Pretty in Pink?

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?

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  • Really great post about these products – I appreciate the honest addressing of conflicted feelings. I’ve written about some of these items at re:Cycling, but all I can ever manage is snark and ire.

  • Great post Madeleine, your sarcasm made me laugh out loud. As someone with olive coloured skin, peddling products that tell us we become less brown and strive to be more pink is ridiculous. Christina Cicchelli (at the joint Betty Dodson Carlin Ross site) has this to say about ethnicity http://dodsonandross.com/blogs/christina-cicchelli/2010/01/move-over-labiaplasty-now-theres-pink-button
    and Salon.com has weighed in with their comments here… http://www.salon.com/mwt/broadsheet/feature/2010/01/08/my_pink_button_dye/index.html.
    Oh, and assuming the dye is meant for someone else’s viewing pleasure, a question I have for the manufacturer is: um, where exactly will the dye wear off ;)

  • I have to say the lightening of the labia for “problems” caused by “ethnicity, etc.” is where the line is crossed for me. I agree with you on the self-empowerment and choice pieces of the puzzle — too each her own — but a product that lists ethnicity in a list of so called problems is kind of just a gonner for me. As you say, there’s no Whoopi or Halle option there and at this point in our society I really don’t have a lot of patience for that kind of racism, especially if it’s couched in “fun” or “empowerment” language.

  • heather

    These products also make me scratch my head. I guess I would like to dye the color of my labia (for bedroom fun.) But knowing what I know now as an older, more educated adult, I have the same questions about the safety of the product. I am sensitive to perfumes and some chemicals in scents soaps. I can’t image what something that can dye my skin would do. Also, where will it wear-off. Am I going to have pink-and-blue-stained undies? Or, will it interfere with the safety of condoms?

    Also, I have to agree with the concerns about ethnicity. What exactly is wrong with having a muff of a different race? What is that implying to our youth?

  • Since when is “ethnicity” a problem? Sounds pretty racist to me. I love my muff…the way it is. :P

  • YW

    I usually love items that make women feel more accepting of their lady parts. But when it comes to stuff like this – vaginal make-up and deodorants and the like – I think it sends the WRONG message. Just as you said, women should never have to suffer through the doubt that there is something wrong with or unattractive about their vaginal area. No way!

  • This line says it all for me: “If you truly want to help women, how about finding ways to support their self-acceptance”

    Indeed.

    Thanks for this post. My first time here, and I’ll be back.

  • Frances

    Great article!
    I’m proud of my brown vagina, and it took me years to be able to say that. I’ll be darned if I would let some company tell me that ethnicity is a “problem” for my nether regions that needs to be treated.
    Also something to think about: there are not, to the best of my knowledge, any products out there specificially designed for cleaning the penis. Why is it that only women are requested to “freshen up?” I personally feel that products like I Love My Muff and My New Pink Button are designed not to empower, but to break down. What better way to strip a woman’s confidence than to make her think that what is between her legs is dirty, shameful, weird looking, or gross?

  • Sara

    This is the most offensive feminine product I ever heard of. My vagina does not need improving. It is fine the way God made it. This business only wants to make money by giving women and girls something else to feel self-conscious about, fearing that they are not beautiful and desirable as the unique individuals they are. Shame on them.
    I also despise giving euphemisms for my body. It’s a vagina. A muff is something I wear on my hands in the winter.

  • amanda

    I like the idea of the clean muff package. Sometimes you do need something “extra”- but wysi wipes, or other products work just as well.

    I think the question to ask is, do women feel like they need these products, or just want them?
    For example, I want to wear lipstick, I dont feel like I have to. I do it because I want to. As an earlier poster pointed out, the products could be fun if taken as fun. But I feel like with these, and numerous other products women will be brainwashed into thinking that they “need” them. Remember when you thought you needed tampons with a skirt?

  • What about blue or green shades for the days when you want to play dress up and pretend you’re and alien?? LOL. What a ridiculous and backhanded insulting product!

  • Tammy

    Well if someone has a problem with my “brown” vagina, they don’t need to be near it!

