tactics we typically perceive as shaming (and shameful). How ironic to be accused of the same thing: time for some introspection.
We understand and respect that reusable menstrual products are not for everyone.
If you don't have access to laundry facilities or clean water, lack stable housing, are low-income, cannot afford the high initial cost of reusables, or have very heavy flow (the need that inspired us to develop our new Performa Pads) as just a few examples; disposable products often are (or can feel like) your only viable option. We totally get that. In fact, we’re often the first ones to point out that reusable menstrual products are not ideally suited for those in relief situations following a natural disaster.
But even without the barriers above, let's be clear: how any individual chooses to manage their period is entirely their choice and their right. The decisions we make about the ways we care for our bodies are so deeply personal and complex; we would never presume to know what’s best for every person in every situation.
We’re reminded of the way some birthing parents feel shamed or judged when they have a c-section instead of a vaginal birth, or feed their children formula instead of nursing. There are so many factors that limit, restrict, or otherwise contribute to the choices we make for ourselves. We may feel strongly drawn towards an option that we just don't have the ability or opportunity to pursue, or we might simply make a choice that others disapprove of. In all cases, our choices are our own and the right choice for us.
Lunapads has always been a social change-oriented organization whose products and operations exist largely to support our community in having shame-free experiences of their bodies. But we’re not just here fighting for users of reusable products, we’re here for all people with periods – because none of us deserve to feel shame.
We’ve hosted multiple disposable pad & tampon collections for homeless people with periods in our area, for example, right here at the Lunapads HQ. When Canadian Menstruators put out the call for donations to help them fight to have the GST removed from all menstrual products in Canada, we put our money where our mouth is, and sponsored the campaign. If you buy disposable period products in Canada today, you won’t pay any tax on them – in some small way thanks to Lunapads!
Where things get tricky for us is with marketing. How do we tout the fact that our products contain fewer chemicals, perfumes and adhesives, are cheaper in the long run, and less taxing on our ecosystem than disposable products, without making those who either can’t or choose not to use our products feel shamed?
How do we get the word out to the millions of menstruating people in the world that conventional tampons and pads aren’t their only options, without explaining the reasons why we think they should consider an alternative like Lunapads?
Which brings up another tricky part of marketing: having a defined message that is simple and lands for your customer’s needs and lifestyles, without alienating other prospects.
We are in no way intending to imply that the choice to use disposables is shameful.
That said, we will always maintain that everyone deserves better than non-disclosure of ingredients, unnecessary bleaching, perfumes and packaging, and the often problematic advertising that characterizes mainstream disposables. Sure, they may work better in certain situations, however their manufacturers can reasonably be held to account (as with any other business) to make their products as responsibly and transparently as possible.
Years ago, we received feedback about a couple of our now retired marketing slogans: “happier periods, naturally” and “i heart my period”. Some customers reported feeling invisible because they didn’t connect with our “happy period” story: for them, it was a massive, painful chore. We appreciated the feedback and we learned from it.
It seems like what may have happened here is confusion between our saying “disposables suck” (intention) and “you suck for using disposables” (impact). That's a critical distinction to make, and we'll be thinking about ways to make that difference clearer going forward.