This Is the TV Ad the Oscars Didn’t Allow On Air

— Chelsea Hirschhorn, Frida chief executive officer

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In their opening monologue for the 2020 Academy Awards earlier this month, Steve Martin and Chris Rock commented that something was missing from the director nominees that evening. Mr. Rock, without missing a beat, exclaimed: “Vaginas!” (There were no female directors nominated at the 92nd Academy Awards.)

As it turns out, vaginas were also missing from that evening’s advertising.

Frida, a company that sells products to help new parents, said it had its advertisement for Frida Mom products — which include the likes of instant ice maxi pads, “a double-date for your vagina” — rejected by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science.

For its first television commercial, executives at Frida had hoped to show postpartum recovery in unsparing detail. And it did.

The spot features a new mother wearing ill-fitting mesh underwear with bulky pads getting up in the middle of the night, with the sound of a newborn baby crying in the background. The ad, which takes place mostly in the bathroom, depicts the difficult task of urinating after giving birth. Viewers see the new mother holding a poorly designed peri bottle that requires an inordinate amount of dexterity and flexibility to use. The advertisement’s takeaway: “Postpartum recovery doesn’t have to be that hard.” Flash to an array of Frida Mom products.

With its realistic portrayal of postpartum life, Frida entered the fray of companies trying to push the boundaries and show less sugarcoated and more authentic experiences in their advertising.

Chelsea Hirschhorn, Frida’s chief executive officer, said she thought that networks and advertising boards are “cautious against polarizing the broadest base that they have, so some of these topics generate very polarizing opinions. I don’t happen to think pregnancy and postpartum are one of them.”

Networks, however, sometimes view parts of everyday life for millions of women as unsuitable for their audience. And standards of what’s considered to be crossing the line is a moving target.

A few months ago, the feminine hygiene brand Thinx ran its first television ad, called MENstruation, which depicted an alternate reality where men menstruate. CBS rejected the spot because of a tampon string that executives found too “graphic,” according to reporting in The New York Post. But 18 other networks, including Bravo, MTV, E!, TLC and NBC, ran the full advertisement.

Last year when the feminine hygiene company Libra showed menstrual blood for the first time on Australian television, the Australian Advertising Standards said the depiction of blood in the context of an advertisement for menstrual products did not violate its standards.

But in December when Hallmark decided to pull an ad from Zola, a wedding planning site, because it featured a same-sex couple kissing, the channel said the P.D.A. violated its policies. After the company was met with a furious backlash, the commercial was reinstated.

As for what kind of advertising ultimately did pass muster at the Oscars, where 30 seconds of advertising went for $2.6 million, the biggest winners were pharma and media entertainment and the career website Indeed. (The rejected Frida spot has been viewed over 3.7 million times online, but that is still far less than the 18 million women it would have reached during the Oscars.)

Ms. Hirschhorn said she wanted that Oscars platform because the awards ceremony “recognizes storytelling at the highest level.”

“Last year’s Best Short Documentary Award went to a documentary about female menstruation and menstrual health in underserved communities,” she said. She thought the Oscars would be receptive to a portrayal of a “fairly ubiquitous experience.”

“What’s crazy is that the advertising that did make the cut was so much more sexually suggestive,” she said. “In one commercial for ‘The Bachelor’ there were like 20 women’s hands crawling over a naked man’s body toward his genitals,” she said, referring to the ABC reality show.

In an email to Frida, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science suggested the company consider advertising “an alternative product in their portfolio,” or a “kinder, more gentle portrayal of postpartum,” Ms. Hirschhorn said.

The push and pull between brands wanting to portray real life versus adhering to squeamish advertising standards is a tension that’s not going away any time soon.

But the Frida brand, Ms. Hirschhorn said, has no interest in going in the direction of erectile dysfunction or men’s hair-loss commercials. “Those tend to be the least authentic to the experience,” she said. “I mean, there are memes around the Internet that mock that type of advertising.”

As for what she thinks might have made the cut: “It would probably feature a woman feeding her baby, through a bottle, or cradling her in her nursery at night with her partner — who is probably male — by her side. And in the spirit of partnership or a this-too-shall-pass messaging, the brand would be the hero at the end saying: ‘We’re there for you.’”

Readers: Are there topics you feel cross the line for TV? Write to us at:

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Today’s In Her Words is written by Hannah Seligson and edited by Francesca Donner. Our art director is Catherine Gilmore-Barnes, and our photo editor is Sandra Stevenson.

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