  • Just in case anyone was interested in the application process etc. of My New Pink Button; one brave blogger has taken a hit for the team and actually TRIED the stuff!
    Needless to say it was not a positive experience, as in “Things were okay for a few seconds, and then…THE BURNING!”
    ya…..so check it out!
    http://iasshole.org/?p=1771

  • Shauna

    I first discovered this on TV a while back. Yes, I purchased it and actually think its fun, not that its necessary, but I tried it anyway. It worked fine, I ordered one of the darker shades. I am not sure the ethnicity thing is such a big bad “monster” as Dr’s and cosmetic companies are using the word as a “noun” to denote attributes of people. Thus, different shades of skin tones and vulvas. Since I’ve got all the info, I will write the company My New Pink Button about its use of the word and report back. FYI My PinK Button referred to in the previous comment is a site for ileostomy patients. Don’t go there unless you want a “poop” report.

    Just took a quick look at Dr’s answers to Labia colors via our friend Google and there are many. Several quotes by Dr’s on Q&A blogs referring to Labia Color “due to Ethnicity” and many of the other factors which were also reported by this company. Google: Labia Color Loss

  • Jill

    The pink button product is so disturbing to me. I am 26 years old and when I was 19 I found out I had to have surgery on my cervix and uterus and had questioned how “normal” I was. I can’t imagine my reaction to this product if I had seen it 7 years ago. I probably would have been devastated just thinking heres another thing that I need to worry about to be “normal.” Products like this should not be allowed on the market. I cant even find the words. It just saddens me that some girl might see this product and think she needs it to to be pretty, sexy, or normal.

  • I have finally gone round to look at each site.

    About the “I love my muff” products: do we need to clean these parts just like we do with our face? And moisturise it too? I have serious doubts about it. (Although I have had to use a cream to strengthen the skin because it was so fragile and got hurt too easily, but that’s not a “cosmetic” use).

    About the “my pink button”… If it was presented as a “fun to use” product, why not. My problem is that it’s presented as a “you need to use it”. Some women might, because they are not comfortable with this part of their body and the changes that have occurred. But I am not sure the way they present their product is helping. I do agree with Madeleine, there are other ways I am sure, to help women feel better.

    I will talk about those products on my blog and see what French women think about it.

  • Hi Shauna,
    I’m not sure I get your comment. I checked the link in my previous comment and it goes to the blog I had mentioned, not a site for ileostomy patients….
    Also I’m not sure I understand your defense of the use of “ethnicity” as a noun. The fact that it’s a noun doesn’t make it any less racist to pronounce ethnicity as the cause of the “concern” of labia “discolouration”. I think you are missing the point.

  • Sharna

    I just read the description and looked at the photos you put up… My initial reaction was to feel like my vagina wasnt pretty enough for someone else to see. Of course i keep it clean, but i dont have special products like that, or something to make it pink.
    Maybe it will help women keep themselves cleaner with their specific products… but it just made me feel inadequate.

  • Dee

    Holy Crap, I gotta DYE it now, too? That is a low. At 40 my husband doesn’t care what color it is as long as he can get up in it. If I were dying it he would have to wonder what I was UP to on the side. What about a “dick dye” for a more youthful, appealing penis? Seriously, that is going to far. Thanks for posting about this absurd product!

  • Before you dismiss our products let us explain that I Love My Muff products are not “cosmetic”.

    In order to maintain a certain level of cleanliness you have cleanse. If for you, pure water does the trick then that’s perfectly fine.

    I love my muff empowers women who love themselves to love their muffs. That means using the best products for your best parts.

    The main message is to avoid using chemical laden, ecologically aggravating products that may be harmful to your vaginal health.

    Some women shave it, wax it, even laser it and whether your bare or there…I Love My Muff products can help you pamper it.

    It’s not a question of whether or not you need to use a particular product or brand, It’s about having healthy alternatives in the market that can address your personal feminine care needs.

    I love my muff products have been created by a woman for women to provide daily love and care for down there. We advocate confidence and if that means no products…No problem (o:

    If you’d like to learn more about our Natural, Vegan, PETA approved, handmade (with love) products please check out our website http://www.ilovemymuff.com/

    The message is…it’s no longer taboo and with I LOVE MY MUFF’s clean packaging and bold type these products are a statement of confidence.

  • Ritz Clinging

    Hi there, before you dismiss I Love My Muff products, please understand that our line is not “cosmetic”.

    It is not fair to group our products together with something designed to color or disguise the wonderment that is the Vagina.

