Despite estimations that one in ten women suffers from endometriosis, a condition that causes pain in your lower tummy or back, severe period pain and pain during or after sex, it currently takes an average of seven and a half years to be diagnosed. This is largely due to perceptions that pain related to periods is to be expected or is “normal”. A new campaign by AMV BBDO for feminine care brand Libresse aims to tackle this issue, supporting earlier diagnosis while highlighting the “gender pain gap”.
The campaign, titled #painstories includes a “Pain Dictionary” dedicated to articulating the complex language of endometriosis pain through commissioned artworks visualising real stories from women with the condition. From these stories, Libresse has created “pain words and definitions”, equipping sufferers with a new language to communicate their pain to doctors, as well as aiding those yet undiagnosed with recognising severe pain as a problem and therefore seeking help.
“Women have been putting up with excruciating pain for years. Due to outdated taboos, women’s pain is systematically overlooked, and they are too often dismissed, ignored and misdiagnosed,” says Tanja Grubner, FemCare global marketing and communications director at Essity, creator of Libresse. “By inviting women to share their #painstories we hope to overcome the culture of silence that holds women back – in this case, from proper diagnosis and treatment.”
In visualising these stories, AMV BBDO enlisted the talents of 14 artists: Augustine Cerf, Lauren Peters, Nadja Lossgott, Em Cooper, Alicja Pawluczuk, Ellie Pearce, Venus Libido, Jenny Jokela, Dana Robinson, Victoria Villasana, Carine Khalife, Selby Hurst, Lyla Ribot, and Holly Warburton.
Venus Libido, Ellie Pearce and Alicia Pawluczuk suffer from endometriosis themselves, with Venus Libido describing the process of creating their artwork as “very therapeutic,” adding “I also love that now when anyone asks me what endometriosis feels like, I can just open my phone and show them this image. I’ll also be showing any doctor who tells me my pain can’t be that bad, a regular phrase that many endo sufferers hear far too often.” Pearce echoes this sentiment saying, “the process of re-imagining my endo pain was a cathartic one, especially as I am still waiting for laparoscopic surgery for a diagnosis. It is difficult to put into words the different types of pain endometriosis causes and so by creating a tangible work of art I think it really helps emphasise and understand the pain instead of just putting it on a nondescript scale of one to ten.”
Holly Warburton describes the experience of creating artwork as someone who doesn’t suffer from the condition: “It felt like an important responsibility, to try to illustrate the description in a meaningful way.” In the artwork, she visualises the phrase “womb war”, using “concentrated areas of red flame and barbed shapes” to do so. Dana Robinson also employed colour as a means of communicating her phrase, “organfuse”, describing how “paint was intently smeared, pressed, and textured, making the underlying image abstracted while bringing the pain and pressure of the feeling of organfuse to the surface in the process.”
Alongside the artworks, AMV BBDO used a custom typeface, created by Mario Kerkstra (AMV BBDO’s creative design director) initially for Wombstories, #painstories’ wider campaign. A stylised version of a woman’s womb, it aids in visualising the subject matter through something as “beautiful and as evocative as the personal artwork that sat below it,” says Mario. “We had never seen a womb typeface before, so we decided to make one. There are little nuggets of biology hidden and expressed in each letter.”
To launch the campaign, the artworks are “on show” as part of a virtual exhibition called The Pain Museum, created by Ketchum, taking visitors on an “expressive deep dive into pain” and exploring the themes of the #painstories in more detail. You can find it via the #painstories website.
Em Cooper: Torture Grips (Copyright © Em Cooper, 2021)
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.