I feel a bit conflicted about this post, as I am typically a huge fan of women-owned businesses. So what happens when the businesses in question are marketing products that I don’t feel are necessarily in women’s best interests? Let’s talk!
The products in question are basically cosmetics for your vulva – one to make your parts “clean, pure, soft and fresh” with the help of a 4-step collection of soap, lotion, spray and wipes, and the other to lighten the color of the labia. Leaving questions around the safety and rationale for these products aside for the moment, what’s particularly troubling about these new takes on what the marketers of Lysol and Massengil have schilled in the past is that they have adopted (some might say co-opted) the language of empowerment and enlightenment in order to do so, presenting the case for vulval “freshening up” as a bold act of savvy self-love.
While the cheeky brand name “I Love My Muff” on its own is eerily reminiscent of a Lunapads standby: “I (heart) my period”, who can argue with its wisdom? Ideally women “love” (or are at least at peace with) our muffs, but do we need these products in order to get there? Of course not, and yet ILMM’s copy tells us that “informed” (if only I knew the “truth” about feminine hygiene!) “modern” women are literally clamoring to make this “savvy and empowered” choice. And how’s this for courageously breaking the taboos that have kept the topic of “feminine care” locked away in the closet? “It’s no longer taboo and with it’s (sic) clean packaging and bold message these products are a statement of confidence and a must have for every woman.”
But why stop with the age-old fem-hi prize of “freshness”? Have you considered the color of your labia lately? Personally, I don’t know how I’ve managed to live with myself for this long without dyeing my labia a fresh new shade of youthful pink. In case you too have been suffering in silence with regular boring old unpinkified labia, My New Pink Button is here to help. Available in 4 lovely shades of pink named after famous actresses (seriously: Marilyn, Ginger, Audry (sic) and Bettie), MNPB is apparently “effective” for up to 72 hours, and can help women to lighten the browning of her labia due to “Ethnicity…, age, hormone change, surgeries, childbirth, sickness (and) health.” Hard not to draw the conclusion that natural ageing, the color of your skin and life in general are resulting in this unacceptable disease-like condition of browning labia. Needless to say, there are no products named after, say, Halle or Whoopi.
My fully triggered feminist ire notwithstanding, I nevertheless found myself asking What if they have a point? What is the difference between, say, using lipstick, choosing nice lingerie, piercing, tattooing or wearing jewelry as an act of self-adornment, celebration and fun, using flavored lubes for zipping up bedroom fun, and using these kinds of products? Some might say it’s a fine line. Perhaps for some women, experimenting with these products will in fact bring about a better relationship with their bodies, giving them the promised “confidence” that for whatever reason they lack; who am I to say?
For starters, as someone who has handled literally hundreds of emails and phone calls from women who were victims of painful allergic reactions to all manner of products, perfumes and deodorants in the female nether regions, I have a major concern about the safety of these products. The vagina, as we know, for the most part has a great way of keeping itself in fine working order with some common sense natural hygiene (like plain old soap and water), a healthy diet and little else – and as savvy ladies know, nothing can wreck your feminine “confidence” like a yeast or bladder infection.
At the end of the day, for all the language of self-love and empowerment used in the marketing copy for these products, I still can’t get around the underlying implication that our vulvas are not in fact just fine, thanks, without smelling or looking any different than they already do. To my way of thinking, even planting a seed of doubt of this kind in a woman’s (let alone a girl’s) mind about her bodily self-esteem is to perpetuate a dangerous climate of self-loathing against which most girls and women will struggle at some point during their lives. Beauty Myth, anyone? I guess that this is where the line ultimately gets crossed for me.
If you truly want to help women, how about finding ways to support their self-acceptance, rather than creating these totally unnecessary (risky healthwise, and potentially damaging to self-esteem) products? What do you think?