Opinion: Dark shades of a ‘virgin’ story
India might be on the verge of becoming the next superpower, but should our obsession with ‘white skin’ stoop as low as this, literally?
I never knew how inadequate my vagina was until I turned on the TV, went into a medical shop, looked up at a billboard, and walked into a mall this year. This past August, a new product known as “18 Again” started making headlines and copious amounts of advertisements.
“18 Again” is a cream that promotes vaginal rejuvenation, tightening, whitening (of course!), and improved function, similar to when you were 18 and (presumably) a virgin. While there are similar creams like this even in the west, the controversy and backlash in India surpasses western sentiments for the same due to the patriarchal and misogynistic views on women and sexuality.
The makers of the cream, Ultratech Pharmaceuticals, point out this “revolutionary product” (their words, not mine) helps build inner confidence in women. To help promote their women’s empowerment, they have blasted the billboards, roadsides, and mall with copious ads and signs. Ultratech claim their campaigns are championing women’s rights by openly discussing women’s sexuality, a generally taboo topic.
Cultural history proves that India has never approached the topic of women’s pleasure through any open discussion; menstruation, sex, masturbation, and women related social issues are routinely dismissed or brushed under the rug. While I can commend an attempt to open the door to discussing women’s health, using the feeling of physical inadequacy and emotional manipulation surrounding the concept of virginity is a dark (pardon the pun!) and dirty tactic to boost cream sales.
Advertising with a conscience
Advertising generally plays on selling the consumer an idea, more than just the product. It is not the duty of advertisers to play moral police though the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) boasts, “Advertising with a conscience.” Advertising is understanding and segmenting your market. The cream is trying to be the all-in-one solution for every female problem; it claims to have medical benefits in reducing urinary contingence, aesthetic values in tightening the vaginal muscles, and pleasurable effects by serving as an orgasm aiding lubricant. In fact, the copious amount of all encompassing claims makes you wonder if it can also increase breast size, prevent STDS, and cure cancer all with six weeks application.
If the marketer was truly trying to push this product as empowering women, they should decide exactly what topic they choose to focus on, medical or pleasure? If it is the former, then serious amounts of science and research should be transparent and readily available to back their claims. If it is the latter, then the entire add campaign should be reworked to emphasis sexuality and choice, not subtly pushing the idea of virginity back onto the woman.
Host of contradictions
Conservative society places an extremely strong value on the women’s virginity and the virgin bride; the seemingly harmless concept of virginity can be the cause of shame, isolation, and even death for women in patriarchal society. Therefore, equating a cream with a feeling of virginity completely contradicts the notion of empowering women, instead fostering the misconception that the woman only holds her self worth in her virginal vagina.
The cream and its marketing take a step further in claiming bold medical benefits about balancing PH levels, helping fight bacteria and fungi that leads to various vaginal infections. In fact, to first diagnose this epidemic of vaginal looseness, the website for the cream suggests you practice the scientific self diagnosis with a finger and determine if you feel pressure; if you don’t feel pressure that you desire, then you have a serious case of vaginal looseness. Science continues to rear its factual head by stating that the cream helps heal internal wounds and prevents itching all without numbers or explanations. Without consulting a doctor, you are assuming that treating a potential health threat such as an internal cut in your vagina or chronic itchiness is as simple as rubbing some lotion on dry skin.
While over the counter drugs do not have to be government regulated, proper access to information should be given to consumers. Vast majority of the Indian population is not even informed on how to care for periods, self- mammograms, cervical cancer, and transmission of STDs since access to knowledge or even the willingness to discuss the topics are so low. Without proper explanation of medical statements that this cream makes, marketers are just manipulating the lack of population’s foundational knowledge of women’s health, and going against the alleged ASCI’s conscience.
Inconsistent and hypocritical
The issue is that the 18 Again cream and marketing ploys are inconsistent and hypocritical. Following the makers’ logic, we should also promote breast implants, plastic surgery, and pornography under the guise of female empowerment. What happened to the days of aging with grace? Why should we be ashamed of past sexual discretions? We can claim that it was fate for certain circumstances or that we are living without regrets, so our vaginas should be no different.
The tone and actual images of the ads emphasize a young woman carefree and happy in her relationship now that she has restored her vagina to super human strength, evoking emotions similar to being a young 18 year old virgin. Unfortunately for me, those emotions involved, raging hormones, confusion, nervousness, fear, and worry. Thank you Ultratech, but the last thing my vagina or I want to do is be 18 again.
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