How we made Bodyform’s ‘Womb Stories’: blood, nipple hairs, flowers and monsters
Bodyform has shifted the period paradigm once more with 'Womb Stories', a beautifully shot ad that explores the duality of the uterus and shows menstruation for what it is: messy, painful and a sometimes welcome relief. Here, the creative duo behind the work explain how they made it.
Bodyform isn’t afraid to go where other brands won’t. With ‘Blood Normal’, it abandoned blue liquid in favour of the first real (and very overdue) depiction of menstrual blood in an ad campaign. In ‘Viva La Vulva’, it gave us a kaleidoscopic, unapologetic ode to the female anatomy and a takedown to the toxic myth of ’perfect’, with a colourful chorus of all-singing, all-dancing vulvas.
Last week, along with sister brand Libresse, it unveiled its most ambitious advertising push to date: ‘Womb Stories’, created by AMV BBDO.
Covering IVF treatment, endometriosis cramps, menopausal hot flushes, nipple hairs and first periods, the campaign gives a voice to the unseen, unspoken and unknown truths about the physical experiences of women everywhere. It confronts the damaging etiquette that women live with every day and which dictates what they should and shouldn’t feel about their bodies.
Tales from various wombs are illustrated by an eclectic mix of animation that serves to demonstrate the complex relationship a woman has with her cycle, as real footage weaves in and out. The hero spot is colourful and powerful, its message loud and clear: stop giving women’s health the silent treatment.
Nadja Lossgott and Nicholas Hulley are the executive creative directors behind Bodyform’s latest work. Together, they’ve already busted an impressive back catalogue of taboos for the brand. When it came to this campaign, however, the pair wanted to ramp-up its mission of skewering stigmas.
“It’s great that we got to the stage where we were celebrating periods and vulvas, but the truth of the matter is that, sometimes, being a woman – or a person who has a period – is pretty shit,” says Lossgott.
“The complexities in the life of most women are complicated and messy, and that should be acknowledged,” she adds, pointing to issues like IVF, the choice not to bear children and the pain that comes with conditions such as endometriosis.
Bodyform asked AMV BBDO to build the campaign after it uncovered striking statistics about women’s intimate experiences. 62% of people agreed that women’s health wasn’t spoken about enough, while 40% of women said their mental wellbeing had been impacted as a result of not being able to openly share experiences around issues including miscarriage, fertility and periods.
Hulley says that while the creative team wanted to continue pushing back shame and engendering pride, it also wanted to encompass a reality that was largely ignored.
And so we are presented with the flame-engulfed apartment of a perimenopausal women; a monster ripping at an endometriosis sufferer’s uterus; a ‘flood gate’ moment following an unexpected sneeze; a woman who has chosen not to have children; and the often-turbulent journey of trying to conceive.
The womb stories featured help chronicle the sometimes beautiful, sometimes brutal human side of the biology and physiology they experienced every day. And while only a handful of experiences are shown, they represent the billions of complex experiences, from hysterectomies to postpartum trauma, artificial menopause, being a trans man... the list is long.
Anthropomorphising the womb
Through the campaign, the pair wanted to push back against the single, simplistic narrative that girls are taught from a young age: start your period in adolescence, rinse and repeat with “a bit” of pain, want a baby, get pregnant, have more periods, stop periods, then fade into the menopausal background.
The complex, sometimes dual nature of the womb and the mixed emotions it can stir for women at different stages in their life was the “seed” for the creative, explains Hulley.
Lossgott adds: “We started to think about anthropomorphising the uterus and the ‘womb dwellers’ that live inside it. The womb emerged as a kind of second seat of power that controls women’s bodies. It can be awesome, or the control centre can say ‘I’m going to totally screw up your life today’.”
She continues: “We just started laughing about how all of these different characters could come to life within a womb, then set about sewing the tapestry of all these different experiences together.”
The team worked with a predominantly female crew and an all-women team of animators and illustrators who brought this vision to life. These clips were then broken up with shots of real women.
Hulley details how the animation had to be strong enough to draw a clear line between what was going on inside a woman’s body to what was happening in the real world. So each womb featured in the ad had a different illustrator assigned to it in order to give it an identity as distinct and unique as its owner’s.
“One of the big challenges and concerns we had was that there would be too many different styles. So things like colour – the pinks and the fleshy tones – help guide the viewer,” he says.
For Lossgot, the art holds the ad together. “The curation of the specific animations was talking to the mood we wanted to create with each story and then all of these things were bound together with the live action. When we cut those parts together and left the gaps in the edits, we knew what was in the script and what we wanted to the spot to look like.
“Each animator worked to bring their own personality and experience towards the project.”
Bodyform and Libresse enlisted Golden Globe-winning and Emmy-nominated director, writer and producer Nisha Ganatra to work on the ad.
“There was a lot of shared experience,” admits Lossgott. “And there was an intuitive sense of what might be right and what was wrong. All of the men on the team also had their own knowledge on the subject matter and they were listening and asking questions, which was a perspective that was also needed.”
Love and hate, pain and pleasure
“Periods don’t just exist in isolation, says Lossgott. “By visualising our wombs, we can begin to open up an emotional and human way to express these often complicated, contradictory feelings of love and hate, pain and pleasure, the mundane and the profound, that we constantly deal with.”
For its part, Bodyform wants to start a movement with ‘Womb Stories’. It is encouraging women to share their own experiences and wants to put the topic on the table for everyone to talk about.
As to their own ultimate hope for the ad, the creative duo behind it hope for more of the same. “I’ve already heard so many beautiful, poignant stories from people who have opened up because of this,” says Lossgott. ”I hope it touches people in a way that they feel like they can share their experiences with those around them.”
Hulley agrees, adding: “Everyone is a storyteller. The ability to tell stories is what makes us human. I hope this ad allows people to feel like they can share their story, because not telling them has been so damaging.”