Naama Bloom is best know as the founder of HelloFlo, the mail-order feminine product platform that shot to viral fame with its hilarious videos like ‘Camp Gyno,’ ‘First Moon Party,’ and ‘A Vistit from Aunt Flo.’ On one hand, we should all be so grateful that Bloom and her startup got us talking, laughing, learning and sharing about our bodies in a healthy way. On the other? It was 2014, and shouldn’t we be beyond all that? But we weren’t, and Bloom helped us get there, and forever she’ll be immortalized as an women’s activist.
The new classic book on puberty for girls
She is also an activist on behalf of girls, with her new book HelloFlo: The Guide, Period.: The Everything Puberty Book for the Modern Girl (Penguin, October 17, 2017). As you will hear in this episode, it won me over with its first lines, devoted to the fact that every woman, every day, will have crust in her panties. I have spent my whole life — all of which was seeped in feminism — feeling a little bit or a lot weird, ashamed and gross for this reality. This doesn’t need to happen any more!
The book also covers: the history of the styles of pubic hair, breast size and shape and eyebrows. Lots of anecdotes from women who share how they feel about their bodies and puberty. It is smart, frank and real in a way no other book for girls — or women for that matter — is. “Full bush,” is the name of a chapter.
Don’t tell her, but I ordered a copy for my daughter for Christmas, and I think you should, too. The new classic, coming right to you.
By the way, Naama was named by AdAge as one of the fifty most creative people in the world; in 2015 was featured in the Financial Times “Women in Business” column; and is one of NY Business Journal’s “Women of Influence” for 2016.
Related podcasts on women, sex and bodies
Full transcript of Like a Mother Interview with HelloFlow’s Naama Bloom:
Emma: Alright guys, this is a really important podcast episode of Like a Mother. I’m interviewing Naama Bloom. You might know her from HelloFlo, she’s the founder of the startup HelloFlo and she had this incredible series of viral videos. Videos that actually went viral, they weren’t just called viral videos about periods. There was Camp Gyno, she was winning all kinds of awards. They were really funny, really real, videos about your period. HelloFlo it was a mail order service for menstrual products.
We’re still talking about periods but we need to
Naama: Yeah, it started as a subscription service for women and girls for their period. When I started it in 2013 there weren’t very many of us out there. Now it seems like you can’t be on Facebook without getting an ad for one. That was what it originally started as. As I did research on the topic, one of the things I uncovered was that while people wanted the convenience of getting their tampons and pads sent to them in the mail, no one was talking about them. What mom’s in particular really needed help with was how to broach the topic with their daughters. Very early on, I started focusing very heavily on first periods and the introduction to puberty for girls. That’s why most of the videos really are focused on these sort of young, coming of age experiences for young women. Then, of course, I ended up making videos for mom’s also, like postpartum videos, and one that talks all about leaking after you have a baby, because we all have experienced the leak with the sneeze without comfort. I just really try to focus on topics that women experience but no one talks about. Because no one talks about them, they become shameful.
Emma: They become shameful, and now we’re talking about periods all the time. Which, if you think about it, it’s completely absurd that it’s a thing. It’s like, is breathing a thing? Well, I guess breathing did become a thing because we got into yoga.
Naama: Right. Well, meditating.
Period businesses are changing the world
Emma: Well, we are and it’s because of you. It’s because of entrepreneurs. Women entrepreneurs really. We have Miki Agrawal with Thinx, her really cool new product. It’s all the sudden, it’s female entrepreneurs and business. You’re making money and talking about periods, we’re talking about pussies, we’re talking about all of these things that make us women and celebrating it. And you’re making money off of it which I think is phenomenal, I think that’s great.
Let’s just get right to the chase, because this is what’s on my mind and this is what you’re talking about and I want to help you with it. HelloFlo the Guide, Period. And it’s your new book, and it is awesome. It’s for girls ages nine to 16?
