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Pop Smear

River, Phoenix

Imagine the typical woman in American menstrual advertising, Homo consumerus, circa 1970. No flesh and blood creature here: She’s got blue juice in her veins, like Spock bleeding green, and once a month she sheds watery Smurf fluid from the plastic lining of her Corfam uterus, all over two soft sanitary napkins. One is up to the job, sucks it right up. The other is never adequate. Its sloshing “absorbency” won’t deliver the bliss referred to in what Carrie Fisher told Madonna was her favorite Polish joke: Bring tampons on your vacation because it says on the box you can go swimming and horseback riding and skydiving. . . .

Four-hundred ninety-two menstrual cycles post-Homo consumerus, in a U by Kotex viral campaign, a vaguely ethnic everywoman in what looks like her scrapbooking studio deadpans “How do I feel about my period? Sometimes I just want to run on a beach.” Then the onyx-and-neon product boxes descend, sleek as Japanese candy, and once more Homo consumerus sidesteps the red tide. Two girls and one cup later, we still can’t speak of opposite-of-Crips in a sanitary-napkin ad. (It was an Are You There, God? big deal when Always debuted an ad in July depicting a dot of blood on the product designed to catch it. But we’re talking a discreet bindi, 10,000 times more polite than the usual Heath Ledger Joker vertical smile that greets visits to the toilet.)

As a consumer product, the sanitary napkin is pure potential energy versus the kinetic energy of, say, lipstick or soda: ruined when used as directed. Paper towels are crumpled, toilet paper dirtied, condoms co-conspirators in an intimate moment, but pads alone are defiled. The virgin/whore complex lives on the CVS shelf. The Leviticus blood warnings still exist. Female orthodox Jews are unclean after having their period, or giving birth (all that blood, doncha know). Hollywood’s got its own ritual mikvah bath, its taking two turtle doves to the priest for post-birth sacrifice: the unveiling of unmarred, unscarred postpartum bodies on the cover of Star. (“How I Lost the Baby Weight! How I Returned to an Inviolate State of Potential Energy!”) The starlets offering themselves serenely to couture scrutiny on the red carpet at award ceremonies perform the same symbolic gesture to women that the white lotus blooming atop muddy water performs for Buddhists—wear a nice dress, sister, and we’ll overlook how you’re floating on a river of blood.

Which brings me to the sad case of Amy Winehouse. The red carpet laid her bare, poor girl, as if the camera saw the self-hate: fake tits, bad teeth, rat’s nest, hot mess. In her scant 180 menstrual cycles, she committed the same sin as Brigitte Bardot and Nico and (for a while, until she lost the weight, had a brain tumor, and earned tabloid absolution) Elizabeth Taylor—she burned up the candle of her feminine allure. The euphemism is “letting yourself go,” as if an acceptable body is something whose lease could slip through buttered girlish fingers. That transformation from Shirley Temple to Shirley Temple Back to Black is spending and burning: bleeding the bank account dry, staining up the blank maxi pad of your life with all your delicious and unvirginal mistakes. Cardinal sin, indeed.

They’re reading Winehouse’s blood now. We have to wait two to four weeks as the corked and labeled test tubes filled with her sanguine secrets wind through the toxicology lab. The coroner-cum-haruspex will divine the mystery of her death, read the entrails of the bird that flew too far and too fast and didn’t have the etiquette to wear white on cramp days. I hate a world where only death will set you free, where decomposition is a more acceptable body change for women than monthly water weight. Gore up the lotus. Om maxi padme om. Stayfree, Amy. Always.

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