All of us have seen this ad: a woman going about her day, excelling at work, gathering accolades from her colleagues, taking her 5-year-old to swim class, picking up groceries, looking hot, and then kicking back with a cup of a nutritional drink that made all of this possible. Why does the health and wellness industry overwhelmingly adopt a ‘you can do it all’ narrative as a core part of messaging about women’s health? Clearly, her personal goals are closely tied to her ability to multi-task. Even today, brands that sell nutritional drinks, vitamin supplements or osteoporosis management programmes largely focus on a woman’s need to manage her tasks and responsibilities over her individual needs. In other words, brands believe a woman needs to be a superwoman.
“One of the sectors that promotes this idea the most is sanitary napkin advertising. For the longest time, this category has promoted achievement activism,” says Nisha Sampath, managing partner at Bright Angles Consulting, Mumbai. “According to their storyline, during your periods, you are supposed to win football matches, ace exams, and even swim in a pool.” If you have ever menstruated you would know this couldn’t be further from the truth, especially if you suffer from cramps, low blood-pressure or generally feel low energy.
Part of this messaging also comes from brands reflecting prevalant social mores. Indian women have become used to their family members saying things like “If you fall ill, what will happen to the rest of us?” We all saw the viral photo of a woman cooking for her family while battling covid-19, breathing with the help of an oxygen cylinder while she makes chapatis.
In the context of working women who feel guilty about neglecting the home, brands create a scenario where she is asked to step up her wellness game to ensure her family and her work don’t suffer. “Again, women eat it up without realising the burden they levy on themselves. We call it the Superwoman trap,” explains Sampath.
An athlete, a domestic worker, or a chauffeur-driven entrepreneur, all will deal with menstruation, may be anaemic during their pregnancies, or suffer osteoporosis post 40. Recognizing the need to care for your health not because of family needs you, but because you must, should instead become a critical pivot in branding for women’s health.
Rutu Mody Kamdar, founder-director at Jigsaw Brand Consultants, Mumbai, says, “Over the past year, where health took overall precedence, we saw a shift happening in women’s lives. They are understanding their own limitations and strengths and are prioritising their own wellness needs. The wellness category is at its peak right now and there is a chance to create disruption through rebranding.”
A multi-tasking woman who never fails to set the table and scores a bonus at the same time is not a measure of good health. As brands in this category shape their strategies, they must focus on evolving sensibilities and speak to women in an authentic fashion.
Tanvi Joshi is an independent writer, and a former pharmacist/public health professional-turned-brand strategist.