Naama: Yes, I would say like the perfect age is somewhere between nine and 13, but I have grown friends, grownups who have read it also, who have said that they read it and they even learned stuff about their body that they didn’t know, and about the history of periods and pubic hair in particular.
Emma: Yes. This is, I’m going to say it right now because I like to be right, this is going to be the new classic.
Naama: I hope so.
Emma: It is the new classic for girls needing to talk about puberty and for parents, mother’s in particular, talking to their daughters about bodies. I’ll just give you a spoiler alert, it was love at first sight for me with this book, because the very first pages were talking about crust in your panties. The message was one, that was the opener, and two, the message was every single one of you reading this is going to have crust in your panties every day for the rest of your lives. I was so grateful because I had had crust in my panties every single day for literally as long as I can remember before puberty, and I have always, to this day, felt a little bit shameful about it.
Why don’t we talk about vaginal discharge?
Naama: Emma, you’re speaking my language, because the thing about the discharge and the crust in the panties that really got me is it wasn’t until I was in my early 30s and reading a book called Taking Charge of Your Fertility, because I was trying to figure out how to get pregnant, that I actually understood. I learned that it had a purpose and that it was a good thing. My whole life, I was embarrassed about it. I had no idea. My mom was like, “Oh yeah, it’s normal.” But I was horrified and God forbid any man I was ever with as a grown up that they would see those underwear. I found it so horrifying and then I read that book, and I remember I was lying in bed next to my husband, reading the book because we were talking about having babies, and I was like, “Oh my God. Life changing moment. I now know what discharge is for.”
Emma: Educate people. What is it for?
Naama: It’s cervical fluid and it’s a marker of ovulation. Generally speaking, your body releases cervical fluid right before you ovulate so that sperm has a medium to travel to the egg. It’s this totally natural thing, and of course, you have different levels of it throughout your cycle, but again, no one in my whole life had mentioned it to me or taught me about it. Then after I read about it and years later, I started HelloFlo, I got really into it and I had this woman who is an acupuncturist who I had gone to when I was trying to get pregnant, because I was not a young, spritely, new mom, so I needed some help; she and I talked about taking charge of your fertility and that book. She knows so much about fertility, so I had her write a blog post for HelloFlo called What is Vaginal Discharge? I no longer own HelloFlo the site, but it was our number one, most trafficked article for a few years.
Emma: Isn’t that crazy? I’m so grateful for you for doing that, and I’m also so bewildered at our culture that we’re so hungry for this information. We’re so hungry for the approval. My daughter is nine, my son is seven, and both of them are growing up in a completely different world than I did and I am so grateful for that.
Naama: It’s my goal, and I talk about it in the book. It’s just my goal that girls grow up and don’t feel ashamed about anything that their body does, because I grew up in a really warm and loving household with a mother who was pretty open, and my parents were divorced by the time I was 12. It was my mother, my sister and I in the house, so everything was out there in the open. I wasn’t really embarrassed to talk about stuff at home, but there were still things in my body that I just didn’t understand, and that I felt were not right somehow. Discharge being one of them.
Girls in progressive families are ashamed and misinformed, too
Emma: Where does that come from? My mom was pretty progressive and she’s a single mom too, so where is that message coming from? Even though we’ve had the medical information, the science has been there, someone was interested in checking out what panty crust was probably 150 years ago and had the answer. Why is it all the sudden we need a book with really cute illustrations in it to start talking about this on podcast?
Naama: You know, I think that when we were growing up and then also today, you have this mix of, yes, there’s access to information, but there’s also access to so many images and ideas of what women and girls are supposed to be like. For me, one of the things that confounded me and drove me absolutely crazy growing up, and even in college, I am so flat chested. My mom wasn’t as flat chested as I was, my sister wasn’t and I was like, “When are they coming? Why don’t I have them? No one is ever gonna love me because I don’t have big breasts.” It was just such a stupid thing, but every image I saw, and every movie I saw. Do you remember Porky’s?
Naama: Disgusting movie, right? The most disgusting movie.
