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Your Shot: ‘Getting Your Period or Being a Woman is Sometimes Pretty Shit’


Director Nisha Ganatra, AMV BBDO’s Nadja Losgott and Nicholas Hulley and Essity’s Martina Poulopati and Tanja Grubner chat to LBB’s Laura Swinton about #wombstories, a beautiful and taboo-busting campaign

Your Shot: ‘Getting Your Period or Being a Woman is Sometimes Pretty Shit’

In less than a week, the Bodyform/Libresse film Womb Stories has clocked up over 1 million organic views on the brand’s UK page and over seven million views in Russia. It’s a film that has resoundingly found its audience. And small wonder. Womb Stories is a beautifully crafted expression of the seemingly inexpressible – at least something we very rarely see expressed or explored in art, culture or media.


It’s an emotional dance through the highs and lows, pain, stress and joy of what it means to have a womb – something that women, even today, have been taught to suppress. That suppression ties into a wider social trend that has seen women’s healthcare overlooked and under cared for.  And so Womb Stories feels like a cathartic dam burst moment as we see, perhaps for the first time, a depiction of the emotions and experiences that are inextricably linked to one’s womb. Director Nisha Ganatra works to bring specificity and nuance to universal truths, and vibrant animation creates a vivid metaphor and visual language.


Womb Stories is the latest outing for the Essity feminine hygiene brands (Bodyform in the UK and Libresse across Europe), which has been progressively poking at the clichés of the category and opening up conversation. Blood Normal challenged the blue liquid-soaked, sanitised dishonesty of sanitary pad ads, while Viva la Vulva celebrated the diversity of the female vulva at a time when many women feel awkward and uncertain about their bodies. This time round, the team has really dug deep.


LBB’s Laura Swinton spoke to AMV BBDO ECDs Nadja Losgott and Nicholas Hulley, Chelsea Pictures director Nisha Ganatra, Essity’s global marketing & communications director Martina Poulopati and global marketing & communications director femcare Tanja Grubner to find out more about an extraordinary ad.



LBB> Before embarking on the project, what conversations did you have about what potential directions there were and what the brand wanted to achieve this time around? 


Nadja & Nick> Libresse/Bodyform’s mission is to push against the taboos and stigmas that hold women back when it comes to their intimate health. It is a truth-telling journey. The brief, at its simplest, was to continue to push against these taboos and misrepresentations, but this time dive even deeper under women’s skin and embrace their intimate experiences more holistically: because our periods and what happens in our wombs is not just a biological or physiological thing, it is a complex emotional and human relationship that we have with our bodies. But we are taught to minimise or even never talk about these profound experiences, and this vicious circle of silence has a very damaging impact on our wellbeing.


Creatively and emotionally we wanted to move forwards. Blood Normal was normalisation - positivity, mixed with defiance - and Viva la Vulva was a pure celebration. But it dawned on us that while putting out positivity into the world surrounding periods was right at the time to break the taboo, the truth is so much more complicated. And that getting your period or being a woman is sometimes pretty shit. So we had truth and experiences as our guiding light. We wanted to be devastatingly honest, but balance it out with the beauty of the experience.


Martina & Tanja> At Essity (with our FemCare brands Libresse, Nosotras, Bodyform, Saba, Nana and Nuvenia) we started tackling taboos as that society feels uncomfortable uncovering and celebrating women’s reality as early as 2016. With Red.Fit we addressed the taboo of periods in sports, followed by the award-winning Blood Normal campaign in 2017, where Libresse tackled the stigma around period shaming by turning blue liquid red. With Viva La Vulva in 2018, singing vulvas called out the culture of body shaming and reassuring women that there is only one perfect vulva, hers.


The logic next step for us was to boldly go where no other brand has been before; inside women’s bodies and emotions to truly represent their sensations and feelings that we believe are not only invisible but ignored, overlooked or denied. We wanted to push back against the assumption that there is one accepted biological timeline that women live by: start your period in adolescence, repeat with ‘a bit’ of pain, want a baby, get pregnant, have more periods, stop periods, fade into the menopausal background. We believe that only once we understand women and everything they go through, can we care for them with our period and daily intimate care products.


LBB> The research around the silence on issues around women's health is shocking though, as a woman, also not surprising - why was this silence on women's health something you wanted to break and how did that insight take you to this very emotional exploration of the specific experience of having a womb?


