Spoof ads aim to mobilize women to take action against body-shaming marketing
and for safer feminine hygiene products
MISSOULA, MT — Today, national women’s health organization, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), released a series of parody ads that take on toxic chemicals in feminine wipes and the body-shaming marketing used to sell these products to women.
This video series is the launching platform of WVE’s new campaign, Summer’s Deceive, targeting one of the world’s leading brands in feminine hygiene — Summer’s Eve — whose product line includes feminine wipes, vaginal douches, feminine sprays and feminine washes. The use of feminine wipes is on the rise thanks to stepped up marketing by companies, making this a critical moment for the makers of Summer’s Eve to lead the industry to eliminate toxic chemicals and disclose all ingredients, including fragrance and odor-fighting chemicals.
“Summer’s Eve markets feminine wipes to women as a ‘must-have’ for both health and self-image. But of course, the blatant message of this marketing is that vaginas are dirty,” said Erin Switalski, executive director of WVE. “Not only is this absurd — but when products marketed for vaginal health actually contain chemicals that are putting women’s health at risk — this is dangerous. This is wrong. And women are tired of it.”
With tag lines like “hiding toxic chemicals linked to allergies, fertility issues and cancer just got a whole lot more convenient,” the spoof ads use humor and satire to call attention to the chemicals found in many Summer’s Eve wipes.
One chemical of particular concern is octoxynol-9. This chemical is a potent contraceptive drug that effectively kills sperm. However, wipes containing octoxynol-9 are not considered contraceptives, nor are they required to have any caution labeling to their potential effect on a woman’s fertility.
“It is inexcusable that a product designed specifically for vaginal use — and marketed for vaginal care — could negatively impact a woman’s reproductive health,” said Switalski.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies most feminine care products as “cosmetics”. Yet, under current law, FDA does not approve cosmetics, or require testing to determine their safety. Instead it is the voluntary responsibility of cosmetic manufacturers to ensure, before marketing their products, that the products are safe.
The fact that manufacturers are putting a chemical like octoxynol-9 into feminine care products illustrates the need for greater research, attention and scrutiny from the FDA regarding chemicals used in products that come in contact with one of the most sensitive and absorbent parts of a woman’s body.
Women of color are disproportionately impacted by the harmful and unwanted chemicals in feminine wipes. Data compiled by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicate that Black and Latina women use wipes, douches, washes, and sprays at higher rates than white women. Companies continue to market feminine products more aggressively to women of color, putting their health at heightened risk of toxic exposures and adverse long-term health impacts.
“We’re living in a time when world leaders think it’s ok to grab women by their private parts,” said Tenya Steele, Director of Environmental Health for WE ACT for Environmental Justice. “Unfortunately there’s already an unforeseen ‘grabbing’ of women’s private parts every day when companies are allowed to target women’s reproductive organs with a slew of toxic, health-damaging chemicals in products that they falsely deem necessary and safe. As usual, African American and minority women are on the front lines of these attacks. The unfair targeting of vulnerable populations by brands like Summer’s Eve puts black lives, black babies, and black vaginas at the bulls eye of their toxic target with detrimental effects. It’s time to Detox the Box!”
A recent study identified disproportionate health risks to Black women due to higher exposure to chemicals in vaginal douches. In fact, Black women had phthalate levels that were 48% higher than white women. Phthalates are chemicals of high concern to women’s health, because they are hormone disruptors that are also linked to reproductive and developmental harm. Phthalates are often used as ingredients in fragrance, which companies are not required to disclose to consumers.
“Historically, women of color have been harmed by the health care system and exploited by marketing strategies that tell us we have to change or that we are not powerful and beautiful just as we are,” said Cristina Aguilar, Executive Director of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR). “We will not stand by as products are pushed on us that perpetuate this stigma and negatively impact our health. We’re especially concerned about feminine wipes as Black women and Latinas tend to be greater users of these products.”
Because fragrance and odor-control ingredients in Summer’s Eve feminine wipes remain secret, they represent an unaddressed health risk to women who use these products, particularly women of color.
The Summer’s Deceive campaign marks the latest escalation of Women’s Voices for the Earth’s campaign for safe feminine care products. Launched in 2013 with the report, Chem Fatale, WVE’s work has helped elevate the topic of period health into the public mainstream.
“It’s unacceptable that companies are telling women their bodies aren’t ‘clean’ enough or ‘sexy’ enough. It’s unacceptable that any feminine care product may be exposing women to harmful chemicals,” said Switalski. “We demand that Summer’s Eve remove toxic chemicals from its feminine wipes and disclose all ingredients.”
Prestige Brands Holdings, Inc. announced in December 2016 an agreement to acquire C.B. Fleet, makers of Summers Eve.
Beth Conway, Communications Director at Women’s Voices for the Earth
Erin Switalski, Executive Director at Women’s Voices for the Earth
About Women’s Voices for the Earth
Founded in 1995, Women’s Voices for the Earth amplifies women’s voices to eliminate the toxic chemicals that harm our health and communities. WVE has published various resources on toxic chemicals and feminine care products, including recent fact sheets on feminine wipes, lubricants and their ground-breaking report, Chem Fatale. www.womensvoices.org
Summer’s Deceive videos were directed and produced by Sprout Films, a production company headquartered in Missoula, Montana. www.sproutfilms.com