Evolution of Feminine Hygiene

You say the word ‘PERIOD’ and all of a sudden people around are uncomfortable and want to change the topic of discussion. The 6-letter word has lots of myths and taboos surrounding it, which makes it hard for people to talk about it in public. But thanks to the media, things are changing. Menstruation is a biological process which every woman on the planet with a functional reproduction system experience. Menstruation, or period, is normal vaginal bleeding that occurs as part of a woman’s monthly cycle. Every month, her body prepares for pregnancy. If no pregnancy occurs, the uterus, or womb, sheds its lining. The menstrual blood is partly blood and partly tissue from inside the uterus. On her period a woman bleeds for around 3- 8 days. To help women tackle the flow, menstruation products come in handy. These days there are a lot of options available for women like sanitary pads, tampons, menstrual cups, period underwear, reusable cloth pads and, menstrual discs. But back in the day, women did not always have different options to choose from. Women around the world used bizarre ways to tackle the flow while on their menstruation.

During the earlier days, some women used to bleed freely staining their clothes while others used rags to absorb menstrual fluids and then washed and reused these clothes. In 1888, the first commercial disposable napkin, which was linen safety pinned to a belt, was available in America. But it did not attract a lot of women because of the taboo surrounding it and also because the belt would slip from its position causing stains. In WW1, French nurses discovered that cellucotton used on wounded soldiers absorbed menstrual blood well, inspired by which Kimberly Clark produced the Kotex in 1920 which was a success. Soon In 1934 Tampax invented the first disposable tampon with a cardboard applicator. By the 1950s tampons were quite popular and Pursettes made tampons without applicators and marketed and fashionably packaged them. 

In the 1970s, things became easier for women as self-adhesive sanitary napkins started to get popular in the market. Different designs and sizes were made available to suit the women best. Poor women rather bought washable cloth pads while saving their coins and the environment at the same time. In the 1980s Proctor and Gamble made a suer absorbent tampon with a plastic applicator but these caused a lot of cases of toxic shock syndrome which led to deaths. There haven’t been many changes and innovations since the 1970s in feminine hygiene products. It is only till 1985 that the word period was uttered on a television advertisement by Courtney Cox in a Tampax commercial. It was just in the 1980s and 1990s that sanitary napkins started to popularise in India but the companies’ only target was the upper-class and middle-class families. Thanks to Arunachalam Muruganantham’s invention, pads for women from rural and poor backgrounds were made accessible at cheaper rates and open conversations on periods started around India.

One of the latest entrants in menstrual products is a menstrual cup which is a funnel-shaped flexible cup made of silicone or rubber which is inserted into the vagina to catch menstrual fluid. These are reusable and can last up to 10 years hence producing no waste and are available in different sizes and shapes suitable for all women. While people may think this is a recent invention, Leona Chalmers an American actor patented the first usable commercial cup in 1937. Menstrual cups did not become popular as women thought disposable pads were more convenient, trending, and modern. But these have made comeback with a bang pleasing the environment enthusiasts and the women. Advances in menstrual products have made women’s lives easier around the world, but there is still a long way to go before people even in the remotest and poorest regions become aware of menstruation and can talk about it freely. Make menstruation normal, PERIOD!

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