- The feminine hygiene market includes a wide range of "vaginal management" products – from period products to intimate washes.
- The Blossom Brush, designed to clean your lady bits when you're on your period, is the latest product to add to women's already existing body insecurities.
- While sanitary products for menstruation are a necessary part of this market, a cleaning brush for "period debris" is not.
A couple of days ago, a US-based gynaecologist Dr Jennifer Gunter shared a post on Twitter in which she expressed disdain for yet another feminine hygiene "innovation". The product in question? Blossom Brush – one of the most bizarre and unnecessary inventions I've ever encountered on the internet in my almost 30 years of life.
Oh wait, what is it?
For those who missed it, Blossom Brush is "designed for a woman to use daily during her menstrual cycle and up to three days after to remove residual blood and debris," as their now deleted Instagram post read.
It also added that the pink silicone brush without bristles can "help a woman feel more fresh and make her period more manageable" all at a price of $20 (just more than R300, excluding shipping). It's designed for use for only one cycle due to – you guessed it – hygiene reasons! So imagine adding R300 to your already financially heavy menstrual hygiene budget every month.
Metro UK states that the Blossom Brush is "not suitable for people trying to get pregnant, those who are already pregnant or those who are less than three months postpartum. It's also unsuitable for those with IUDs."
In this article, a statement from the company is quoted: "We do not believe that ANY PERSON has a 'dirty' vagina and we wish to work with the gynaecological community and people who have periods to understand how to appropriately provide women with a new choice in their menstrual management."
Of course, this brush is also pink, much like those "gentler" shaving razors marketed towards women. Or maybe I'm just splitting hairs here... I guess I should grab a silicone brush and brush them too.
In the marketing of this product, they highlighted the feeling of freshness one will achieve from routinely scraping uterine lining residue from the vagina. What we can infer from this is that vaginal brushing can also eliminate any potential odours.
This discussion also brings to mind Gwyneth Paltrow's "This Smells Like My Vagina" candle sold on her wellness site Goop a few months ago. In an article reacting to this candle, that sold out within hours of being put on Goop's digital shelves, I stated that it's something of a glow-up from the decades-long stigmatisation of the natural odour of female genitalia. However, did this candle's success indicate another side of the coin?
"That people – subconsciously or otherwise – still think our lady bits should smell like sunshine, roses, pineapples, and... geranium," I wrote. It can smell like anything you can find at a Food Lover's Market, but it just shouldn't... "smell".
But you know what actually smells? Misogyny and patriarchy.
Airing out patriarchy's dirty laundry
Blossom Brush, making a note of the fact that you'll feel "fresh", adds to the hygiene shame attached to being on your period. For as far back as history can record, someone on their period was considered "dirty", "impure", "sullied" for the three to seven day duration of their cycle.
An example of this is the Hindu temple in Kerala, India, which had – up until 2018 – barred women of a "menstruating age" to enter or participate in rituals, as they were considered "unclean". The lifting of this ban was the result of a "petition [that] argued the custom violated gender equality," BBC reports.
This BBC report also noted that "for centuries, temples and shrines have cited tradition to keep women out and their managements, dominated mostly by patriarchal men, have used menstruation to keep female devotees away."
It's this kind of patriarchal conditioning – not just in Hinduism but across cultures and societies – that has birthed the sexist capitalism of a feminine hygiene aisle filled with intimate foam washes and scented vaginal wipes, a product market predicted to reach a value of $52 billion by 2023, from $37 billion in 2018, according to GlobeNewswire.
So did we really expect this sector to stop producing unnecessary products that add to vaginal shame?
This is the same capitalism that still creates more products despite multiple warnings from medical professionals such as Dr Jen Gunter about how harmful vaginal douching and the tomfoolery of aromatic products for female genitalia can be.
