Two years after the runaway hit "Viva La Vulva," Libresse (known as Bodyform in the U.K.) and AMV BBDO give us "Womb Stories." Vivid, pulpy illustrations combine with live action to convey the complexities of life with a womb, pleasure and pain interwoven.
The afflicting throb of endometriosis, embodied by a roving inner demon, elicits an agonized groan from a woman on the floor, echoed by another woman having sex.
"Periods don't just exist in isolation," says AMV BBDO's Nadja Lossgott, an executive creative director and art director on the campaign. "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."
"This lifelong bittersweet journey with our bodies is still considered something to shut up about," Lossgott continues. "By visualizing and anthropomorphizing our wombs, we can begin to open up an emotional and human way to express these often complicated, contradictory feelings of love and hate, of pain and pleasure, of the mundane and the profound we constantly deal with."
A study by Bodyform/Libresse found that 37 percent of women who miscarried felt they couldn't grieve openly; 42 percent of women try keeping fertility treatment a secret; and 51 percent of women who've opted out of childbearing feel that people are constantly trying to change their minds.
One-third of us keep menopause a secret. And 41 percent of women feel they'll be judged for talking openly about everyday period problems, like leaks or sudden rushes of blood. Yet 66 percent say it's important to discuss this stuff in order to cope with it.
In "Womb Stories," the choice of having children appears as the fabled "tunnel of love," with a lone passenger contemplating the fork in the river. Sometimes you make the decision; other times it's made for you: One woman's exuberant relief at seeing a spot of blood on the bathroom floor is immediately followed by two expectant mothers learning about their miscarriage.
The music goes quiet then, and the fleshy cartoon world goes barren and blue, wind rustling over scorched earth. My eyes filled. I felt connected—to this moment, and every moment surrounding it.
There were moments I was briefly reminded of The Magic School Bus, a quirky cartoon where the fictional Miss Frizzle takes kids on field trips through space and into their bodies. Sometimes in "Womb Stories," you long for Miss Frizzle's weird earrings and bright voice, chaperoning you through these winding waters and parched deserts.
Much of this is endured privately, so it's heartening to know this strange journey is shared by all womb bearers. This is why representation matters. When you can finally see yourself in something, you feel a little more real.
Out in space, a light goes out. Elsewhere, one flicks awake. A little girl discovers she's "a woman" at a typically inconvenient moment, and the beat goes on: The pain, the quiet moments, the abject suffering, the comedy and hot flashes and the joys and transitions and, sometimes, birth.
"It's never simple," the ad concludes. "Let our #wombstories be heard."
In 2002, almost 20 years ago, Danone baby food brand Blédina released "On Mom's Side." Created by BETC and set to The Supreme's catchy "Baby Love," it stands in memory as one of the first ads to truthfully illustrate motherhood: the times you're surprised, angry, in a hurry or crying, but also the moments your children touch you in such a way that you can hardly speak. "It's complicated to be a mother," the ad concluded, and I hear its echo here.
I think of "On Mom's Side" often. Many French women in advertising, who were here to see it, called it a revolution. We are so little accustomed to seeing women's stories without softening their brutal truths that this is all it takes, sometimes, to feel revolutionary: In 2002, it was seeing an ad that acknowledged being a mother can be hard.
It's good to see how far we've come. "Viva La Vulva" struck a chord because it was a pleasure to see vulvas celebrated, camel toes and all. You don't often get to feel glad about something that feels like a problem because it's hurting or bleeding, it smells or is hairy, or maybe, even when doing nothing at all, it could just look prettier.
A lot of brands stop here. Congrats, you're a woman! So there's gratification in seeing Libresse keep the conversation going, showcasing the many ways to carry a womb through life and time.
Being a woman is not just about blossoming into a sex object, dropping progeny, and exiting stage left until it's time to share cookies with a new generation. Our bodies are temples of cacophonous pain and pleasure; they are always surprising us, sometimes in ways we'd prefer they didn't. Seeing it on screen also makes it possible to think of our own wombs outside of its child-bearing offices, or the issues we have with it. We can transmit it into a larger story of transition, individual and collective.
This is not the first time Essity, Libresse's parent company, has tried changing the way stories about us are conveyed. In 2018, Bodyform released "Blood Normal," a campaign that sought to normalize the appearance of blood, not blue liquid, in visual depictions of menstruation.
"Although ['Womb Stories'] was conceived long before the pandemic changed everything, the issues women face didn't just get put on hold or go away because of what was going on around us," says Tanja Grubner, FemCare global marketing and communications director at Essity.
"In many instances, Covid-19 has increased the isolation women feel and the complexities they experience. The pandemic has seen women forced to give birth alone, have their fertility treatments and endometriosis surgeries delayed and postponed. Now, more than ever, is a time to ensure women speak up about their bodies and experiences."
"Womb Stories" launched this week across Europe. Its illustrations were produced by an impressive number of women: Sharon Lock leading creative, Roos Mattaar for the fertility animation, Kate Isobel Scott for the menopause, Haein Kim on the first period, Carine Khalife for endometriosis, Laura Jayne Hodkin for the floodgates, Salla Lehmus for the tunnel of love, and, for other animation, Annie Wong, Aylin Ohri, Meagan Elemans, Georgie Wilemore and Nella Addy.
Title of Campaign/Name of Project: #wombstories
Global Marketing & Communications Director Femcare: Tanja Grubner
Global Marketing & Communications Director, Hht: Martina Poulopati
Global Brand Communication Manager Femcare: Luciana De Azevedo Lara
Marketing Manager - Bodyform: Traci Baxter
Marketing Director Reg. UKI & EMD Feminine: Nicola Coronado
Creative Agency: AMV BBDO
Chief Creative Officer: Alex Grieve
Exec Creative Director: Nadja Lossott & Nicholas Hulley
Creative Directors: Toby Allen & Jim Hilson
Creative Team: Nadja Lossgott & Nicholas Hulley
Media Agency: Zenith
TV Producer: Edwina Dennison
Assistant TV Producer: Lucia Fioravanti
Art Production: Fiona Bailey
Typographer/Designer: Mario Kerkstra
Account Management: BAD/AD ETC Sara Abaza, Sarah Hore-Lacy, Helen Limbrey, Sarah Douglas
Production Company: Chelsea Pictures
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Production Company Producer: Shanah Blevins
Production Company Executive Producer: Lisa Mehling, Pat McGoldrick
DOP/Lighting Cameraman: Natasha Braier
Production Service Company: PSN Spain
Editor: Elise Butt
Sound Studio: 750mph
Sound Engineer: Sam Ashwell
Music: Priestess Shura Remix by Pumarosa
Creative Director Animation: Sharon Lock
Fertility Animator: Roos Mattar
Menopause Animator: Kate Isobel Scott @ Everyone Agency
First Period Animator: Haein Kim
Endometriosis Animator: Carine Khalife
Floodgates Animator: Laura Jayne Hodkin @ Strange Beast
Tunnel of Love Animator: Salla Lehmus @ Soja
Animator: Annie Wong
Animator: Aylin Ohri
Animator: Meagan Elemans
Animator: Georgie Wilemore
Animator: Nella Addy
Comp Lead: Tri Do
Compositor: Simon Stoney
Digital Matte Painting: Lee Matthews
Flame: Tim Greenwood
Colourist: Simon Bourne
VFX Producer: Emma Cook
Design Senior Producer: Niamh O'Donohoe
Photographer: Adam Hinton
Strategists: Margaux Revol, Beatrice Farmelo, Bridget Angear
PE Agency and Other Production Partners: Ketchum (PR), Poke (website)