What do we want? Fearless smears. When do we want them? NOW!
2021 kicked off with Cervical Cancer Awareness Week and the news that a worrying 70 to 80 per cent of women who missed their smear last year cited embarrassment (amongst other factors) as a reason for doing so. Alarmingly, over 600,000 cervical screening appointments were postponed or cancelled during the first lockdown in April/May 2020.
Enter Misspap X Eve Appeal: their mission? To encourage "women, trans men, intersex individuals or anyone who identifies as non-binary with a cervix, to stay vigilant about their body changes and promote fearless smears". Armed with a striking red underwear set (complete with poppers so you can literally just pop those briefs off and hop on the examination bed), the Don’t Miss your Pap campaign aimed to raise awareness around gettin' those cervical screening booked in and drive funding for research into gynae cancers. We caught up with Vijaya Varilly, the driving force behind this sold-out set and vital campaign to find out more about the inspiration behind Don't Miss your Pap and how we all can push past those awks feelings when talking about our intimate health.❤️
Hi Vijaya, huge congratulations on the launch! 100% of sales from The Pap Sets goes to the Eve Appeal, the UK’s leading gynaecological cancer charity. What was the inspiration behind this partnership?
Thanks so much, it’s been a journey and the way it came back full circle for the positive felt really fulfilling. The inspiration behind this partnership came from my twin sister and I working in the communications industry. We work on separate things, but as I was going through every emotion under the sun last year, we both thought - WHY do women not talk about this issue openly, and why aren’t brands, who have the ideal target audience doing more?! MissPap, (who’s target demographic were the women we needed to reach out to) has always been such a forward-facing brand; they have always put women’s health and well-being first and have a really distinct, relatable attitude. We decided we would approach them to see if they would be interested. Samantha Helligsø, MissPap’s CEO literally saw our “Don’t Miss Your Pap” pitch and replied, “let’s fucking do this”. 💪 That response propelled us forward, and we knew that this was so more than just a partnership, it was a movement. Misspap are now fully committed to this movement, and we’re really proud that we helped make that happen.
How can we learn to push past the all too common ‘uncomfortable feelings’ that arise when talking about our intimate health?
We are never going to sort these alarming numbers out if we don’t feel comfortable talking about anything south of the river. Yes, barriers are breaking down, and stigmas are slowly diminishing, but we still have a long way to go. There’s a responsibility for both men and women, but there’s a lot more that can be done via companies and brands. Discretion is clearly the enemy, and although we are seeing more realistic depictions of women experiencing cervical issues in lots of mediums, we’re only going to proper headway if we continue to talk and share our stories.
Three months on, how can we keep the conversation around fearless smears going beyond Cervical Cancer Prevention Week? 💬
Talk about your periods, the mood swings, the pain and all the other bits in between 24/7; it’s not ugly or gross, it’s natural and necessary and makes us who we are. Be loud and proud with family, friends and colleagues about the physical and mental impact of what you’re going through, after all, sharing is caring.
Recent work by BodyForm has helped educate and shift the conversation around this topic by sharing the complex, emotional and traumatic stories of women everywhere via their #wombstories campaign; it’s leaps and bounds ahead of old ads proudly showing how their tampons are as discrete as sweets (eye roll), but we still have a long way to go.
Prior to my experience, I had suffered from horrendous period pains but never felt comfortable bringing it up in the workplace. It never felt like a “good-enough” excuse to ask for a day off. But, I will never take that attitude again, workplaces need to overtly call it out, and encourage women to speak up if they have any cervical issues, because the physical and mental toll of these conditions is really significant. In addition to this, I think men need to help women feel comfortable talking about these conditions. There’s a weird, almost immature view sometimes that comes from talking about periods or “aunt Flo”- it’s something so natural, we talk about pregnancies, so what’s the big deal with the important stuff in between?
Thanks, Vijaya. Find out more about the Eve Appeal now, get the lowdown on the five gynaecological cancers here, and join our very own Dr HANX for information and resources around cervical cancer in our Naked Truths series here.