    It’s not a question of whether or not you need to use a particular product or brand. It’s about having healthy alternatives in the market that can address your personal feminine care needs. The fact is, in order to maintain a certain level of cleanliness you have to cleanse. If for you, pure water does the trick then that’s perfectly fine.

    I Love My Muff empowers women who love themselves to love their muffs and why not use the best products for your best parts. Our main message is to avoid using chemical laden, ecologically aggravating products that may be harmful to your vaginal health.

    I Love My Muff products do not contain any parabens, SLS, synthetic colors or fragrances. Our products are vegan, PETA approved, handmade (with love) incorporating the benefits of quality essential oils into our exceptionally gentle cleansing, softening and purifying products which helps sooth and provide an uplifting or calming effect.

    Many women shave it, wax it, even laser it and whether it’s bare or there…I Love My Muff products can help you pamper it (no matter what color, shape or size).

    It’s all about providing daily love and care for down there. We advocate confidence and if that means no products…No problem :)

    If you’d like to learn more about our products please visit our website http://www.ilovemymuff.com.

    Kindest regards,
    Ritz Clinging
    Founder/Creator

  • Nat

    What taboo are we fighting here exactly? Is it taboo to say I love myself? Pretty sure that’s not taboo anymore either.

    You know what says confidence: “This is who I am, and I don’t need $18 worth of (PETA organic) nether region soap to know it.”

    I looked through the “I love my muff” Web site… and couldn’t find the word vagina or vulva anywhere. Personally if we are going to fight a taboo maybe calling a vagina a vagina might be a good start.

  • It’s great to see the variety of responses posted here – Thanks so much to all of you for sharing your thoughts. A particular welcome to Ritz from ILMM as it’s great to get a personal opinion from the founder of the business.

    I first want to comment on the recent exchange between Ritz and Nat, because I think that the language question is a really interesting and important part of this debate. Ritz, in your post you say that the products are for (“the wonderment that is”) the vagina – are we to take this literally? As Nat mentions, there is no mention about how or where the products are actually to be used on your site – surely you would not advocate using them on or in the vaginal opening itself – can you clarify?

    I am also a bit confused as you say that “it’s not a question of whether you need a particular product” and yet on your site describe the products as a “must have” for women – can you comment?

    Regarding your comment about ILMM being grouped with My New Pink Button products, I am curious to know what in your opinion is the difference? How is looking different different from smelling different, or “disguise” versus “enhancement”? Your companies share a stated goal of advocating “confidence”, and some people might argue that offering a different scent “disguises” the vagina/vulva’s natural scent. Hope to hear from you again!

  • Quote from Ritz “It’s about having healthy alternatives in the market that can address your personal feminine care needs. The fact is, in order to maintain a certain level of cleanliness you have to cleanse. If for you, pure water does the trick then that’s perfectly fine.”

    I would like to point out that organic cleaning products for the intimate parts exist already -the diva wash being one- and they do not change the scent of it.
    Also, why a moisturiser?

    I find this dialogue interesting.

  • Andrea

    As a woman who has used and uses both luna pads and I love my muff products I have to chime in. I think whether to use products like ILMM is a personal choice. If soap and water or diva wash and/or WYSI wipes work for you go for it. If you like ILMM’s Pure cleanse use that. We’re all doing the same thing, just choosing different products to do it with, and isn’t that our right? As a gal who waxes and sometimes shaves, I have found the ILMM moisturizer to be great for lessening ingrown hairs, and a little pure spay makes me feel bold and little cheeky, in the same kind of way sexy undies under my suit do. For the record neither product is used anywhere near the vaginal opening or on the labia. As for the ILMM wipes, this is the one step I use the least, but actually was thrilled to have one in my purse just last week, when I was using my luna pads and had a heavier flow than expected. Was a nice way to freshen up. Sure, I could have used toilet paper, but the ILMM moist towlette worked even better. I love both products and love the choices we have and the fact that women are talking.

