PLANET OF PERIL (21)
October 5, 2017
One in a series of posts, about forgotten fads and figures, by historian and HILOBROW friend Lynn Peril.
One day in roughly 1971, my best friend and her older sister blew my ten-year-old mind — and not in a good way — when they introduced me to Very Personally Yours. For those of you unacquainted with this classic of mid-twentieth-century menstrual education literature, VPY is a pamphlet published by the fine folks at Kotex with the purported intent of teaching preteen girls about the crazy changes their bodies would soon go through. The real purpose of VPY and similar pamphlets, however, was to lock young consumers into several decades of brand loyalty (and the sooner the better, hence the couple of pamphlets below aimed at even younger girls). I was too freaked out by body mechanics (“Blood? Coming from where?!”) and the text’s chirpy insistence that menstruation was “another momentous adventure” that I would somehow enjoy to ever imagine that someday I would collect these pamphlets. Selling a white, heterosexual, cis-gendered vision of compulsory reproduction along with a panoply of sanitary napkins, belts, panties, and tampons (the latter only if the doctor said it was okay), menstrual education pamphlets are kitschy reminders of how women’s bodily functions are regularly commoditized.
Marjorie May’s 12th Birthday
The two Marjorie May pamphlets were written, or at least signed by, Mary Pauline Callender, a wise Betty Crocker-like figure who appeared in early Kotex advertising. She appears to have been a real individual, married to a man who worked for Kotex, and replaced another authority figure, a nurse who appeared in earlier ads.
Stilted language was a hallmark of menstrual education pamphlets, and Marjorie May’s 12th Birthday had it in spades: “‘Mother,’ said Marjorie May, ‘you are wonderful to have told me about this experience I am soon to have. I shall feel quite a young lady when the new development comes, because it will mean that I have grown up.’”
Mother goes from a discussion of regular bowel movements directly to menstruation, linking them as the “elimination of waste matter.” Menarche is posited as a mark of adulthood, but there is no discussion of reproductive facts.
Mother describes menstrual flow as “slightly blood-stained fluid,” which makes me wonder if Mother ever actually menstruated. Actually, this was an ongoing problem for copywriters. How do you describe the physical process of menstruation without inadvertently terrifying the consumer? Menstrual flow becomes a “slightly blood-stained fluid” and cramps become “twinges” to be ignored, though virtually every pamphlet from the 40s on included lists of exercises to relieve the same.
Vocabulary words: none other than menstruation
Number of products advertised: 1.5 (Kotex pads, plus a mention of an unbranded sanitary belt. Sanitary belts were made of elastic and had clips dangling in front and back where one attached a sanitary napkin in the days before self-stick pads. Leaving it unbranded was an unforced error that would rarely be repeated.)
Marjorie May Learns About Life
A separate insert describes the pamphlet as providing more “advanced instruction” than Marjorie May’s 12th Birthday.
A neighbor stops by with her baby, prompting Marjorie May to ask Mother the touchy question of where babies come from. “Fathers are very important, too,” Mother explains before going on an odd paragraph-long description of “many things in this world” that “seem to need two entirely different substances.” “Music to be complete must have both treble and bass. … If a Kodak film were not black and white, there would be no picture.”
Animals only reproduce via urge, Mother explains, but “since the world became civilized,” humans “would not think of giving in or yielding” to such urges.
Mother further explains that men and boys “have external organs… located in the lower part of the abdomen … so formed as to allow ready entrance into the body of the mother” so that a “substance … can be placed within, where it will meet and fertilize the female ovum.” This enters “the mother’s body during the intimate contact of married life.”
Marjorie May has no questions, though one can’t say the same for the reader.
Vocabulary: menstrual, ovum, ovaries, sperm, womb
Number of products advertised: 4 (three sizes of pads, and Kotex-brand belt)
As One Girl to Another
Doesn’t actually explain what menstruation is, only that it is “completely natural” and that “Webster’s big, fat dictionary defines it as ‘a periodic flow of blood … occurring once every month.’” Advises girls to keep a calendar, not to go swimming, etc. Don’t use tampons without talking to your doctor because you have something called a hymen (end of discussion). By all means use “Quest (the Kotex deodorant powder) on your napkin. If you do this, not even your worst enemy can make catty remarks about you! For Quest positively destroys body odors!”
In a reminder of days when drugstores weren’t fully self-service, the booklet noted that “you need never feel the least embarrassed to ask for a box of Kotex in store … even if it’s a tall, young red-haired lad on the other side of the counter! He’ll give you a box already wrapped without batting an eye. He is so used to selling Kotex it’s just all in the day’s work to him.”
