Tampon Girl: disgust, female bodies and the ‘wrong’ sort of fame
All of the young people we’ve interviewed distinguish between good reasons and bad reasons for being famous. Kim’s written about the frequent disgust directed towards Kim Kardashian both in our interviews and in the media – not only is she called upon as an example of ‘famous for nothing’ celebrity, but she is seen to have risen to fame via a sex tape and has chosen ‘inappropriate’ bumpwear consisting of tight clothing and lowcut tops. However, it’s in 15-year-old Giovanni Plowman, aka Tampon Girl, that we can most clearly see the strong association between female bodies and notions of ‘undeserving’ celebrity. In January 2013 Giovanni Plowman uploaded a video of herself to YouTube which showed her sucking on a used tampon – after she’s removed it off camera – and then throwing up, also off camera. She shot to fame overnight – even becoming an internet meme. What shocks me, isn’t the video itself, it’s the reaction: the widespread – almost universal – disgust that her actions, and she, elicit both online and from the young people we’ve met in our research.Giovanni has responded to the haters by comparing her performance to the stunts on shows like Jackass. While, her claim to fame is the extremity of the act even she seems to have been overwhelmed by the level of abhorrence directed at what she’s done and how this has translated into disgust at what is seen as her similarly extreme level of desperation for fame. In fact she later posted another video in which she expressed regret and talked about falling in with the wrong crowd. But what exactly is so disgusting about what she did?
Germaine Greer in 1980s feminist classic The Female Eunuch wrote: “If you think you are emancipated, you might consider the idea of tasting your own menstrual blood – if it makes you sick, you’ve got a long way to go, baby”. Inga Muscio in her book Cunt suggested something similar. In light of this, it’s disturbing just how gross this act is presented to be – both by Giovanni (in her original video) and by those responding to it, for example, in the many videos posted on YouTube which show people watching the video and enacting their disgust. The only counter-discourse I’ve found is from another YouTuber Daily Grace who filmed her mock-appalled reactions to another ‘tampon girl’ from an early tampons advert. In this and another video – Tampons – on her channel Daily Grace parodies the disgust people feel about periods.
Some argue that disgust is one of a small number of primary emotions that are hard-wired into us through evolutionary time. Margaret Wetherell, in her recent book – Affect and Emotion – debunks this. Indeed if we watch the video again, it looks like eating a tampon may not be so revolting after all. Although at the end of the film Giovanni makes violent actions and noises that indicate she’s throwing up, this happens off screen, and when she returns to view, without even having time to wipe her mouth, we see no signs of vomit. Many have disputed the authenticity of the video but maybe it’s Giovanni’s nausea that’s fake and her act that’s real.
Recently I mentioned this video while being interviewed by Heather Montgomery for the Open University, giving a short description similar to the one in the opening paragraph above. The producer said that, were she making a show for the BBC, she would have to cut this material on grounds of taste, yet material on people who drink their own urine is not – pun intended – ‘bad taste’, and has been aired by the BBC. Similarly the original video was removed by YouTube for violating the site’s terms of services – though it keeps resurfacing. In a world of regulation rather than censorship, broadcasters make often invisible decisions about what to include and exclude that encode social values and prejudices (ones that Laura wrote about here).
Children who cut their finger are encouraged to suck their bleeding digit, and society seems to have few issues with male sexual and bodily fluids, even joking about Cameron Diaz mistaking sperm for hair-gel in the film There’s Something About Mary. So it seems we as a society we aren’t as emancipated as we might have thought and have still “got a long way to go”.
Tags: gender, Giovanni Plowman, Kim Kardashian, sexuality, Tampon Girl, YouTuber
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This video and the reactions to it are fascinating! That Germaine Greer quote about menstrual blood totally transformed how I thought about my body as a teenager.
It’s so interesting that Giovanni is playing ‘212’ by Azealia Banks, one of the few songs around at the moment with positive lyrics about cunnilingus – something that certainly relates to dominance of discourses of ‘disgust’ about women’s bodily fluids.
There’s a great compilation of positive lyrics here, which can be a useful counter when feeling frustrated with the gendered inequality in the representation of bodily fluids as ‘disgusting’ : http://fuckyeahcunnilyrics.tumblr.com/
That’s so fascinating that Giovanna used this track by Azealia Banks. I think this is really subversive. Yet she has been shamed into apologising and repenting for her ‘mistake’ of transgressing borders of acceptability. Even her twitter profile says “i wish i could rewind time….don’t judge me”
I find the disgust at female bodily ‘secretions’ particularly sad because it, in part, leads to the health benefits of placenta-eating for new mothers being ignored.
Although the area needs more research, studies suggest that conditions like post-natal depression can be muted through placenta consumption – yet it is dismissed as ‘disgusting’.
Society has a long way to go.