20/02/2018 13:00 GMT | Updated 20/02/2018 13:01 GMT

Stock Images Are Fuelling Period Shame By Showing 'Weak, Helpless' Women

An analysis of 100 websites found nine in 10 images showed women in a negative light.

If you type ‘period pain’ into Google, chances are you’ll be met with hundreds of images showing women clutching their stomachs and scrunching their faces. While it might seem harmless, this endless stream of negativity is fuelling a culture of period shame, subscription service Pink Parcel has warned.

It said search engines, stock image sites and educational health pages are all guilty of perpetuating period shame by depicting women as “weak, helpless and emotional”.

An analysis of period-related content across 100 popular websites found nine in 10 (91%) images showed women in a negative light.

AndreyPopov via Getty Images
Image searches for ‘menstruating woman’ found over a third showed women crippled with pain, often clutching their stomachs.

Online searches including the words ‘period’ and ‘menstruation’ found 29% of images depicted women as angry, with furrowed brows and frowns (45%) as well as shouting (13%) featuring highly. Less than one fifth (17%) of images showed women laughing or socialising and only 8% showed women smiling or with a neutral expression.

Image searches for ‘menstruating woman’ found over a third (40%) showed women overcome with pain, often clutching their stomachs (63%), wearing pyjamas (49%) or laying down (52%). 

Less than 10% of the images showed a woman at work or playing sport.

More than half of British women (56%) feel this is not reflective of their actual experience of periods. A supporting survey of 2,000 British adults revealed two in five (40%) women believed negative online content is a key cause of feeling period shame. One in 10 of those surveyed felt that periods are something to be ashamed of, with a fifth admitting the way menstruating women are depicted online makes them feel ugly.

Over a third (34%) still see periods as a taboo subject, with 50% of women never speaking to their partner about their period, 44% avoiding the subject with friends.

Worryingly, almost seven in 10 (67%) women would not speak to a medical professional about their periods.

HuffPost UK
A screenshot of stock image results when you search for 'menstruation' in HuffPost UK's image portal.

The cyber shame doesn’t stop at images of real people either - even cartoons were found to depict misleading and unfair stereotypes. Over two thirds (67%) of images generated when searching for ‘period pictures’ showed animated women crying, in a pool of blood or ferociously angry. A quarter of internet memes (24%) also served as ‘warnings’ for men to steer clear of women during the time of the month.

In response to the findings, Pink Parcel’s Alycia Haynes, said: “It is little surprise period shame is so prevalent when demeaning images are continually perpetuated by the media and society. Our research has proven that this consistent stream of dramatised, unrealistic images is leaving those who experience periods feeling ashamed, embarrassed and reluctant to talk about them.

“There’s a whole spectrum of ways to experience periods, and while cramps and pain can often be involved, a period does not make a person any less strong, powerful or beautiful.”

The analysis marks the launch of the brand’s new I’M ON campaign, which aims to subvert negative social stigmas around periods. As part of the campaign, a collective of top fashion figures will collaborate to design a range of slogan tees combatting the public’s view of bleeding women.