Vocabulary: menstruation, hymen
Number of products advertised: 6 (three sizes of Kotex pads, Kotex-brand belt, Quest, Fibs tampons)
Very Personally Yours
The grand-dame of menstrual education booklets, Very Personally Yours was illustrated with scenes from the associated animated Walt Disney film, The Story of Menstruation. Though I was too disturbed out by its rah-rah femininity to pay further attention at the time, viewed in context with the pamphlets that came before and after, VPY actually provided a goodly amount of physiological information, along with a suggestion that the road ahead might be bumpy. “It’s no use pretending menstruation isn’t something of a nuisance, and sometimes, downright uncomfortable.”
Vocabulary: menstruation, pituitary, hormones, ovaries, Fallopian tubes, uterus, vagina, ovulation, endometrium, follicle
Diagrams: several cartoon drawings of the above body parts, how to attach napkin to belt
Number of products advertised: 7 (three sizes of pads, two types of belts, Quest, Fibs)
Growing Up and Liking It
Kotex’s chief competitor, Modess laid compulsory femininity on thick, while pushing ever greater numbers of products.
The text started out emphasizing the supposed delights of adulthood. “Maybe you dream about how wonderful it would be to be grown-up. To wear a long white dress and diamonds in your hair and dance in the moonlight.”
But for all the dreamy dancing, “The Real Job of every human being — man or woman — is to create. To produce and bring up and educate the next generation.” Biology was an inescapable destiny, just like consumerism.
Remember, “MO-dess rhymes with ‘oh, yes’”!
Vocabulary: menopause, puberty, ovaries, Fallopian tubes, uterus, womb, “mother cell” (instead of egg or ovum), ovulation, “father cell (called sperm),” fertilization, vagina (only for menstrual fluid leaving the body)
Diagrams: uterus, tubes, ovaries, vagina
Number of products advertised: 9 (three sizes of pads, four styles of belt, two types of tampons, including a smaller one for “first-time users”)
Sally and Mary and Kate Wondered
Three young girls, Sally, Mary, and Kate, are hanging out at the swimming pool, wondering how it “would seem to be grown ladies with children of their own.” Emily, an older girl who is the best swimmer in town, walks by but declines the younger girls’ invitation to swim with them. The girls speculate about what it is that occasionally keeps older girls from swimming or horseback riding. “Sally and Mary and Kate were right. There is something special about ‘certain days’ of the month. … But the greatest thing to look forward to is the time when you will be a grown woman and have children.”
Around age 13, your body will begin to prepare for having babies with a “soft little ‘bed’” made of “blood and tissue.” No baby means body gets rid of this “through a passageway in the lower part of the body.” You’ll get more tired so no strenuous activities. Please use Modess.
More questions? “Ask mother.”
Perhaps the most disturbing thing here is trademark list on the back of the pamphlet, which notes that “JONNY” MOP is also one of their absorbent products.
Number of products advertised: 3.5 (three sizes of pads plus mention of unbranded belt)
You’re a Young Lady Now
Also aimed at younger girls, the illustrations feature a young tomboy in rolled up jeans and tee shirt. She finally appears in a party dress right before the advertising section. “One day you’re going to make a discovery,” reads the text. “You’ll notice a stain on your pajamas or your panties.” Marriage and reproduction also presented as inevitable. Tampons are noted to be inappropriate for girls under 18.
The booklet also hawks both the “delightful full-color film by Walt Disney Productions called The Story of Menstruation” and Very Personally Yours for further info.
Vocabulary: menstruation, uterus, womb, “the lower front part of your body”
Diagrams: of the body, no; how to attach a pad to a sanitary belt, yes
Number of products advertised: 5 (three sizes of pads, belt, deodorant)
Growing Up and Liking It
Same info as previous edition, only now illustrated with photos, including one of a young woman buying a box of sanitary napkins off the shelf; in the modern world, there was no more need to ask the creepy druggist for your personal products, though purchase could still be problematic (see below). Also has ad for Meds brand tampons showing a happy girl in bathing suit and using the term “New freedom!” The phrase will be appropriated by the competition in the 1970s.
The booklet devotes a full page to the new “keep-a-secret” box design. Women complained (according to the text) about the tell-tale size of the box of pads (because menstruation was supposed to be a deep, dark secret, but also completely natural and nothing to be embarrassed about). But a wrapped box of Modess looked “as though it might contain bath salts, or note paper — any one of a dozen glamorous purchases.” This bizarre subterfuge seemed doomed to failure as soon as everyone learned to recognize the new box size, but perhaps I’m missing something.
Number of products advertised: Lots (three sizes of pads, pin and clip belts, each available in pink or white and three widths, tampons)
Now You Are 10
Another booklet aimed at young girls, this one with beautiful illustrations of a big-eyed girl child enjoying “biking and girls’ clubs and staying overnight” with her friends. But “just think of pretty clothes and parties and high school later on,” with a picture of the girl staring starry eyed at a boy changing records while couple dances in back. “You’ll look even prettier in your party dress” when your body takes on “soft, girlish curves.” Internal changes too. Kotex has “Wondersoft” covering to take care of it all, and don’t forget to ask mother if you have further questions.
