Editor’s Note: Sonia Moghe is a producer in CNN’s New York bureau specializing in breaking news and digital storytelling. The views expressed here are hers. Read more opinion on CNN.
It’s an ad you won’t see at this year’s Oscars – a tired, disheveled mom wakes up in the middle of the night, hobbles out of bed in mesh underwear and a giant pad, and attempts to do the once natural thing that is now so painful to her: go to the bathroom. Her difficulty and discomfort getting up and down are viscerally obvious. The sound of her crying baby is in the background as she hobbles gingerly, wincing audibly at particularly painful movements.
The company behind the ad, Frida Mom, sells products to help new moms with personal care after giving birth, and said it was told by ABC that the network, citing the Academy’s own guidelines, would not be able to accept the ad because it is “too graphic with partial nudity and product demonstration.” A spokeswoman for ABC said the network does not comment on its advertising policies and guidelines.
The ad is a far cry from many of the images we see of women who have just given birth. The struggling mom in the ad is what’s typical. The perfectly groomed mothers smiling for Instagram photos or other ads for maternity products in the days after giving birth are not a fair representation of the pain and struggle so very many women experience trying to do everyday things for themselves – standing up, moving around, using the toilet – even before dealing with the crying baby needing to be fed every few hours.
There’s a reason people call the first few months after giving birth the “fourth trimester” – because recovery can be so hard, a mother’s body can feel like it’s barely her own. This ad shows a mom using products women truly need after giving birth to care for themselves – and it’s a realistic portrayal of a part of many women’s lives that the public deserves to see.
The ad hits home for me. It’s my first week back to work after being on maternity leave, and I wish I’d seen more honest depictions of what the hours and days after giving birth look like.
Instead, I followed moms on Instagram who posed with their babies at the hospital smiling in matching outfits. I brought a matching robe and swaddle for my daughter and I to pose for a picture, too.
We never did take that photo. Because the truth is that as wonderful as it was to have her enter my life, I was in so much pain in the days after she was born that the last thing I could imagine doing was getting dressed up to take a photo. I couldn’t even sit down without crying. I wondered why I couldn’t be like those other moms on Instagram.
By stifling these realistic images of what the postpartum experience is like, we are making women feel inadequate if they aren’t functioning normally and feeling well-put-together immediately after bringing a new human into the world. We are telling them they should be able to smile through the pain. What does it say to women giving birth – or the partners who watch them struggle – that an ad that offers them self-care products to cope with one of the most difficult times of many women’s lives is “too graphic” for family viewers?
This is, after all, what many people go through to make their families in the first place.
During the Oscars, especially, we see celebrities walking red carpets looking back to normal mere months after giving birth. We see Kate Middleton appearing outside of the hospital where she has given birth to her three children, each time with perfectly styled hair and makeup while smiling and holding each of her babies. Let’s also remember that Natalie Portman was late in pregnancy when she came on stage to accept her Oscar. She was radiant.
But the truth is that hair and makeup are often the last things on a mom’s mind in the days after she’s given birth. She’s often struggling just to care for herself and her baby in the most basic ways.
Deciding not to show this ad is a missed opportunity to share realistic images of the postpartum experience with a huge American audience – the 2019 Oscars had nearly 30 million viewers. It would have created more empathy for new moms.
A 2017 study showed that unrealistic photos of celebrities bouncing back after having babies made women feel worse about themselves.
Frida Mom has since uploaded its ad to YouTube with a message.
The video states that the ad was rejected, but notes that “It’s not ‘violent,” political’ or ‘sexual in nature’… It’s just a new mom home with her baby and her new body for the first time.”
The company said it was told by ABC that The Academy sets guidelines that don’t allow ads for: politics, religious or faith-based messages, guns, ammunition, feminine hygiene products, adult diapers, condoms or hemorrhoid remedies. Other networks have similar restrictions, too. The Academy did not return my request for comment. A source at ABC familiar with the matter says Frida Mom submitted its ad for consideration one week before the Oscars and was asked to make some edits. The source says Frida Mom never responded to the proposed edits. CNN has reached out to Frida Mom for further comment.
Before Frida Mom launched in August 2019, another line of products called Frida Baby was already on the market, selling products to help care for babies, like the “Windi,” meant to make it easier for babies to pass gas and the “NoseFrida,” for their tiny, stuffed noses. Frida Mom sells products like the “Mommy washer,” instant ice maxi pads, disposable underwear and other products to help moms “down there” after they’ve just brought a human into the world.
I had never heard of the company until I gave birth in September and my sympathetic husband wandered the aisles of Target, trying to find something that would soothe my pain. And now I know why I – a diligent researcher – hadn’t even seen an ad for these products: because so many places consider feminine care products like pads, tampons and, yes, even things that comfort you after you’ve given birth, too graphic to show.
When I contacted Frida Mom, a spokeswoman told me the company tried to start advertising for its “Mommy washer” – an upside down water sprayer – even before the company launched. Its tagline was: “Your vagina will thank you.” The spokeswoman told me the company’s attempts to buy billboards in 13 cities were unsuccessful, the tag line was deemed too controversial.
When this video ad was rejected, Frida Mom’s CEO Chelsea Hirschhorn, said the company looked to find other ways to amplify its message of honest portrayals of what women can expect to experience after birth.
“While it feels like a small step back to be rejected from a channel that has the audience and reach to meaningfully further this progress, we remain undeterred, and will use whatever channels remain available to us,” Hirschhorn said in a statement to CNN. “This is a welcome reminder that we still have a long way to go…”
Ironically, what happens when a woman gives birth and creates a family is still deemed too graphic to actually show families.
This article has been updated to reflect statements made to CNN by an ABC spokeswoman after the op-ed was published.