The introduction of a pink silicone brush to the already scepticism-inducing feminine hygiene aisle therefore not only reinforces this kind of patriarchy and misogyny, but also triggers insecurities for those (there are many) who might have internalised the capitalist agenda against a self-cleaning body part. Not to mention, one of the most sensitive parts of your body – inhale the wrong air and mini-you might just act up for a few days.
No, seriously – a report by Women's Voices for the Earth revealed that the regular use of feminine hygiene products can cause you to "become vulnerable to disturbances in the nervous and immune systems, abnormal growths, and your risk for breast cancer and fertility issues increases". As the report says: "The vaginal ecosystem is more sensitive and absorbent than typical skin."
Alright, so you're probably still wondering about how Blossom Brush is doing since their post, right? Well, the displeased OB/Gyn updated her followers, saying "it looks like they scrubbed their site" – the only scrubbing we needed to see from them, to be honest.
Dr Gunter also noted that there are no studies to support this product, thereby making it rather shameful that one of the founders is reportedly a gynaecologist as well. They've since deleted the Instagram post.
Well, at $20 a month (!!) and all studies on intravaginal cleaning (even with water) showing risk and no studies to support your product says either hopelessly unprepared or predatory. One the founders is an OB/GYN, so it's simply unacceptable.Looks like they scrubbed their site.— Jennifer Gunter (@DrJenGunter) July 18, 2020
Dr Gunter also reportedly told Metro UK that "cleaning inside the vagina in this way is associated with an increased risk of damaging the vaginal ecosystem and increasing the risk of STIs if exposed and as an OB/GYN I would never recommend it."
Every day is laundry day in vaginaville
As if it hasn't been said enough... the vagina cleans itself. Additionally, there's nothing to be mousy about when it comes to your kitty's natural – and very normal – scent.
In a previous W24 article posing the question "Should you be using feminine hygiene products?", it was noted that "feminine hygiene products may use ingredients that are known or suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals, carcinogens or allergens."
Speaking of chemicals and carcinogens, I remember an irksome episode of The Bold Type (a series about gals of the magazine world), where one of the characters Jane found herself hot, bothered and with her knickers in a knot of a vaginal infection. Jane is a character in her late 20s, who writes for a women's magazine, yet she spring cleaned her temporarily upset vagina like a living room anticipating guests. Sweeping, dusting and even spritzing fragrance. Yes, she sprayed her lady bits to make them "smell more pleasant".
It was an irresponsible depiction of how to handle a yeast infection, urinary tract infection or any PH imbalance. Perhaps that was the director's intended lesson? Hard to say.
Anyway, I'll reiterate what Johannesburg-based general practitioner Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng expressed in this article mentioned above about the natural aroma of female genitalia.
She said "ideas about vaginas smelling fruity and floral are not only rooted in sexist standards of hygiene, but they create scope for unhealthy hygiene habits as well. Habits that could result in thrush, bacterial vaginosis (very difficult to treat and break the cycle), and depending on the toxicity, chemical burns on the vulva and vagina."
Dr T also shared the following advice: "Go for your annual check-up. Have your Pap smear. Talk to your doctor about menstruation – understand ovulation and discharges. Learn how your body works; track your period so you know your bodily patterns. Women go to the doctor for normal things, like discharges – you will always have moisture because your vaginal area is full of glands. It's vital to know your body and be sensible. Food is for eating – not inserting into your body. True story: I once had to remove garlic from a woman's vagina…"
Now, I can comfortably assume no one wants garlic breath... from any orifice. So please don't play into the capitalist game of misogyny by purchasing products that are harmful to your body, all in the name of "feminine hygiene".
Look, we all wish that time of the month would just be an hour-long fuss-free engagement, but there's no need to brush your blossom every time it bleeds in a bid to clear it out faster.
And until we see a "male hygiene" aisle that houses products that don't attempt to assert masculinity in their naming (I mean, we're one Brotox injection away from seeing BROll-on on the shelf next to Axe at Clicks), maybe we'll eventually brush this conversation to the side like period debris.