Vocabulary: menstruation, vagina
Diagrams: how to clip pad to belt
Number of products advertised: 2 (pads and belt)
Growing Up and Liking It
Modess stepped up its game with this edition, finally providing physiological information along with gobs of feminine mystique. “The fun is just beginning!” reads the inside front cover.
“This is what you’ve been waiting for!” Choosing own clothing, “add a dash of lipstick or powder, a glint of nail polish. It’s the time when you begin to notice boys, and what’s better, they begin to notice you!”
But you’re also “moody and short-tempered. You cry easily.”
“It’s part of being female … part of growing up … part of the wonderful process of changing from a child into a woman.”
“Someday, when you fall in love and marry, you will want to have children.” If the egg cell isn’t fertilized (“united with a male cell”), menstruation occurs.
Vocabulary: menses, menstruation, uterus, vagina, Fallopian tubes, ovary
Diagram: cross-section showing uterus, vagina, openings of bladder and rectum, cross-section of uterus, ovaries, Fallopian tubes, vagina, plus close ups of same
Number of products advertised: Lots. Four sizes of pad (including new “Teen-Age”) and two absorbencies, several types of belt, again in pink and white (booklet suggests you buy two, one to wear while the other is in the laundry), four styles of a new pad-holding sanitary panty including one “like the famous French bikini,” and a “Sanitary Napkin Purse Kit” available for 50 cents and a coupon from the back of the booklet. No mention of tampons, which seems like a lost opportunity.
Growing Up and Liking It
There is a brown girl on the cover! Perhaps you’ve noticed by now that girls and teens pictured on menstrual education pamphlets skewed heavily white, as did the photos inside, even though women of all races menstruate and buy sanitary products. Modess’s attempt at inclusion didn’t go past the front cover, however. The interior of the pamphlet is a shorter version of the 1966 edition, with a mention of It’s Wonderful Being a Girl (Personal Products Company’s version of The Story of Menstruation).
Vocabulary: nothing new
Diagrams: same as above
Products advertised: 7 (They push the “Teen-Age” napkins and the Modess Contour Sanitary Belt (“especially suitable for young and slim figures”), though a sanitary brief, and two kinds of tampons (applicator and non-applicator) are mentioned — though you’ll want to discuss their use with your “mother, school nurse or doctor.” Also advertised are two mail-order “introductory kits.”)
Very Personally Yours
In a break with every other menstrual education pamphlet in my collection, Kotex dispensed with the figural for the cover of its 1973 pamphlet. Perhaps they thought the geometric floral and grid balanced out the interior design — which was largely the same as the 1946 edition. The only new things here were the addition of the “revolutionary” stick-on New Freedom pads to the product list, as well as the suggestion that if you were old enough to have a regular period, you were old enough to use a tampon (an associated 70s-hip pamphlet for new tampon users was called “Tell It Like It Is”).
Vocabulary: same old
Number of products advertised: 15 (six kinds of pads, two kinds of tampon, “a wardrobe of feminine belts,” including one to go with the Fems pads for tall women, two kinds of panties, including one to be worn with the new stick-on pads (how exactly this was different from your own underwear wasn’t explained), two kinds of mail-order introductory kit).
PLANET OF PERIL: THE SHIFTERS | THE CONTROL OF CANDY JONES | VINCE TAYLOR | THE SECRET VICE | LADY HOOCH HUNTER | LINCOLN ASSASSINATION BUFFS | I’M YOUR VENUS | THE DARK MARE | SPALINGRAD | UNESCORTED WOMEN | OFFICE PARTY | I CAN TEACH YOU TO DANCE | WEARING THE PANTS | LIBERATION CAN BE TOUGH ON A WOMAN | MALT TONICS | OPERATION HIDEAWAY | TELEPHONE BARS | BEAUTY A DUTY | THE FIRST THRIFT SHOP | MEN IN APRONS | VERY PERSONALLY YOURS | FEMININE FOREVER | “MY BOSS IS A RATHER FLIRTY MAN” | IN LIKE FLYNN | ARM HAIR SHAME.
MORE LYNN PERIL at HILOBROW: PLANET OF PERIL series | #SQUADGOALS: The Daly Sisters | KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: BLOW-UP | MUSEUM OF FEMORIBILIA series | HERMENAUTIC TAROT: The Waiting Man | KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Young Romance | CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife | HILO HERO ITEMS on: Tura Satana, Paul Simonon, Vivienne Westwood, Lucy Stone, Lydia Lunch, Gloria Steinem, Gene Vincent, among many others.