The biggest ad night of the year, the Super Bowl, just passed, but the second biggest is just around the corner. The Academy Awards are coming our way and advertisers are shelling out big bucks to get their commercials on the small screen during the broadcast that celebrates the big screen.
But a commercial by Frida Mom, a company specializing in postpartum products, was allegedly rejected for broadcast during the event by ABC and the Academy Awards for, according to Frida Mom, containing graphic imagery, partial nudity, and product demonstrations (we've reached out to the Academy for comment). And that in itself is a harsh statement on how the realities of the postpartum stage are overlooked, ignored, and in many cases, shamed, by the people who have never experienced them.
In many ways, the ad is groundbreaking. It highlights a slice of life that has been traditionally hidden away, censored, and ignored by anyone who has not directly experienced it. The postpartum stage is a time when mothers are out of the public eye, the trials of which aren't widely known. The blood and pain are kept behind closed doors and only discussed by others who've experienced them. To air these things, not just on television, but on television's second-biggest night, would've been a revolution.
The commercial follows a clearly postpartum mother as she wakes in the night to the sound of her newborn crying. How do we know she's postpartum? She's wearing the telltale mesh undies, using a peri bottle, and she pulls out a gigantic hospital-issued menstrual pad. She's shown from the knees down as she sits on the toilet and removes a pad, then shown from the side as she cleans herself with a peri bottle and gets a fresh pad. There's not even any blood, and if you've given birth vaginally you know that even a week out, there's still blood.
So what exactly is graphic about this scene? Is it gory? No. Is it sexual? No. Is it exaggerated? Not at all. It's a woman who is portrayed as neither sexy nor coquettish, whose body is not targeting the male gaze. It's a woman whose body is recovering from something traumatic--because, make no mistake, vaginal birth is traumatic. It's a woman as women are, not as others think they should be.
As she walked past the camera we saw her hip and bottom covered in mesh panties, the bulge of her postpartum pad obvious in outline. And we saw her belly. Not flat. Not full-term pregnant. We saw her partially deflated belly, her stretch-marked and wrinkled belly. We saw a real woman's postpartum belly. Her partial nudity is less nude than a one-piece swimsuit. But it's not the nakedness of sex, it's the nakedness of recovery. It's the nakedness of birth and exhaustion and pain. It's the nudity of a woman, of birth givers, existing in their bodies.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 3.7 million women give birth in the United States each year. That's over 3.7 million women recovering from vaginal birth or C-section. Over 3.7 million women trying to take care of themselves while they care for their newborns. Over 3.7 million women living in their bodies, their imperfect and bleeding bodies, cleaning their swollen vulva and hemorrhoids, each year. Changing their baby's diapers, then changing their own. The postpartum experience isn't limited to just a few of us. The postpartum experience belongs to all of us, everyone who has ever given birth, and it's time to start talking about it.
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We should be talking about the details of the postpartum period. Just because it's a fragile time, a time of recovery, doesn't mean it should be a secret time or something to be ashamed of and hidden away. The postpartum experience is never depicted accurately or truthfully on television and it's time to add it to the conversation. While ABC and the Academy and even the networks at large might think a mother's postpartum experience is too graphic for public consumption, too inappropriate for the airwaves, the fact that this commercial even exists, that this company even exists, is a huge step forward in normalizing women as they exist in their own bodies, not as they exist through the male gaze.