Tampons were designed to fit inside a certain element of the female anatomy. But peruse the feminine hygiene aisle at any pharmacy or supermarket, and all you’ll see are flowers and bright colors and abstract flowy lines–no vaginas in sight.
Thinx, the underwear company that likes to claim it’s “disrupting” periods and one of Fast Company‘s Most Innovative Companies of 2017, is going where no tampon maker has ever gone before. There’s a slightly abstracted but unmistakable image of a vagina front and center on the box of the company’s new organic tampons.
The cute, red vagina has short red lines shooting from the top and an image of a string dangling from the bottom. The image is part of a thin plastic sheath that covers the rest of the box, and when you slide it off, an image of a tampon becomes evident underneath–a clever piece of package design because the motion of opening the box mimics the motion of taking out a tampon. The side of the box reads “For Real Menstruating Humans.” The plastic overlay is part of limited edition launch packaging, but regular boxes will still feature the vagina front and center. Even the all-natural tampon brand Lola, another startup trying to change the conversation around periods and women’s health, stays far away from such graphic imagery in its serene white-and-blue packages.
Founded in 2014, Thinx’s main product is blood-absorbent underwear, and the company is known for its tongue-in-cheek suggestive branding–in itself a political statement. In 2015, the New York subway authority refused to put up ads for Thinx’s products because the ads had the word “period” in them. But after widespread outcry, Thinx’s ads, featuring large images of grapefruits suggestive of vaginas and runny eggs that looked like menstrual blood, were permitted to cover New York subway cars. In 2016, proposed ads for San Francisco’s BART that called Thinx products “pussy-grabbing-proof underwear”–a reference to Trump’s now infamous comments–were rejected by the transit authority.
Compared to the company’s politicized, evocative advertisements, which are meant for public consumption, the image of an abstracted vagina on a tampon box that will likely only see the inside of medicine cabinets isn’t quite as daring as it first appears. But for a company trying to change taboos around periods, it’s an obvious next step. “The more we, as women, can face ourselves and our body parts (like our vaginas) and take pride of the amazing things our vaginas can do (like create life, feel pleasure, have babies, excrete things our bodies don’t need), the more empowered we will be overall,” says Miki Agrawal, Thinx’s co-founder and CEO.
The packaging also helps reduce waste. Each box contains eight of Thinx’s tampons without any individual wrapping, and a reusable applicator is sold separately, unlike the many tampons that come individually packaged with plastic or cardboard applicators that are thrown away after one use.
In a political moment when women’s rights are under attack, women are using images derived from female anatomy as a symbol of defiance against a patriarchal system. The woven pink pussy hats of the Women’s March on Washington were a collective symbol of empowerment–as well as a big middle finger to Donald Trump. And in the design world, creators are using imagery of breasts to celebrate women’s bodies for what they are–not as objects for consumption by the male gaze. Thinx’s vag-tastic packaging fits right in, positioning the brand as part of a sweeping progressive movement.
And for now, it’s working. Thinx’s regular tampons sold out within 24 hours.