"Women are my commander, they are my captain", says Ute Bey, Global Brand Innovation Director for Feminine Care. She claims that breaking down taboos around vaginas, vulvas and periods – or the V-Zone* for short – and putting women 35 years and older back on the feminine care ‘stage’ has become her engine. "There’s still so much we can do for them; I’m not ready to stand still and say our job is done just yet", she says. In this article she shares her thoughts with us.
Although the world is currently gripped by a global pandemic and as a company we have been focussing efforts on the fight against COVID-19, today I want to talk about my life time ambition. My ambition of empowering underrepresented women, and how we are doing this at Essity FemCare through innovation and reform in the industry.
As part of our ongoing research at Essity into V-Zone taboos that hold women back, and as we roll out our new global brand identity, we’ve been looking closely at a group of women who remain largely underrepresented in feminine care: those 35 and older whose bodies, minds, periods, hormones, vaginal fluids and intimate area skin have changed and continue to change so much from when they were teenagers and in their 20s1.
A big part of my role is to keep pushing our innovation team and ultimately the feminine care industry and society to embrace that these women exist, that their bodies, vaginas, vulvas, vaginal fluids and periods are all very different, and that they have nothing to be ashamed of! Our aim is to not only break down the taboos that hold them back but also innovate in new ways to support them and the changes they’re going through.
To really understand the taboos that exist, we’ve gathered consumer insights from women 18-57 years old through qualitative and quantitative studies including interviews with over 8000 women in Colombia, Mexico, France, UK, Italy, Russia and China. We’ve also spoken to gynaecologists, leading perimenopause and menopause experts, and Jill Angelo, CEO and Founder of Gennev, a menopause-focused platform based in the US2.
The real pain point we’ve unveiled along the way is women’s bodies, periods and intimate areas change in so many ways during their 30s and 40s and again in their 50s and beyond, but that many of these changes are taboo to talk about. Vaginal dryness is a taboo topic. Heavy, flood-like periods are a taboo topic. In fact, our research reveals 93 per cent of pre-menopausal women with irregular periods find them embarrassing or annoying3. Seventy-three per cent of women aged 43-57 with intimate odour, infection or cleanliness challenges say that these things create embarrassment that disrupts their daily life4. But women don’t talk to anyone about these because they feel embarrassed and ashamed. Because even though these things are normal, society often doesn’t see them that way. And the products available rarely go beyond ‘standard’ period care for ‘standard’ bodies – even though there are no such things!
We’ve spoken with women in their own homes. Women who I’d never met before. “You’re the first person I’ve spoken to about these things” and “I’m embarrassed that I’m not normal” have been common stories. It’s been such an emotional experience to be a part of. As I’ve listened to these women, I’ve realized that as a brand we should and can help.
We’re now using the insight we’ve gained to bring to life the women we have got to know and understand. We’ve shared with them: this is how she thinks, this is how her intimate skin is, this is how she bleeds, this is her mental state, her physical state. We’re now asking ourselves: what can we do differently for these women? What products can we create? How can we talk to her honestly and openly?
We know that feminine care needs to drastically change how it innovates. We know we need to create new solutions beyond liners, beyond tampons, beyond towels; our R&D team is on the case. Of course, we have a number of ideas in the pipeline. But we still have a way to go. It’s a continuous push for us every day. As a brand this is where we know we can make a difference and be true and authentic.
The V-Zone journey we’ve started gives us all the permission to make the changes needed in feminine care happen. When I see progress, like our new brand identity coming to life, I feel beyond proud. Hopefully 10 years from now we’ll look back and see how far we’ve come. Hopefully women of all ages, shapes, sizes, experiences and periods, will look back too and say: “Wow. They really have made a difference.”