Tanja & Martina> Our research has found that 62% of those surveyed don't think women's anatomy and health issues are talked about openly and this campaign has been created to tackle this issue head on, while over half of women would like to be able to talk more openly about health issues affecting them (54%). Two thirds of women who experienced miscarriage, endometriosis, fertility issues and menopause said that being open with family and friends helped them cope. And yet the same research found that half of women feel society wants them to keep silent about their experiences, and half of women felt staying silent about their issues damaged their mental health. This leads to a damaging silence around a range of difficult and sensitive issues that women face every day. The physical concern may be treated, but the emotional dimension is often left unheard and overlooked. This culture of silence reinforces taboos and impacts women’s confidence and wellbeing. Since taboos are weakened by open and honest conversation, Libresse is starting one. Loudly. With #wombstories, Libresse wants to encourage an open culture where women can express what they go through without fearing they won’t be properly heard or believed and without feeling shame that they are somehow less than what they were taught to be. #wombstories will encourage open conversation so that women will no longer have to hide the sometimes difficult, sometimes painful realities of their bodies. #wombstories, gives a voice to the unseen, unspoken and unknown truths about women’s bodies around the world.

Nadja & Nick> The silence around women’s health is the manifestation of a taboo that doesn’t want women to talk about their experiences and their bodies. And tries to limit their narrative to a single, simplistic journey - get your periods in adolescence, have more periods, have some babies, more periods, and then you are meant to quietly retire. 

If you don’t break this taboo, if you don’t encourage people to openly share their #wombstories, you end up with this host of problems.


You make any person who deviates from this narrative - like someone who has no intention of having children - feel abnormal or weird. 


People suffer in silence, which is not good for anybody’s mental health. 20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage and yet people sit in shame on their own.


You perpetuate the under researching and under treatment of conditions like endometriosis. One in 10 women suffer from it, and yet it takes on average 7.5 years for a diagnosis. 

Telling our #wombstories helps break this vicious cycle. Because to be able to know your body and enjoy your body you first have to understand it. And you can only understand something if you acknowledge it. 

LBB> This is a really raw, internal and emotional take. It feels like an attempt to express the embodied experience of what it's like to have a womb, which is a really ambitious creative project in any medium - so I'm really keen to understand the writing process and the development of the idea. How did you manage to channel something so deeply personal and so profound and yet so seldom really spoken about? 

Nadja & Nick> We wrestled with the complexity of the script for a long time. And rewrote it many times, streamlining and streamlining. The balance was held together by trying to create the raw emotional rollercoaster. Mimicking the emotional ups and downs that we experience in life. Happy, sad, poignant, mundane and profound. All thrown together in the beauty and visceral nature of the tender animation and the undisguised outside world. 


Elise managed to create a beautiful rhythm in the edit that played with your emotions and really makes you go through the highs and lows.


We wanted to create an ode to all the things we go through emotionally, because life is not just about a functional biological textbook explanation of things.


We were trying to find a vehicle for all the stories which had a commonality and could also give you the whole rollercoaster of emotions. And eventually that turned into anthropomorphising the uterus. And imagining this second seat of power that rules your life as a character or world in itself. The tender truth and reality of the outside, combined with this otherworldly inside, controlling the outside experience, felt like such a great space to play in. Each with its own personal womb-dweller and way of being.


LBB>  Why did you choose to work with Nisha Ganatra? Why was she the person for the job and what did she bring to the idea?


Nadja & Nick> From the minute we spoke to Nisha, we clicked with her. She just ‘got it’, was so excited by it and she could see the potential. Her vision of it then jumped off the page and brought so much reality, empathy and actual lived experience. We knew that her kindness and push for collaboration, combined with all the work she had been at the helm of before, would jump off screen and into people’s hearts. We knew we wanted to create a beautiful little short film with different complex narratives and knew that she could help us bring a certain unseen specialness to it. When we were reading her treatment we were reading nuance upon nuance. There was so much detail in each scene that it was pure authenticity. And ultimately her work has the ability to make you laugh and cry. That’s why she was the person for the job. 


LBB> And Nisha, what did you think when you saw the script and why did it connect with you?


Nisha> I’ve never seen anything like this in advertising or on TV before. The breadth of women’s experiences that this one ad was communicating really inspired me.


LBB> What did you want to bring to the idea and what was your treatment about?


