The inspiration for this post on the packaging design of “feminine products” comes from a personal experience I had recently in advance of a minor medical procedure. At my initial appointment, the gynecologist gave me a prescription for some ovules that I was to use to prepare for the procedure. Being a compliant patient, I went to the pharmacy to have the prescription filled, and I was a little caught off-guard by what the pharmacy tech handed me.
The box was very… pink. This prescription medication had a drawing of a pink butterfly on the packaging.
I guess I was expecting a more medicinal-looking package design. The irony of what I will refer to as “the pink butterfly effect” is that, in its desperate attempt to divert your attention from the actual purpose of the product, the resulting design actually seems to scream, “This is a product for vaginas!”
Which brings us to today’s post, in which we’ll look at the evolution of feminine product packaging design through the years, how the pink butterfly effect plays out in society, and the latest trends in packaging for tampons, sanitary napkins, and other products for women.
An overview of today’s typical feminine packaging
You always know a “feminine hygiene” product when you see it, and should you happen to step down the aisle where these items are located in the store, you will suddenly be besieged by a dizzying array of pink and pastel innuendo. Delicate flowers, swirls and pearls and, yes, butterflies, abound. It’s disturbingly similar to the experience of walking through the “girls’ section” of a toy store.
The exception would be the Kotex U line, which uses black and bolder colors to appeal to young women and teens who eschew the pastel pink that unambiguously reminds every passerby that she bleeds from her vagina for roughly 5 days every month. Our society still treats menstruation and other normal (but non-sexualized) female realities as something taboo and shameful. Why else would Tampax Compak produce individually wrapped tampons that look almost like small pieces of candy?
For as long as feminine hygiene products have been mass produced, one of the priorities in their packaging design has been hiding the nature of the product inside. The first tampons were sold mail order in plain boxes or at a separate cash register at the drug store so that women wouldn’t feel embarrassed when they purchased them.
It seems that the design strategy changed over the years, and today, rather than looking like a basic hygiene item like toilet paper or toothpaste, tampons and pads now “hide in plain sight” with a packaging design more reminiscent of a jewelry making kit for girls aged 10-12.
The most innovative brands, however, are creating a new trend in feminine product package design, with simple, elegant designs that feel more like something an adult woman would use. There is even a refreshing nod towards the actual function of the product for once.
And just for fun, here’s a humorous artistic interpretation by Flo Perry at Buzzfeed of what tampon packaging would look like if men used this product.