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‘Never look at a jam donut in the same way again’: Controversial Sofy BeFresh ad cleared of fat shaming and bulling by ad watchdog

One of the most controversial ads to air this year has been cleared of fat shaming and portraying bullying after “considerable discussion” by the Ad Standards Board.

JWT Melbourne’s ad for Unicharm’s Sofy BeFresh sanitary pads has sparked a fierce storm on social media and in the international press for using a larger actress to portray a version of a woman as her ‘Period self’.

Across different versions of the ad the ‘Period Self’ actress is seen crying, shouting down the phone and telling someone she cannot go out as she feels “like I sat on a jam donut”.

One of several complaints spanning six sections of the marketing code of standards read: Another said: “I don’t think I could ever look at a jam donut the same way again.”

Another read: “The misogyny and fat-shaming in this is abhorrent. To begin with, it builds the stereotype that women become angry, confused and lazy when on their periods and that menstruation is somehow a bad thing. And then there’s the fat-phobia; Used as a device to emphasise how horrible menstruation is, like being slightly overweight is a bad thing? Shaming women in to using the product is ridiculous and obscene. “Use these panty liners and you will be fresh and THIN!” I am disgusted that this made it on to television. Please remove the advertisement immediately.”

US publication AdWeek described it as “easily the year’s most offensive ad aimed at women”.

Unicharm responded saying it was “light hearted and humorous” and had been “extensively researched with members of our target market” adding the woman chosen to play the part of the “period self” because she is a “normal sized Australian woman” and so cannot be regarded “as a negative portrayal of fat”.

Actress Rose Flanagan who played 'Period Self' responded to people describing her as fat on Twitter

Actress Rose Flanagan who played ‘Period Self’ responded to people describing her as fat on Twitter

They dismissed the idea of bullying as it was showing the “internal struggles” and does not show anyone being intimidated.

Responding to the complaints about the jam donut line it added: “The ‘Jam Donut’ term, which appears in the complaints, is a playful analogy to describe the physical sensation that women feel when their pad is not soaking up the blood and the sticky clotted material that is present in the fluid. This analogy is used in the place of directly saying “sitting in a pool of sticky clotting blood” or similar, which is what the women in research told us they were feeling.”

The number of complaints led to a “considerable discussion” by members of the standards board about the adverts.

While some of the board felt using two different sized women to play the role personified women on their periods as being “heavier” the majority felt it was to demonstrate the feeling ‘bloated’ while having a period, while the use of humour clearly linking the erratic behaviour to the fact she was having a period rather than her size. It dismissed claims of vilifying a person based on physical characteristics.

The board also dismissed claims of bullying behaviour, and on the use of the phrase jam donut said: “The Board noted that advertisers are free to use whatever phrases they wish in an advertisement provided that such phrases do not breach a section of the Code.

“The Board acknowledged that some members of the community would find the use of the phrase ‘jam donut’ in relation to a woman menstruating to be unpleasant and inappropriate but considered that the phrase is not inappropriate in the context of the advertised product and the message the advertiser is trying to convey about how women may feel when menstruating.”

All complaints were dismissed.

Alex Hayes

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