Emma: I kinda want to see it again, because it was so naughty and awesome when we were little.
Naama: But it was all about the boobs. The boys wanted to see the boobs. I just thought you need to have boobs. To think where I was getting my love advice was that movie is terrifying. Luckily I didn’t marry anyone who is like one of those characters. To think, that was what it was all about. It was glorification of breasts. I felt like if I didn’t have them, that meant that I was unattractive. Then years later, as a grown-up, I started seeing so many more images. I saw, wow, you can be beautiful whether you have breasts or not. I think that’s one of those things we may use the words and tell our daughter that but it’s not reinforced through everything they see.
Emma: That’s so true. Then it’s the generational thing. I can say all the right things to my daughter, but if I’m secretly weirded out by my panty crust, that is translated implicitly in some way, despite my best efforts.
Naama: I think we don’t talk about it. With the discharge, people don’t know. Anyone who’s not a girl doesn’t know what’s happening. We’re keeping it a secret, just like when you get your period, you’re not necessarily walking around holding a tampon up high on your way to the bathroom in the office. There’s so many things that we’ve just decided are gross or icky. While they’re not necessarily dinner conversation, I wouldn’t teach my kids to talk about pee and poo at dinner, it’s totally natural and I’m okay asking my kids if they use the bathroom. Why wouldn’t I be okay with talking to my daughter about her menstruation? I don’t know if that makes sense, but I just feel like—
Emma: We have to normalize it. Just normalizing things. That is the biology, but you do talk about the culture things. You talk about your insecurity about being flat chested, but one of the important things that I really enjoyed just as an adult woman reading it was the history. It’s an illustrated book. There’s really nice and cute also illustrations in it. The history of breasts, because they go in and out of fashion, like the different sizes and shapes. The same with pubic hair, and the same with what body shape.
Emma: Eyebrows, yes. All of these things, and I think that is so powerful and challenging your idea of what’s normal, or perfect, or good. That’s so important.
Naama: I have a brilliant co-writer, Glynnis MacNicol, who writes a ton and when we got together to talk about what we wanted to write, we really wanted to give historical and cultural background to why, today, we believe what we believe about women’s bodies. It was super important. I’ve been obsessed with pubic hair recently, the last few years, because all of the images that you see of women, I remember there was a Sports Illustrated cover three or four years ago, where the woman is seductively pushing down her bikini bottom, and there’s no hair there. I was just like, “Where is it? Where has pubic hair gone? It’s disappeared.” My friend was telling me her daughter came home from sleep away camp, and said, “Mommy, how come none of my counselors have pubic hair?”
Body image and fashion
I started talking to younger women, and I started learning that many of them were shaving it all off and didn’t feel like it was a choice. I just thought this is crazy. It’s okay if you want to shave it all off. All the power to you. But you should feel like it’s your choice and not your only option. Using that as an entry point, what we wanted to do was show girls and women that in fact all of these things are just trends. What happens with women’s pubic hair, it’s crazy to think that we all know that there are trends, because it’s underneath multiple layers of clothing usually, but it’s impacted by culture and it comes and goes.
Just like eyebrows in the 90’s, I had the skinniest eyebrows in the world, and now I want thick eyebrows. When you see it laid out, and our illustrator did such an incredible job with these timelines of the eyebrows and the breasts and pubic hair and what was fashionable. When you see it all laid out, you realize if you look back hundreds and even thousands of years, it makes it perfectly clear that this is all trend and all fashion, and yes, I do get to make my own decision.
Emma: Right. The other thing, a lot of it is so, unconsciously or not, it’s designed to be attractive. Sexually attractive to men, almost always.
I want to hear more voices from men. I have been asking men, “What do you think about periods? What do you think about women’s body hair?” It also gets into age too. I’m 40 so the men that I date are usually my age or a little older roughly. The thing is, guys, do not care. Guys love pussy. They love women’s bodies. They absolutely love it. Younger men might be weird about periods, but as you get older, they get over it. They do not care, because they love sex, and they love women.
