Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Muckraking in the Name of Ovaries

I'm a frequent user of my local fitness club. I like my gym but as anyone who has used a gym before knows, it has very little to do with health and a lot to do with physical appearance. Gyms are all about making money and in order to do that, they bombard you with images of so-and-so after they hired a trainer, or TRY THIS MUSCLE MILK AND YOU'LL BE GIGANTIC, while blasting 46 different televisions playing Cosmopolitan TV and various sports channels. It combines "You Can Do It" with "Because you're a fatty!".

The other day, while attempting to use the washroom, I sat down to face an advertisement. Now ads in washrooms are not unique to gyms, obviously. They are a nuisance in most public washrooms nowadays. But the ones at the gym are almost always related to appearance or "health". This particular ad, which I'm presuming is only in the womyn's washroom, has a giant picture of an empty ice cream container that says "Want to have fewer periods?" followed by the "FIND OUT HOW AT Periodslessoften.ca"

Oh Goddess...

So I went home and checked out Periodslessoften.ca (I encourage you to do the same) and went back to my journalism roots to do some digging.

Turns out *surprise surprise* PeriodsLessOften.ca is hosted by an unnamed "Research Based Pharmaceutical Company" and the way to get less periods is through hormonal birth control. The Pill.

Now anyone who has been on the Pill, which in North America includes most hetereosexual womyn, knows or has heard the Old Tales about how you just take one pack of pills right after the other to skip your period. Nothing all that new here.

But this website is particularly interesting because it uses and re-uses imagery of food (.i.e.: PMS cravings) and makes the focus less on the usual anti-period stuff of crankyness, physical pain, lack of swimming/sex options and turns it into "Have Fewer Periods So You Have Fewer Midnight Triple Chocolate Oreo Cookie Cravings".

Which is something that the website cannot back up because it is false. Although taking hormonal birth control to date your periods and/or taking pack after pack will time and/or delay your period, it will not change your body's desire to jonse for cookies. It has been proven to possibly diminish in some people but it's not an instant cure.

There is a strong school of thought who believe that skipping any period at all is bad for your body. Unfortunately the reality is that as long as you are on the Pill, you will never have a "period" in the truest sense of the word. To be blunt, you can't drop an egg when you're on the Pill so you're having a "Pill Period" as they say and not an actual one. However, that doesn't mean that your body reverts back to being 10. You're still going to have hormone fluctuations because that's what keeps your bones good and strong, thickens your hair, etc.

So the first thing against this whole "TAKE THE PILL AND DROP THE COOKIES" approach is that it's not entirely accurate.

Another thing that is problematic it is that hormonal birth control is being marketed as this pseudo health option and dare I say, weight loss option. The latter of course is a bit of a stretch and kinda hilarious considering that most hormonal birth control pills make people gain weight.

But with the ads juxtaposition of the empty ice cream pale with the Pill, it makes it seem as though one can be cured by the other. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find a picture of said ad online, but the website is full of food imagery, including a smiling Gingerbread.

And finally, the website and campaign is also problematic in its so-called attempt to be "neutral" regarding other forms of birth control.

See the website does not mention what pharmaceutical company it works for and so it is attempting to be an "information site" that is neutral and not about marketing a certain product. For this reason, they include this one section "Is the Pill Right For You" which has the legally required information regarding risks of taking the Pill and a sub-section entitled "Non-Hormonal Options". This section's intro:

"Non-hormonal birth control options will not change how often you have your period, meaning that they cannot be used to lengthen the time between your periods. Though most of them have been proven to be less effective than hormonal birth control, non-hormonal options may be right for you. Except for the non-reversible methods and the IUD, these methods must be used every time you have sex. The male condom and female condom can be used with hormonal birth control to help protect against sexual transmitted infections (STIs)." (Source)

Yes, these forms of Birth Control are less effective than hormonal based birth control but most don't cause blood clots, can be used by people over 35 safely and will not put your life at serious risk if you're a smoker. Oh and hey, most will make sure you don't get HIV! Which is, you know, pretty freakin' important, too.

Oh and it's also interesting to note that the tiny words in the disclaimer (for which you need to click onto a seperate site to find) explain that all the "claims" made throughout the website only apply to the United States. Which is pretty interesting considering it's Periodslessoften.CA

But it's obvious that the folks behind "Periodslessoften" are not concerned about sexual health as a whole or a womyn's health in particular. What they are for is the promotion of menstruation as an evil, an evil that will make you want cookies! Which will make you fat! And then, undesirable! And if you're undesirable, then you won't get laid! And then if you don't get laid, you won't need birth control! Ah! The tyranny!

Now I do not wish to diminish the very painful reality of many, many womyn who have excruciating menstrual pain, endure debilitating side effects or who are in dire need of menstruation regulation. However, if you are one of these many womyn, the reality is that Periodslessoften.ca doesn't really care about you anyway. They care about the bottom line and sorry honey, but you ain't it.

Now I'm not knocking takers of the Pill because everyone has their own reasons and the reality is that hormone based birth control is the most effective form of birth control (except for abstinence but who are we kidding?) What I am knocking is pharmaceutical companies who market things inaccurately under the guise of "neutrality".

Let's just call a spade a spade, shall we?


Making !T Work said...

Nice journalism piece here. Your roots are showing.

Anonymous said...

Hear hear!