Bodyform, known as Libresse outside the UK, has launched a major brand campaign spotlighting the complex and unspoken truths about wombs, vulvas and periods.
"#Wombstories", created by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, is the latest work for the Essity brand aiming to push against taboos and shame surrounding women’s bodies and health. It follows 2019’s "Viva la vulva", which won multiple awards at Cannes Lions and a D&AD black Pencil.
Whereas "Viva la vulva" was a joyful musical celebrating vulvas of all shapes and sizes, and 2017's "Blood normal" aimed to normalise real depictions of menstrual blood, "#Wombstories" reveals the emotional, complicated and sometimes painful realities of women’s intimate experiences.
At the heart of the film are two parallel journeys: a woman who decides not to have children and another who struggles to conceive and faces the trials of IVF and miscarriage. Also featured are a character who has endometriosis, an older woman going through the menopause and a girl who gets her period for the first time.
The ad mixes live action and various styles of animation to capture the "emotional rollercoaster of the lifelong relationships that women have with their uteruses and vaginas", Nicholas Hulley, executive creative director at AMV, said.
"There’s love, pain and tremendous pleasure. The mundane irritations can also become profound," he said. "The female experience is often seen as too messy and too complicated, and we don’t want to know about it, but that has a physical as well as an emotional cost. It’s your body that’s there to be understood, known and enjoyed, but the enemies of that are shame, silence and objectification."
All of the experiences portrayed in the campaign are often "steeped in shame", Nadja Lossgott, executive creative director at AMV, added. The spot aims to overturn stigmas and encourage open conversations about the highs and lows of women’s health.
As well as the bigger themes, the film contains smaller, intimate moments that are not often shown on screen, such as a woman who plucks her nipple hair or a girl who feels the "floodgate" release of her period when she sneezes.
"You don’t get taught much about your body and what you do get taught is often very simplistic: you’ll get your period and therefore you can get married and have babies, and then your period stops and then you basically die," Lossgott said. "What we all go through is so much more intricate, complicated and confusing."
Research by Essity found that 62% of people agree women’s health and intimate experiences are not talked about openly. Meanwhile, 40% of women felt that their mental well-being was negatively impacted as a result of not being able to openly share their experiences.
Tanja Grubner, femcare global marketing and communications director at Essity, said: "Although this campaign was conceived long before the pandemic changed everything, the issues women face didn’t just get put on hold or go away because of what was going on around us.
"In many instances, Covid-19 has increased the isolation women feel and the complexities they experience. The pandemic has seen women forced to give birth alone, have their fertility treatments and endometriosis surgeries delayed and postponed. Now, more than ever, is a time to ensure women speak up about their bodies and experiences."
In the ad, each "womb story" concludes in a different way. At the height of the film, a miscarriage scene is immediately followed by a girl who gets her first period at school.
"It’s that perpetual cycle of regeneration – somebody’s journey is starting as one ends," Hulley said.
The work was created by Hulley and Lossgott, and directed by Nisha Ganatra through Chelsea Pictures. The Golden Globe-winning and Emmy-nominated director was behind films such as The High Note and Late Night, as well as episodes of TV series including Girls, Dear White People, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Transparent.
Bodyform employed an all-women team of animators and illustrators who imagined the life of wombs. Framestore handled the animation.
The work will run across TV, YouTube and social media platforms. Zenith is the media agency.
Ganatra added: "When they’re at their best, our bodies are incredible machines that give us pleasure and, if we want them to, help us propagate the human race. But they don’t always work. Hell, they don’t often work. Irregular periods. Endometriosis. Miscarriages and infertility. Our bodies can bring joy but also pain and devastation. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that lasts a lifetime.
"When my daughter is an adult, it shouldn’t just be acceptable for a woman to have ownership over her body and over her narrative. It shouldn’t just be acceptable for people to be who they want and to love who they want and to choose not to have children if they want. This should be the norm."