Normalising bladder leakage is dangerous

This Sunday morning reflection on the prevalence of adverts in mainstream media, TV, Magazines, social media campaigns was prompted by the appearance of an advert on my instragram feed. A beautiful, clearly fit and strong woman with the statement ‘Powerlifters do experience bladder leaks – but it just means you’re lifting a big weight, which can be pretty badass’.

My initial reaction was horror – it’s never a good thing to involuntarily lose bladder control, no matter what you’re doing! Suggesting that it is a good thing, is akin to gaslighting vulnerable people. People should note that the company paying for this advert stands to benefit if their customers don’t get treatment for the symptoms their products address.

There’s a number of big brands trying to ‘normalise’ bladder leakage or stress incontinence, with what seems to me to be a noticeable increase in advertising spend. Ladies slipping into purpose made pants with inbuilt pads before getting on with their active fun filled busy lives appear to be everywhere. That being said, powerlifting is definitely new!

Something seriously wrong with me

I’ve been reflecting on whether or not this is a good thing, and on balance, it might be. I remember some years ago when I first had symptoms feeling very embarrassed and isolated, googling for information on what was happening to me. I’ve encountered so many people over the years that felt like they were unique, odd, there was’ something seriously wrong with me’. I suppose that these adverts showing normal (apart from the busy active interesting pad-filled powerlifting lives they lead!) people with the same medical issues as you might make you feel less alone, and it may be comforting to know that there are companies out there making things to help you. People feeling better about themselves is a good thing, people feeling isolated, embarrassed, worried and alone is a bad thing – so, on balance, I think I’m OK with these adverts.

But …. I’m not OK with the way these adverts deliberately try to ‘normalise’ a seriously debilitating problem. Bladder leakage is common, but not normal. It is treatable in most cases and like every other medical affliction, the earlier you get attention and help the better. You’ll find all this out in Tena’s own website – there is a wealth of information there for those (nerds) like me who like to read up on that kind of thing. I’d encourage you to follow the link and take a look.

Be grateful you have a baby

For example, take a look at the Tena Noir Silhouette advert . In this advert a new mum is having bladder leakage, something many of us experienced. I think, 18 years ago when my first child was born, I’d have taken comfort from just seeing this advert, knowing I was not alone. However, the message is clear, be grateful that you’ve had a baby, be delighted with your new knockers, and buy the incontinence pants. Given what I now know, it really really annoys me that Tena aren’t telling new mums that if you experience bladder leakage, that whilst not unusual, its also not normal and the girl in the advert actually needs medical assessment. Failure to get that assessment may result in debilitating lifelong suffering. That’s the actual reality for some people, and I don’t mean to sound over the top here, but had they gotten early medical intervention they could have avoided a lifetime of suffering.

Real danger

I think that the companies making the adverts should tell the full story, but they don’t. The adverts suggest just getting on with it, don’t worry, here’s the answer. The very real danger is that people with mild symptoms are satisfied with the product and take no further action. Research shows that it can be years before people with stress incontinence seeks help. The challenge in our industry is to shorten this period, to get women in front of medical practitioners earlier. One, and it might seem cynical, view is that large companies producing accessible, relatively cheap (although not so over a prolonged period), products with the word ‘normal’ printed on the packaging may result in people thinking that purchasing the product is the treatment. The longer the customer avoids treatment the more products they’ll buy. Eventually this model of doing business catches up with businesses that don’t fully respect their customers, google the Marlboro man a call if you don’t believe me.