Naama: One of the things we talk about in the book is what every person is drawn to, man or female, is confidence. The message of the book is really, be comfortable in your own skin. Be who you are. Be confident. It’s not about, we don’t get into things like sexual attraction in the book because it’s just for a younger audience, but we do talk about feeling good about yourself. I think that is as important for a 10-year-old as it is for a 45-year-old like myself. I know that if I walk out of the house and I feel good, I just have a better day.
Emma: It is. I was just reading this morning, there was a discussion in this online Facebook group that I run for single moms, and people were talking about vaginal rejuvenation, and some of it’s more medical, but a lot of it’s cosmetic. This is a bunch of single women that are of age and it is just heartbreaking. Really the root of it is they are afraid they won’t find romance and they aren’t loveable. The root of it is they feel they’re not loveable because their labia are XYZ, whatever, name it, large, uneven, discolored. There’s a whole industry that’s capitalizing on that fear.
Your labia are normal
Naama: Yes, it’s a little predatory. I think that the thing is also for women thinking about vaginal rejuvenation, and just any change in their body, is if there’s something that makes you personally uncomfortable, and you look in the mirror and you ask yourself, “Is this really about me?” Then do what you do to make yourself feel confident. If you’re doing it because you think some man has a preconceived notion about how big your labia is, he doesn’t, he’s not thinking about that, and he’s definitely not thinking about that in the moment. I promise you it’s not going to get in your way. If you’re menopausal or postpartum and you have a dryness issue, that’s a totally different situation, because no one should have painful sex. That shouldn’t be anyone’s option.
It seems to me we put a ton of pressure on ourselves. The thing about this book is, it’s one thing we can intellectualize we’re putting pressure on ourselves at age, 20, 30, 40, 50, but to think that an 11-year-old girl or a 10-year-old girl is already experiencing this pressure, is where my heart breaks. That was why we were just so focused on it, because those nine, 10, 11-year-olds, if they grow up feeling like what they have is perfect for them when they are single moms at age 30, hopefully, they’ll still have some of that. What they are is perfect for them.
Emma: I’m seeing that in my household already, and it is heartbreaking, and I don’t know what to do about it sometimes. My daughter, she’s so funny about body shapes and sizes. She said something to me, she’s got all this stuff and she goes, “It doesn’t help that you’re so fancy and pretty,” or something like that. I was like, “Well, I appreciate that you think I’m fancy or beautiful, and I think maybe other people find me beautiful, but no one would ever say that I’m skinny.” And she goes, “Oh, definitely not. No one would ever say that.”
Naama: That’s hysterical. I have an eight-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy and my daughter, on the one hand, is so critical of herself. She has curly hair like me, and she’s wanted straight hair since she was two. I don’t even know how she found it within herself to be unhappy with her looks at age two. So, on the one hand, she has friends that are super waify, and have straight hair and that’s what she wants. On the other hand, she plays soccer and climbs everything and is super physical, and has got muscles. She is just ripped. She can hate her body on the one side and then stare at herself in the mirror for three hours on the other side, and love what she sees. I think it’s we’re all conflicted. We’re just all conflicted.
What we can do as mothers, or as friends, or for ourselves, to give ourselves an easier time. We have to do it. I work so hard on it when my daughter says something to me like, “You have a jiggly butt.” It get’s me really where it hurts, and I just try to say, “This butt is your mother’s butt, and you’re gonna have it too, and it’s a great butt.” I’m just trying to message for her that I’m not upset and there’s no shame, and it’s okay. Even though inside, I’m sometimes like, “I have a jiggly butt, I need to work out.”
Emma: But you know what that’s translating, right?
Emma: I hear you. She’s picking up on that. The other thing that’s happening here with all of this change, it’s all activism. It’s our power. We create life. We create life inside of our body as women. That is magic. That is our power. We’ve never been taught that. That has been systematically taken away from us, and that’s attached to everything from how we look, to crusty panties, to jiggly butts, to muscles, it’s all connected to our power. The physical and the power. We’re in a moment of a lot of social, political, and cultural change.
