Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sporty tampons: for serious athletes only

There I was, standing in the feminine-product aisle at the grocery store, faced with a serious dilemma. My stand-by brand was out of stock, and I knew that the longer I stood there mulling over which box to buy instead, the greater the chance that I would be spotted by an acquaintance and forced to engage in an awkward conversation in front of the tampon shelf.

I just wanted to hurry up and pick one so I could go find six other random items (because you can't just buy a box of tampons by itself) and get the heck out of there.

Finally, I decided that if I was going to stray from my go-to girly products, I might as well get a bargain. That’s how I ended up with these:

Although I’ve been an athlete for most of my life, I’ve never really been a fan of the “sporty” version of things that aren’t inherently sporty. To me, it seems like a half-assed marketing tactic meant to trick people into feeling more athletic than they actually are. In my experience, most real athletes feel the same way. (Come on, do you really want to fuel your workout with an energy bar made by Snickers?)

But the truth is, whether you’re aware of it or not, if you are a young to middle-aged female who exercises on a regular basis, you’re part of a growing consumer base that is becoming increasingly attractive to business marketers.

Think about it: how many fashion retailers have added fitness apparel to their brands in the last ten years? It started innocently enough, with a few tank tops here and some stretch capris there. Now, it seems like every time I walk into the Gap, the active wear section has added another shelf of yoga pants and two more racks of tech shirts. It’s like the Canada of clothing sections—innocently disguised as unthreatening hoodies and spandex shorts, but slowly taking over the world! Pretty soon, they won’t even sell jeans anymore.

But back to tampons. Adding sportswear to a women’s clothing line is one thing. Adding the word “sports” to a box of otherwise ordinary feminine products is another.

Are “sporty” tampons going to make me run any faster? Are they going to make me more limber and agile? Probably not. So, assuming they are not laced with steroids or prescription painkillers, what athletic advantage do they provide?

In a word, inspiration. Yes, you read that correctly. Put down that raised eyebrow and allow me to explain.

You see, each time you reach into the box, you’re not just picking up a tampon. You’re picking up a tiny package of encouragement.

When I pulled out the first one, I nearly collapsed with laughter. Printed on the wrapper, right next to the big S, were the words, Strive to do your best.

Here's the visual evidence because I knew that without it, you'd never believe me.

Hilarity quickly gave way to anger as I thought, You have to be kidding me. Decades of progress in the equality of women’s sports, and this is what it has come to?

I felt a hormone-fueled feminist rant coming on. In the interest of preserving my dignity, I preemptively employed my failsafe mood-correction strategy: sarcasm. (See title of this blog post.)

My best? I thought, rolling my eyes at that stupid little tube of cotton. I’m bloated, I feel like crap and my body is literally bleeding—but don’t worry, I’ll be sure to leave it all on the roads today.

Look, I’m not judging anyone who, whether they admit it or not, gets a little confidence boost from inspirational tampon quotes. I’m just saying that Kara Goucher probably doesn’t get her sports bras at the Gap, and Shalane Flanagan probably doesn’t owe her Olympic Trials marathon record to motivational Playtex wrappers.


  1. Oh my gosh, this absolutely cracked me up! It's like some bizarre inside out fortune cookie! BTW, I accidentally grabbed the "sporty" brand of my usual once - it had some weird mesh around it that just looked like sort of torture device -uhh, no thanks. I threw them out and went back for the tried and true.

  2. Have a happy period!

  3. Tampons designed for "sports" have always cracked me up/made me angry. Like you said, it's just a way to try to sell us something we don't need--like a pink tube of body glide instead of the regular gray. What bothers me most in the case of the tampons, though, is how they argue that because they expand differently, they offer better coverage when you're working out or being active. Um, no, my body bleeds the same way, regardless of whether I'm walking, running, or sleeping. A tampon that's got me covered at any other time is a tampon that's got me covered when I'm running. Why do we need to dress it up and give it a stupid name?

  4. This post is really funny and kind of thought provoking. I actually use that kind just because I think they're more comfortable than a lot of other kinds, but you're right: it's really the same thing just wrapped up differently with the silhouette of a cartoon girl doing various sports on the front.

    And this is hilarious: "My best? I thought, rolling my eyes at that stupid little tube of cotton. I’m bloated, I feel like crap and my body is literally bleeding—but don’t worry, I’ll be sure to leave it all on the roads today."

    1. Thanks for the comment, Robin. I totally agree. By the way, I thought they were pretty comfortable too--but not so much that I would say they are "better" for women who play sports. I've been using a different kind for years and I've never had any reason to complain.

  5. Stumbled across this on the web in my search for the "best" tampon for athletes because, hey, who isn't curious if there is actually any difference at all in different tampons...

    Anyway, I hope you aren't still embarrassed to buy tampons. If you're holding yourself back from a feminist rage because of a hokey quip on a tampon, you should probably also be raging that you live in a society that makes you feel embarrassed to be a woman.

    But srsly - what is up with all the yoga pants and crazy-expensive athletic wear that cannot hold up to a moderate sweat??? Ugh. I'm with you sister.