There's an online campaign called "Hello Flo" designed to help women navigate the waters from their first period to menopause. I'm thrilled to see a group dedicated to demystifying these times of transition for women, but I'm troubled by their commercial called, "First Moon Party."
Here it is:
Even though I had a few good laughs when I watched the commercial for the first time, there was something about it that bothered me. So, being the weirdo that I am, I decided to watch it a few more times.
Now, I'm sure I don't like the commercial.
Here's my take: Young girl, Katie, is feeling left out because all of her tween friends are getting their periods, and she hasn't gotten hers yet. Katie pretends to get her period by painting glittery red nail polish on a pad. When Katie's mom asks her what the nail polish coated pad is all about, Katie has some serious attitude and tells her mom that she has her period. Instead of addressing her daughter's disrespect or taking the opportunity to talk about her daughter's transition into womanhood, the mom decides to one-up her daughter with an in-your-face one-two punch of humiliation and revenge in the form of a "First Moon Party."
The "First Moon Party" is supposed to be a first period celebration. During the party, we see the guests filter in (including the mom's young male coworker who shows up with coffee filters for Katie), a game of "pin the pad on the period," a uterus piñata, a tampon earring wearing guest treating herself to a marshmallow dipped in the red chocolate fountain, a boy band (who thanks Katie's mom for inviting them to the "weirdest birthday party ever"), and Katie's dad emerging from a cake in a red unitard.
Poor Katie screams and runs off in embarrassment. Katie's mom finds her alone inside the house and tells her that she's "missing the vagician" and that the "party is a hit." When Katie finally admits that she faked getting her period, the commercial cuts to the mom devilishly giggling during a camera interview.
Then, we see Katie's mom hand her a package.
"Period starter kit? Aren't you going to ground me for lying?" asks Katie.
Katie's mom cocks her head, asks, "Why do you think I threw you the First Moon Party?" and triumphantly turns on her heel to return to the party.
I know, I know, most of you are going to tell me, "C'mon, Catherine. Lighten up! The commercial isn't supposed to be taken seriously! It's supposed to be funny! Do you really think there are mothers out there like this?!"
Well...yeah, I do think there are mothers and fathers and siblings like this.
I get it. I get it. I really do. I know they're just trying to sell first period care packages and get a laugh, BUT (and you knew there would be a "but"), I am not okay with the commercial's take-home message.
The mom misses a huge opportunity to talk with her daughter about what getting your first period means and all of the changes that will come with it. Instead of making an already embarrassing and uncomfortable time better for her daughter, the mom takes her daughter's rude tone as an excuse to humiliate her in the form of a "First Moon Party."
By the end of the party, Katie is humiliated and anything but open to talking with her mom. When Katie's mom lets her in on the whole prank, she simply hands Katie the period starter kit. It's as if handing her the kit is some sort of substitute for the welcome to womanhood talk and time a mother should have with her daughter. It's almost as if the mom is saying, "C'mon, I got you this gift, so you should be happy I didn't ground you and threw you this humiliating party instead."
In one of the last scenes, we see Katie sitting in a chair with her mom. Katie's mom gives the camera a smirk as she strokes Katie's arm, "What? Did she think I wouldn't know? Periods don't have glitter in them." Katie's reaction says it all:
Katie's mom is more concerned with retaliation and being perceived as funny than the big picture. Hardy har har, she made her young male coworker laugh, and the boy band thinks she's cool, but what about her daughter? Absolutely, Katie was rude and she never should have talked to her mother the way she did, but the mom's antics are toxic in a mother-daughter relationship just entering puberty.
Some people are championing this commercial as being a pioneer because it makes light of periods. I'm all for humor, and I think this commercial had a lot of potential, but the humor falls flat for me. In the end, the commercial further cements the message that a period is something to be ashamed of, it's gross, it's weird, and it's not something that mothers and daughters talk about. Instead, the answer is a period starter kit that Katie's mom seems to think will fill in where her parenting fails. The answer is making your daughter more embarrassed of her fertility and thinking of a period as some kind of curse instead of a sign that she is becoming a woman and is perfectly healthy.
Like most young women, Katie is obviously very susceptible to peer pressure. (After all, it was the wanting to fit in and faking her period that ignited this escapade.) A girl entering puberty who is already susceptible to peer pressure is going to have some tough times, and she needs a loving, trusting relationship with her mom to guide her. Unfortunately, Katie is probably never going to talk with her mom about "girl problems," dating, sex, drinking, or drugs.
Katie's mom taught her this: be respectful, or I won't hesitate to publicly shame you. If you hurt me, I will turn on you when you need me most. I will not take into account your age or your immaturity, and I will have no regard for the big picture. I will do what suits me in the moment.
The trouble with this commercial is that we're brought in as comrades with Katie's mom. We feel like we're along the ride to show brat Katie who will get the last laugh. If the commercial were from Katie's vantage point, it wouldn't get the laughs, likes, and shares on social media. Those of us who had embarrassing first period stories would feel for the poor girl. The mom's bullying would be clear, and we probably wouldn't think it was funny. We'd see a girl who's in for a lifetime of being unable to open up to her mother. As a result, she'll be more likely to end up at risk for depression, premarital sex, STD's, teen pregnancy, and suicide. I know a lot of you will think I'm being melodramatic, but that's what happens when a young girl isn't getting love and affirmation at home. She'll seek out love and affirmation in unhealthy, risky behavior that will leave her hurt. I know you'll tell me, "It's just a commercial," but I'm imagining fictional Katie with a few more years of living with a bully mom. I don't think we'd be laughing at the results.
Katie may have acted like a brat (who didn't from time to time at that age?), but she deserved more from her mother. She deserved punishment for acting like a brat, she deserved her mother's forgiveness, and she deserved an open, ongoing conversation about her sexuality with her mother. Instead, she got public shaming and a resolve to never trust her mother again. That's a recipe for disaster in a teenage girl, and that's not what I want for my daughter. The "First Moon Party" is a flop for me.
At the end of the day, it's a silly commercial, but I think this silly commercial is saying a lot about our culture's attitudes toward parenting and a girl's coming of age.