Nisha> I was nervous about how to keep up the incredible, artistic and taboo-breaking storytelling that Libresse is known for in this campaign, and yet how to take on #wombstories and find a way to push it further. The idea of mixing live action and animation and making the inside of the womb an animated world made the possibilities endless. I was so inspired by Nick and Nadja and Edwina, the team at AMV BBDO are incredible artists with vision and a strong desire to push boundaries in every area. I was thrilled that Elise Butt, who cut Viva La Vulva, was able to cut #wombstories as well. I think our collaboration shows the best of filmmaking - everyone brings their unique ideas and it was my responsibility to make sure it all came together as one cohesive piece.  My main objective was to take their superb idea and make sure the film was emotional by weaving together stories that move you.


LBB> Obviously not every woman goes through the same specific experiences (miscarriage, period agony, hysterectomy etc etc) but nonetheless there is a universality to the profound general experience of having a womb, and the way we're expected not to really talk about that openly... how did you strike the balance of conveying those really personal, individual stories and characters within the film with creating something that would speak to all women?

Nadja & Nick> We felt that the complex emotional rollercoaster ride between love and hate, pain and pleasure would be a universal feeling. And most women would identify with the truthful and raw journey. Even if their experience and life journey was different, it would all be true on an emotional level. 


Even if you hadn’t experienced it, someone you know or loved had or was going through it. So every experience became something that you could connect to as a human in one way or another.


We also hoped that most women would intuitively know that they’ve been made to shut up about these intimate, sometimes painful experiences or choices.


There were so many facets big and small that we felt had never been seen on screen and are hardly ever spoken about. And telling these underrepresented stories has such power that we knew it would be a relief for people to see it out in the open, including us. All the complications, all the common ups and downs and all the things you can laugh at too. 


Most women will experience their first period, which often, even though you might be informed, is still somewhat of a memorable shock when it happens. 


We wanted to touch on how many women still get berated for not wanting children and tell of the poignancy that getting your period can come with both a positive reaction when you’re not planning on having a child. Yet equally for someone trying to have a baby, the complete opposite emotion bubbles up.


We wanted to represent liberation through menopause. A change to be celebrated rather than it is so often portrayed - one to be mourned. 


And while pain is something so often experienced by women, debilitating endometriosis is suffered by 1 in 10, yet it can take 7.5 years to diagnose. Another devastating consequence of not sharing our wombstories.


And lastly, which person doesn’t experience their womb as an utter asshole sometimes? 


In the end it is a labour of love from everyone involved. All our own experiences, all our friends’ experiences, splurged out in a film. It’s a love letter. And the embodiment of a lot of people’s experiences of having a womb. There were many, many intuitive decisions that were made that we think created the deep connection that people are feeling with it.

Nisha> I think there is a lot of me and my experiences as someone who sought fertility treatments, gave birth and was shocked at how little I knew about what was going on with me and what would happen during pregnancy, but especially after giving birth. No one tells you about the mesh underwear or that you will bleed for a month - I got to bring a lot of that to the story. I also had watched my mom and other women I know experiencing menopause and hot flashes as hilarious and I had never seen them depicted with that sort of comedy before. Hot flashes and menopause are usually shown as a depressing end of the story - for us it was just the end of reproduction, but the beginning of an entirely new exciting phase of life. So it was important for me to bring some comedy and levity to an experience we all will go through at some point in our lives!


LBB>The animation is really clever - it feels like it provides a sense of continuity with previous Essity outings but also just is such an expressive medium for these very difficult to express feelings and experiences. At what point did you decide to incorporate animation and what were your influences and inspirations when it came to the art direction of the different animation styles? 


Nadja & Nick> The idea of animation was there from the beginning. Thinking of your womb being controlled by a lazy asshole of a being, or by a monster or an army of flame-throwers seemed way more fun, kooky and entertaining than real life. The idea that each mystical womb could look any way you wished inside or was inhabited by any type of oddball creature with a personality of its own made us laugh. 


But we also wanted the experience of the worst things you might go through in pregnancy loss or a fertility journey to be empathetic and tender. And give a voice to those who didn’t have the words. There was a poignancy in mimicking a feeling in a little gardener trying so hard to tend to a beautiful garden and growing a stunning plant, only to have it destroyed by something that was completely out of her control, being left in deafening silence. Just like life.