  • Ritz Clinging, love that you commented on all this, but my advice: move on and dismiss… This post said more about the writer’s potentially low self-esteem than anything. (Her use of the word “self-loathing” wasn’t lost on me.) But it was funny to read. Kind of like listening to a cantankerous grandma rant about kids today. (Oh and if you want to hair-spilt about the founder muff-gal’s wording on her site, I’d also like to hair spilt that “I love my muff” isn’t exactly what I’d call “eerily” similar to “I (heart) my period.”) (Unless of course you own the sentiment of “love” in which case, you might want to state your case to the purveyors of “I heart NY”,… who may have a slightly more recognized brand than yours.) Oh but for what it’s worth, I hereby vow to stop using mouthwash. My gums are perfect the way they are. And the thought of there being products on the market that allow me to decide for myself whether I want to “freshen up” my gums or not, well, that triggers more of my own self-loathing. I’d write a longer post, but my self-esteem has been completely ruined on a account of using my “I love my muff” products.

  • Thanks everyone for your comments, although “cantankerous grandma”? Ouch! Oh well, you can’t make everyone happy.

    I’d like to address Ritz’s contention that ILMM products are being unfairly lumped together with MNPB, as I see her point (although I am still eager to discuss exactly why that is) and in the name of fairness I have just placed an order for a “Blue maintenance kit” in order to find out what I might be missing. Look for my and Suzanne’s review in an upcoming post, and in the meantime, keep the comments coming!

  • Woah! Looks like we’re getting a little off topic…I don’t think that anyone would argue the obvious right that all women have to make their own choices about what they do or don’t put in or on their bodies. This blog post is about marketing, not womens personal choices.
    The problem happens when products advertise themselves as “required” in order for women to be “clean” or otherwise acceptable. In the case of ILMM the products are presented as “a must have for every woman” and “cater to the modern lifestyles of savvy, empowered and INFORMED women of today” (text taken directly from ILMM’s site, emphasis mine), basically telling women that they need to use these products in order to be clean and that they are un-informed if they choose not to. It’s right there, plain as day.
    So of course, it’s entirely up to the consumer if they choose to use these products, but keep in mind that companies such as Lysol used similar language to market Lysol Disinfectant as a vaginal douche to women in the 40’s and 50’s. Ya, the same stuff you use to clean your kitchen floor.
    Millions of women used douches like this and they are still marketed to this day as must-have products, when in reality they are seriously harmful to vaginal health and a womens self-esteem. That’s not to say that ILMM products are necessarily harmful if used as directed but they are definitely telling women that they MUST cleanse, moisturize and perfume their muffs, implying that muffs need extra sanitizing to be acceptable.
    And really, come on, you cannot deny the decades of harm that feminine hygiene advertisers have causes to the collective female psyche. I really don’t think that mouthwash adverts are making anyone hate their mouths.

  • Okay, I have to regain my karma points, so I apologize for my “cantankerous grandma” comment. I admit, it was a little harsh. When I read your “review”, it made me see red, if only for the fact that it was clear you hadn’t tried the product, and yet were okay off-handedly, and unfoundedly, implying that it might lead to “yeast infection”, “bladder infection” and even “low self-esteem”… quite a line-up of side-effects to predict, totally unsubstantiated. All told it seemed, if not cantankerous, then perhaps a little over-the-top to imply that one product carries the weight of being partially responsible for the potential downfall of the feminist movement and all the intelligence and insight of Naomi Wolf. It felt like more of an unwarranted rant, based on the bad luck of being a pulled loose thread that unravelled a quilt of built-up anger… instead of how I saw it when I picked it up for the first time at Bendel’s: A fun product that is actually brave enough to scream “I love my muff!” And the funniest part of all? I am an honours graduate in Women’s Studies. Just not so easily offended, I suppose. That said, I do take back my insinuation that your post was crotchety. Me coming unglued on you (someone I’ve not met) is no different than you coming unglued on this brand (someone you’d not met). And am really glad you are indeed placing an order. If you like it, great. If you don’t, great. Such is the best thing about being a woman today: The choice is ours… We’re just that smart. (There, karma points restored.)

  • Thanks Andrea for the insight on using the products and how.
    I am looking forward to Suzanne’s and Madeleine’s review too.