Connecting sex and puberty
Naama: Totally. As an addendum to that, one of the things, again, the book is not about sex, it’s very much about puberty, but one of the things where I just went to bat on with my publisher, because I wanted to go a little bit more into sexuality and she was like, “Absolutely not, mom’s don’t want you to have that conversation with their daughters until they consent to that conversation with their daughters.” So, I bought into that, but I was like, the one thing I need to do is make sure that we are very clear that girls understand that when they get their period that means they can now become pregnant. Because culturally we disassociate those two things. The problem is when you do that and then you ask girls to be responsible for their fertility, but you haven’t actually explained how fertility happens, you end up with teen pregnancy and unwanted pregnancies. I just felt like we are so culturally embarrassed about sex.
Emma: We are. I went through a battle with my publisher too because in the subtitle of my book, which is, by the way, coming out the same day as yours.
Naama: I know, I heard you talk about it, and I was like, “Oh, same pub date.”
Emma: Yes, they wanted to take dating and sex out of the subtitle, because some women aren’t ready to date. There’s no words. There are no words for how absurd that is.
Naama: I know. It’s hard because, on the one hand, we had a lot of battles about this, and my publisher got through to me finally when she said to me, “Naama, what’s most important for you is to have as many girls as possible read this book and hear this message, and if you’re going to put stuff in there that’s— “ Because the other thing was the title, I had a much more aggressive title.
Emma: I think that in researching this, what was it? There Will Be Blood?
Naama: There Will Be Blood, yeah, which I thought was really funny. I thought girls would be in on the joke.
Emma: It’s provocative but I like it.
Naama: But she was like, “You’re going to put people off and then the girls aren’t going to get the message that’s inside the book.” And she was like, “It’s my job to get them inside the book for you.”
Emma: It’s tough. When you’re an entrepreneur, and you’re used to doing everything you want, and it worked, and you’re a marketer, then you’re hooking up with a publisher and they own your baby? I feel your pain.
“I want this book to be read by millions and millions of girls”
Naama: She has a great point which is that I want this book to be read by millions and millions of girls. I wrote it with Glynnis and we feel the same way. If we had gotten a book like this, it would have really saved us a lot of the stress that we experienced in our life. I feel like on a purely social good perspective, and I’m sure you feel this about your book because you went through your own trials as a single mom, write something because you have mission behind it and purpose, you just want everyone to read it because you know that it will help people. There were a few things that got toned down in the book, but I think ultimately it is such a step beyond where puberty books were, that hopefully, that means I did my job right.
Emma: You did your job, I’m here to tell you. I’m the target. I am one of your target audiences which is the mom of girls, and also somebody who has her period. I’m your audience and I’m here to tell you, you did an awesome job and it is for the social good, and it is activism, and I know your heart is in it, and it came through. So, thank you for your work.
Naama: Yeah. I’m thrilled that you enjoyed it, and I’m thrilled that your girls are going to get to read.
Emma: Yeah, they’re getting it, but they’re going to have to wait for Christmas, but that’s fine.
Naama: That’s okay.
Emma: That’s a minute away.
Naama: It is a minute away. It’s crazy, it’s already this time.
Emma: Alright, Naama Bloom. Let’s just knock this out. I have done some early media and my publicist got really mad at me because I didn’t say the name of my book enough, and I don’t think you said the name of your book enough. HelloFlo. It is HelloFlo the Guide, Period.
HelloFlo the Guide, Period.
It’s everywhere you can buy books, on Amazon and all your local retailers. I wish you all the best with your book sales. I really think it’s going to be around for years. There’s going to be many editions of this. This is what our granddaughters are going to be reading.
Naama: I hope so. I hope so. I cannot wait, I preordered yours, so I can’t wait to read that as well. You’ve already read mine, so you have an advantage.
Emma: All good. Alright, Naama Bloom, thanks.
Naama: Thanks so much, Emma.