A woman wakes up groaning and pries herself out of bed while her baby cries nearby. She gingerly waddles to the bathroom, wearing mesh panties bulging with pads. Slowly lowering herself to the toilet, she removes the pad, spritzes herself with a water bottle, pees, and then sprays herself with what is presumably witch hazel. She’s clearly in pain the whole time.
For postpartum moms, this is simply our reality. For the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, that reality is “too graphic,” apparently.
The familiar scene is depicted in an ad for Frida Mom, a line of postpartum recovery products from the makers of Frida Baby. When the company tried to air the commercial during the 92nd Academy Awards, taking place this Sunday, it was rejected by ABC, the network hosting the show. The ad was deemed “too graphic with partial nudity and product demonstration,” according to a Frida Mom press statement.
“Our products help women navigate the otherwise daunting postpartum recovery process. In service of that mission, we created a raw and honest portrayal of what women can expect to experience,” explained Chelsea Hirschhorn, a mom of three and the CEO of Frida, the parent company of Frida Mom. “We had hoped to share it with as broad of an audience as possible because knowledge is confidence, and a confident mother is a better, happier mother. We’ve made such substantial progress in advancing the conversation around postpartum recovery. While this rejection of our ad feels like a step back, it certainly won’t deter us from amplifying our message through whatever channels remain available to us.”
Instead, Frida posted the ad on YouTube, with a powerful intro that notes the ad was banned during the Oscars. “It’s just a new mom, home with her baby and her new body for the first time.”
That’s it. That’s the ad. That’s our lives as moms.
The postpartum period isn’t necessarily a pretty topic, but it’s a vital one. Time and again new moms say they felt prepared for pregnancy, and prepared for taking care of a baby, but they were caught off guard by the rigors of recovering from giving birth. A national survey conducted last year by Orlando Health found that more than a third of women felt embarrassed by what their body was going through after giving birth, and more than a quarter said they didn’t have a good plan for their own health management post-delivery.
It’s the paradox of being a woman: We’re told childbirth is the most “natural” process in the world, and yet we’re made to feel shame for what our body goes through to make it happen, beginning the day we get our first period. Even when we don’t feel embarrassed, we still don’t feel empowered to talk about our bodies’ struggles. We don’t typically tell our bosses when we’re undergoing IVF or had a miscarriage or can’t get rid of mastitis.
No wonder more than 40 percent of moms in the survey said they felt anxious, overwhelmed or depressed after giving birth. No wonder suicide is a leading cause of death among new moms. No wonder the US has the highest maternal death rates in the developed world. We are afraid to talk about our bodies, or we are dismissed when we do, especially if you’re a mom of color.
Just look at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences guidelines for commercials, which say that the “Advertisement of the following is not permitted: Political candidates/positions, religious or faith-based message/position, guns, gun shows, ammunition, feminine hygiene products, adult diapers, condoms or hemorrhoid remedies” during the broadcast.
The Oscars have always hewed to a higher standard for its ads than other mass-televised events, according to People, but it’s telling that “feminine hygiene products” are viewed as controversial as political propaganda or as distasteful as hemorrhoids (speaking of post-pregnancy woes…).
It’s just another example of how women’s bodies, and what they do, are seen as shameful. And it’s not the first time Frida has been rejected for trying to bring awareness to women’s postpartum needs. In 2018, the brand tried putting up billboards with the tagline “Your V*gina Will Thank you” to promote its MomWasher product. The billboards were banned across the country, except in New York.
Even in New York City, feminine hygiene ads have faced blowback. When Thinx, the makers of leakproof period underwear, tried to place their ads on the city’s subway, they were initially told they’d have to change their creative. A few years later an ad for erectile dysfunction products, with similar photography, faced no such pushback.
But maybe we’re asking too much of an awards show where most of the movies nominated for Best Picture are centered on men.