Institution: Internet Archive
Collection: Prelinger Archives
Running time: 13m 18s
Source film: color; sound
Production: Cinemakers, Inc; Johnson & Johnson
If you were a Texas kid growing up in the 1990s, approaching sexual maturity probably meant having music class canceled so that you and twenty other 4th graders could sit cross-legged on the floor to enjoy a bewildering puberty education video featuring a woman pouring pancake batter in the shape of a uterus. Although I cannot now recall vividly if that video was otherwise helpful, Naturally, A Girl – an informational short produced almost two decades earlier – feels like a more straightforward and progressive alternative that circumvents the confusing co-mingling of reproductive organs and breakfast foods.
The tone struck throughout this short is one of bolstering womanhood, embracing diversity, and body-positivity. The video begins by exploring what kind of changes a young girl can expect when she hits puberty and then delves more specifically into the many interrogatives that surround the declarative period. Title cards break up the sections, introducing new topics like, “Does everyone know when you are menstruating?” And answers are doled out through a mix of narration and interviews with a range of young women – and young men!
The most delightful of these sections occurs early in the video, after the narrator mentions menstruation for the first time: “MENSTRUATION?” reads the title card. Two girls stumble embarrassingly through muddled explanations. “Uh, I can’t explain it.” And, “Don’t you know?” Then a confident, pimply-faced boy sweeps in to unapologetically explain periods: “The female cycle happens about once every 28 days.” What could easily feel like (though I hate the word) – mansplaining – is actually an early message to both boys and girls about how natural and acceptable this potentially uncomfortable subject should be. Nothing to be queasy about, boys, the director seems to say.
And there are plenty of girls also representing the comfortable, educated attitude throughout the film. In fact, there are plenty of girls doing all kinds of things. The filmmakers include different sizes, ages, and races of young women, all with varying levels of comfort discussing the subject material. They show girls brushing their hair; they show girls reading Scientific American. Later in the movie, they show grown women engaging in a spectrum of careers, from desk work to being a mom to being an electrician hiked up on a 50-foot pole. Again and again, the message is: you are all different, you are all okay.
The only outdated – and consequently highly entertaining – bit came when feminine products were introduced. Feminine napkins – oh, BIG ONES. Held in place with… sanitary belts! At the time of production, napkins with adhesives were being newly integrated into the female menstrual routine and sanitary girdles wouldn’t phase out for another decade. And tampons, while making an appearance, are a product relegated to being able to swim in comfort. Clearly no mention of Tampax Pearls, Diva Cups, or any of our much-appreciate present-day equipment. Ah, what will the future hold for us yet…
By the finale, the film has covered hygiene, changes in skin and hair during your period, odors, cramps, mood swings, and more. The messages they convey are refreshingly progressive and feminist for something from four decades ago, and ultimately this is a video I would feel good showing to my future, hypothetical child – well, you know, with some amendments to sanitary napkin product technology.