I love that friends send stuff our way because it might be blogworthy. Last week, I got a tip from my friend, Rachel, about THINX. What are they, you ask? They are “underwear for athletes with periods.”
On its own, that’s not so exciting. I mean, the whole idea of having to skip workouts because of periods is dated, no longer an issue, right? Maybe it’s not an issue in the same way it used to be, where people thought athletes with periods shouldn’t work out because it was too hard on them.
But it turns out there are other things to fear besides over-taxing the menstruating body: leakage! THINX makes a panty for every kind of flow. For medium days, try the Sport or the High Waist, each good for “up to 1 1/2 tampons worth” of flow. Heavy day? The hip hugger can handle “up to 2 tampons worth.”
And then there are the light days, for your Boyshorts or Cheekies (“up to 1 tampon worth). And for the lightest of light days, you can even get a thong (1/2 a tampon worth). They anticipated my first question, “But like, who wears a thong on their period?” Answer: “You can, friend. YOU can.”
But not my second question: “But like, who wears a thong when pursuing athletic activities?” I mean that as a serious, not rhetorical question, so if you have some athletic reason for wearing a thong when you work out, please share. The THINX thong is”is the sexy little piece of stretch lace that you’re used to, but with a lil’ baby amount of protection.”
These are moisture-wicking, anti-microbial, absorbent, and leak resistant panties that look comfy enough. They take the place of panty-liners and offer “back-up” for the menstrual cup or tampon. Apparently, they stay dry, don’t feel like diapers, and you can wear them all day.
Tennis players might especially like them, since “even your whitest white gear is safe.” I’m not sure I know any other athletes who regularly wear white gear–maybe martial arts types?
Anyway, that’s the literal info on panties for your period. I can see a place for these, though personally I haven’t found panty liners to be all that much of a problem. The biggest issue is that they’re disposable, so adding to landfill (THINX could play up the environmentally-friendly aspect of their product a bit more). For endurance activities, panty liners might chafe in ways that these don’t, though the website doesn’t really play up their non-chafing features.
But there are products and then there are the way those products are advertised/represented. My friend Syd, took one look at the pictures and asked, “What? Are we supposed to work out in our underwear now?” Because yes, the website shows women in action (yay!) but wearing only their underwear (um?). Not only that, she pointed out the picture in the ad seems to defy their slogan, “Keep your head in the game.” Where are these athletes’ heads?
Now, it’s a positive that the women are actively engaged in athletic activities in the pictures. All too often, we don’t see women actually doing anything. And the fact that they’re doing these things while also supposedly menstruating is also a good way to challenge any lingering thoughts that women on their periods need to take it easy. So we’ll give them points for that.
And as Rachel charitably pointed out, it’s hard to show underwear, which is after all, their product, if there’s a pair of pants over them. This is true.
Syd suggested this:
Well, the way they do it in the tampon ads is to put them in white pants. If you want to show that these are formfitting (not diapers or big pads), you could show a woman in white leggings. But… do you actually need to show women running in the undies? I mean, most underwear can be worn when you’re working out, so this doesn’t add any information.
I thought maybe it was like so many ads, where the way a thing is pictured is not exactly the way it’s used (like car action ads where they tell you not to try this at home; or the food ads where they say in teeny tiny print, “Serving suggestion”). They’re giving you the general idea so you can see exactly what the product is capable of even if, in the end, that’s not what they’re expecting you to do with it. Chances are, you will be wearing something over it, right? But here’s what it would look like if you didn’t!
Then there was some debate about whether the pictures did or didn’t sexualize the athletes. It’s not totally clear to me. We live in a culture that associates under garments with sexy, so there’s an argument to be made for the claim that any depiction of women in their undies could be taken as sexualizing. But, in response, we could point out that underwear has a solid utilitarian function as well, so it’s not entirely obvious that representations of women in their panties ought automatically be suspect.
The question comes back to: is there a way of showing women being active in these panties without showing the panties? And if so, is there a reason to seek out that way (as in the tampon ad, which, face it, is a bit different because there is no way of showing an actual tampon in use)? I think if they want to show the panties, they’re doing their best to show them in ways that make them look attractive and functional, and not necessarily sexy (except the thong, which is advertised as such).
If I’m interested in the product, I want to see the panties. And on balance, I like that they’re portraying the women as athletes doing active things rather than simply as models wearing panties. If there had to be a trade-off between representing active women wearing only their panties, on the one hand, or representing women in the panties but not active, I think they made the right choice.
What is definitely true is that they haven’t done much to promote body diversity on their website. The majority of their models are slender young white women. They have one solid, though by no means large, young black woman wearing the hiphuggers, but other than that, no diversity at all. What about inclusive fitness?
I consider that a missed opportunity, since if you’re going to promote a product that is supposed to provide a new freedom to women who work out (I guess that’s its purpose), then why not use it to promote inclusivity as well?
I’ve not tried these panties, though I can see how they might be useful not just for menstruating women, but for women in peri-menopause or menopause, who sometimes have occasional spotting. At over $30 per pair, they’re something of an investment. And I wonder how many uses you would get out of them. They directly address the “it’s gross” worry on their website, saying:
No, it doesn’t feel wet; no, you don’t have to change them during the day; no, they don’t feel like diapers; and no, it’s not like sitting in your own blood. Boom.
But I don’t know — how many times would you reuse them if they ended up with a tampon or two worth of menstrual blood in them? Of course it would depend how well they clean up. But we’re not talking a Diva Cup here.
Thanks, Rachel and Syd, for your reflections on this product and the way it’s represented on the website.