  • Shauna

    Morgan, Please re-read your 1/18 comment you posted where you stated “My Pink Button”, which is a site for ileostomy info. The correct site for the product being talked about is: My New Pink Button I think you are missing the meaning of the word “ethnicity” in the products usage completely. Referring to the word in regards to skin tones is not racist at all. Since I have personally purchased the product and read their blog and phamplet, I can honestly say that they refer to ethnicity as a determining factor to your base color, which makes sense. Myself being a black woman, I took no offense in them speaking on skin color, but then I’ve never had a problem with my color. You also post about the blogger from IAssHole. Everyone knows that negative blogs get attention to their site, thats why its done…. even more so than positive blogging. When reading down to the end of her blog, you can see how elated she is that her blog has been picked up by many other blogs….I think her sites name says it all – negatively cynical. I for one have tried the product and its just fine and fun also and I didn’t take offense to it like someone was trying to change my personal appearance because we are ugly down there. Another correction for comments on this product and also I Love My Muff is: where do they say they are for the Vagina??? Everyones mad on here about a vagina changing product. There not for vaginas. I also haven’t read anywhere on the My New Pink Button site or brochure that its for lightening brown labia. I am confused. Where did this information come from? Is this like the game telephone where someone says one thing and it totally ends up something different? The product MNPB is for adding color to your exhisting color for enhancement, not taking anything off. The use of the Muff washers is for cleanliness and you guys are harping on that when we all use baby wipes on our kids daily, even on the inside of their little labia lips to make sure they are clean….. No one is trying to change the baby, just using a product for a purpose and it happens to have fragrance or not. We as adults use lubes down there, fragrance included or flavored and I don’t see anyone complaining about those. I don’t see anyone using the MNPB product if you have low self esteem or body issues anyway, and your afraid to let your partner, lover, husband etc. see your genitals. I for one don’t have body issues, or low self esteem, and didn’t take it that this product promotes us too feel bad if we don’t make ourselves better. I think people with high self esteem and wanting to try things to spice things up will try it. Low self esteem people probably don’t let anyone look downstairs anyway, that would be my take on it. And Jill I am sorry you are so offended by these products because you had problems with your cervix and uterus. I don’t even have a cervix or uterus due to a hysterectomy and I am not feeling abnormal about myself or personal body products. Not having a uterus or cervix doesn’t make me any less of a woman. I am not sure where you are putting those things together with these products. Somehow I think everyone got way off on knocking products developed for our lower regions for whatever purpose. I think anyone that develops any product and goes the length to get it on the market deserves a big hand in the business world, regardless if someone likes it or not. Its our own personal choice on what we choose to use on our bodies.

  • Shauna
  • Hi there,

    Glad to see I wasn’t the only one who felt compelled to draw attention to these products! See my recent post and comments!

    It is great this is a woman’s business, Canadian, that the creator loves her vagina and is trying to provide something natural…

    And yet many women (who may also adore their muffs) believe that natural means not over-cleaning our vaginas and trusting our bodies to do what nature intended – keep our vaginas healthy with the necessary bacteria and give us our own unique ‘scent’. There is a risk that we will get vaginal infections from over-cleaning and destroying the ‘good’ bacteria as well as the ‘bad’.

    Also, as women we are given plenty to think about and ‘improve’ when it comes to our bodies and appearance (are we slim enough, toned enough, tanned enough, hair glossy enough, fashionable enough, wearing the right colours for our skin tone, smooth enough (exfoliating, shaving), blemish free, do we smell nice etc etc). I feel these ‘muff’ cleaning products add another layer to the burden of women to look, feel and smell ‘perfect’ – instead of being OK as we are…

    Thanks for highlighting this!

    Emma-Louise

  • tiff

    god i love this blog its great and hilarious!
    keep the posts coming!

  • Naomi

    Using “cantankerous grandma” as an epithet is incredible ageist! Grandmas, crotchety or otherwise, still have vaginas and are still sexual and perhaps, even moreso than young people, have to keep those areas clean. (due to medical issues such as diabetes and accompanying higher risk of yeast infections etc)And then to APOLOGIZE for calling someone a grandma just intensifies the insult! Can’t believe I’m hearing this from women who have an allegedly feminist perspective!!
    There is a risk that products other than distilled water can contribute to infection, even simple soap. And if one is not to use a product on labia, then what’s the point-simple shampoo is all that’s needed for the “muff” – ie pubic hair. Mixed messages here.
    Also, I’ve seen alot of ethnic vulvas…and they’ve all been pink – different shades, perhaps, but pink. Are there actually truly brown ones? I thought it was like lighter skinned palms of hands and soles of feet…? Also, does that mean that inner organs (intestines, for example) are brown too?