The Story of Menstruation explained by Disney’s 1946 cartoon
A 1946 cartoon, produced by Disney in collaboration with Kotex, explains “the story of menstruation” – and as the first film to use the word vagina, it was played to 105 million students in health classes across the country.
Complete with a soothing-sounding narrator and plenty of wide-eyed illustrations, the film avoids all mentions of sexuality and reproduction, instead emphasizing the importance of sanitation and cosmetic appearance, because girls “shan’t let menstruation get you down”.
The 10-minute film expels myths about not being able to bath or exercise during menstruation, and assures viewers that they will be able continue their “usual” activities while on their periods, such as putting on makeup, completing house chores, and going on dates.
The film says: “There’s nothing strange nor mysterious about menstruation. All life is built on cycles,” which is shown over a heteronormative illustration of the cycle of an average woman’s lifetime at the time: Baby to toddler, to a young woman, to menstruation, to dancing with boys, to a white wedding dress, and then a baby.
Throughout the video, the Disney narrator debunks “the old taboo against bathing during your period”, saying, “not only can you bath, you should bath!”.
“As for the old taboo against exercise, that’s nonsense,” she adds.
“Exercising is good for you during menstruation. Extremes however, should be avoided.”
The video also warns against the dangers of feeling down while on your period, which it explains can be remedied with cosmetic application.
It explains: “Some girls may have a little less pep, the feeling of pressure in the lower part of their body, or a twinge of a nerve. But don’t let it get you down.
“After all, no matter how you feel, you have to live with people, and more importantly, yourself. Once you stop feeling sorry for yourself you’ll find it’s easier to keep smiling and even tempered.
“It’s smart to keep looking smart. That well-groomed feeling will give you new poise, and lift your moral.”
Gynecologist Mason Hohn was hired as a consultant to ensure that the film was scientifically accurate, which gave a stronger emphasis on biology than previous health videos in the same vain.
However, it still skips the sex-equals-pregnancy talk, instead explaining: “If the egg is impregnated, which happens when a women is going to have a child, the egg will stay within the uterus and the lining with provide nutrition for the budding human being through the early stages of its development.”
It was one of the first commercially sponsored films to be distributed to high schools, and it came with a booklet for teachers and students called Very Personally Yours that featured advertising of the Kotex brand of products.
The booklet discouraged the use of tampons, because the market was at the time dominated by the Tampax brand of rivals Procter & Gamble.