Overall we tried to find the delicate balance between storytelling, imagery and atmosphere.


Nisha> I have to give credit to AMV BBDO - Nadja, Nick and Edwina brought the best animators and a thorough amount of options. Together we chose who would develop which storyboard in the final film and what type of art it would be. I adore working with this team because they always pushed us to go further, take bigger risks and to make sure we were always grounded in truth with their idea of collecting Wombstories from people - the stories are so moving - I hope we can do more and include more and more stories.


LBB> And in terms of the live action aspects, the emotional pivot of the miscarriage is so powerful - how did you work with your actors and what notes did you give them to help them convey such a brutal emotional scene without dialogue?


Nisha> The actors were incredibly talented  - it was really easy and a pleasure to direct such talented actors with access to their emotional lives. It’s all a director can ask for. I also kept the set to a minimum so that the actors felt the intimacy of the crew and Natasha (our DP) and I with them. The space was always kept respectful of the work we were asking them to do - and I also closed the set so they would feel comfortable being as open as they were able to be.


LBB> In terms of production, was this a lockdown baby or did you have the chance to shoot most of this before Covid struck? How did you find and choose the animation talent and orchestrate all of that?


Nadja & Nick> Luckily it was conceived way before Covid was a reality. We shot late in December and then carried on editing with Elise Butt and post production with Framestore in early January.


With Sharon Locke and the Framestore team, we carefully considered each animator’s style and personality that it came with, and what each would bring to the storytelling of a particular subject matter. What kind of emotion did we want to feel in the different scenes? They were chosen for visceral sensibility, on projecting a feeling, but there was also a certain hand-made crafted quality we were looking for that could speak to you on a different detailed, organic level and stand out. Besides character, we were trying to find women that could expand on these beautiful cave-like fleshy environments we had envisaged inside a uterus. And then lastly, who would fit into the galaxy uterus environments that were themselves inspired by macro photos of uteri. There was this epic depth and space to the backgrounds of the photos, which seemed so organic and powerful that we wanted to create a painterly interpretation of it to house all of our stories and styles.

LBB> We all love the track - what was the vibe that you were looking for with the track and why did the Pumarosa fit the bill?


Nadja & Nick> We had heavier tracks on it at first but they didn’t quite strike the right tone. Eventually it came down to two different ones, a re-record and the Priestess remix. The room was divided. We went back and forth but ultimately we knew we wanted modernity, we knew we wanted something new and fresh and emotional, that portrayed the experience in a way it hadn’t been heard or seen before. And that was how the dial landed where it did.



LBB> What were the interesting challenges that came up throughout this job and how did you overcome them?


Nadja & Nick> We had the usual creative challenges, like how do we make plasticine boobs dance and how do we wrangle so many deep and complex emotional stories into one short script. 


We agonised over the emotions, the details and the art direction but we also ultimately agonised over the balance of fragility and power.

Overall the whole team just felt really connected and open in talking about our experiences and how we wanted to see it on screen. It was such a collaborative process. Everyone brought their expertise and just got on with making it beautiful.


LBB> The film feels so expressive and insightful and it certainly connected with me - how much of yourself went into that and how did it feel to express something I think I've very rarely (if ever?) seen expressed? I imagine it must have been on some level quite cathartic?


Nisha> The final film is an expression of all of our stories. We were so excited each day with the images we were capturing and the story we were telling. Our crew was mostly female and everyone could relate to what was on the other side of the camera. It was truly special.


LBB> How do you feel this campaign builds on previous outings and moves things on?


Martina & Tanja> It’s a natural evolution for us, from addressing the fact that period blood is red not blue, to dismantling the myth of the perfect vulva propagated by the porn industry, which does not exist to revealing the unseen, unspoken and unknown truths about women’s bodies and what they should and should not do. Periods don’t just exist in isolation. They are connected to this entire ecosystem centered around our wombs, which almost acts as a second seat of power that rules us in such profound ways. We have this intensely complicated relationship with it. And yet this life-long bittersweet journey with our bodies is still considered something to shut up about. We at Libresse know that life is more complicated – because our vulvas, vaginas and uteruses don’t just exist during menstruation and they’re rarely simple. Thus, we will continue with proud taboo breaking until the work is done and there are no more secrets.


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Genres: Animation

Categories: Tampons, Beauty & Health

LBB Editorial, Tue, 07 Jul 2020 16:12:31 GMT