– click on the image to see the stop motion version –
In order to smash a taboo, you could of course organise a protest. But you could also think up an extremely cute animation series about the subject. That’s what American stop-motion animation artist Annie Wong did with her project Ovary Actions: a colourful series of GIFs that are all about menstruation.
Or actually: about the menstrual taboo. Wong has been fascinated by this subject since her childhood: ‘In 4th grade all the girls were grouped together to watch a video that would explain menstruation – something my parents had to sign a permission slip for- while the boys went outside to play basketball.’ That’s when the tone was set. ‘A culture of secrecy and division was instantly created.’
Annie Wong – better known as Headexplodie – graduated from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco in 2005. She also has a Master’s Degree in Animation from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco (2015). Currently she’s specialised in ‘handmade stories’. In other words: micro videos, stop motion animation and GIFs.
‘I try to to balance out something that might feel icky with something lovely or charming’
Her work is easily recognisable by the mix of cartoonesque and realistic elements, the expressive use of colour, and of course the humour. ‘This style of animation can come off as both creepy and/or cute. I love experimenting with the realistic nature of animating live objects and body parts, and how that can sometimes push into an uncomfortable zone. At the same time, I really love cartooning and humor, so I’ll be trying to balance out something that might feel icky with something maybe lovely or charming.’
With Ovary Actions, Wong, fascinated by the cultural paradox around menstruation, reacts to the stigma that still surrounds periods in our present-day society. ‘Menstruation is ordinary, but at the same time mysterious. Instead of calling it it what it is, we’ve come up with colorful slang terms that range from benign (That time of the month), to alarming (Code Red), to downright silly (Dracula’s tea bag).’
‘I’d rather see a red happy face blob than a clinical blue liquid that makes me feel ashamed for bleeding’
Her favourite: Surfing The Crimson Wave. ‘Oh, I love this euphemism so much. A couple years ago I had purchased my first menstrual cup and was listening to Crimson Wave by Tacocat. I immediately pictured this cute little menstrual cup surfing, so here it is.’ Living in the USA meant that at she first wasn’t familiar with the expression On The Blob. ‘Apparently, it’s one of the more popular euphemisms in the UK. I kinda like this one because I think blobs can actually be cute and funny. Also, I really wanted to show a maxi pad without that problematic blue liquid you always see in commercials. I’d rather see a happy face slimy blob on a pad than this weird clinical blue liquid that makes me feel ashamed for bleeding.’
‘Mother Nature’s Gift is tied to the idea of seeing your period as a present from Mother Nature. However: ‘I’m sure many of us wished it came with a receipt so we could exchange it for something better, or at the very least some store credit.’ Your Monthly Surprise fits into the same category. ‘Aww, you surprised me with a gift…in my pants. Gee, thanks. I’ve never had a consistent 28 day menstrual cycle. My period would always sneak up on me and catch me off guard.’ Hence the box with red slime coming out.
‘I haven’t ruined my panties, I’ve coated a canvas in crimson’
Panty Painting shows Wong’s different and more positive approach to leakage stains. ‘It’d be comforting to think that whenever I experience a period leak that I haven’t ruined my panties, I’ve just coated a canvas in crimson! Painted a portrait in pink! Drawn a sketch in scarlet. We’re all just creating works of art down there.’
Wong deliberately choose for friendly and funny euphemisms when creating her series. She personally likes menstrual art, but didn’t want to scare other people off by using depictions of real blood. That’s why Ovary Actions had to become visually accessible for everyone: super plus cute and playful. ‘I’d like to smash the taboo through making some silly looping animations about periods.’
‘It’d be cool if we could all be more chill and comfortable with talking about this thing’
Figurehead of the series is Myrtle. ‘A pretty chill uterus. Generally, she doesn’t make herself known, but when it’s that time of the month… she might have an ovary-action! I personally get very irritable when I’m PMS-ing. It used to drive me crazy because I’d actually blame myself for my mood swings. Society makes you feel like you need to have vulcan-like control over your emotions all of the time, lest you be deemed hysterical. It felt like a huge relief to just share what I was going through in my premenstrual phase. I’m not overreacting… I’m just ovary-acting!’
She understands that not everyone will be able to appreciate her menstruation project. ‘This isn’t gonna be everyone’s jam. I just think it’d be cool if we could all be more chill and comfortable with talking about this thing that for so long has been painted with a broad brush of negativity.’
‘Let’s normalise the topic and have a little fun with it’
‘I personally used to think about my periods as something to be ashamed of, to hide, something that made me feel absolutely gross. But since embarking on this project I’ve opened myself up to various menstrual educators, artists, and entrepreneurs, and seeing their work in my daily feed makes periods seem totally normal. Being able to talk openly about it with my friends has done the same. Normalising periods is the first step in being able to take better care of our reproductive health. GIFs have small, digestible, file sizes and are very meme-able. I am hoping to expand the visual library of menstrual communication so we can normalise the topic and have a little fun with it.’
More menstrual art? Check out the Art category.