In just days, Naama Bloom — and her viral “Camp Gyno” video — have arguably done for the word “vagina” what took Eve Ensler of “Monologues” fame years to accomplish.
Hello Flo, Bloom’s online subscription service for feminine hygiene products, launched earlier this year on a shoe (er, tampon?)-string budget, became a household name this week when the startup company’s first-ever commercial, about a bossy, straight-talking, tween (played by 9-year-old Macy McGrail) who literally showers her bunk-mates with tampons and menstrual advice, hit YouTube.
Filmed on location at Surprise Lake Camp, a Jewish overnight camp in Cold Spring, N.Y., “Camp Gyno” was posted on YouTube Sunday. By Friday, it had passed four million views and been featured in mainstream media outlets like Forbes, the Atlantic and National Public Radio. Ad Week named “Camp Gyno” its “ad of the day,” and the Huffington Post proclaimed it the “best tampon ad in the history of the world.”
Bloom, 40, came up with the idea several months ago while talking with friends about a fellow camper (at Habonim Dror’s Camp Galil, outside Philadelphia) who knew more than all the other girls about menstruation. She spoke by phone Friday with The Jewish Week from her Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn home, which doubles as Hello Flo’s corporate headquarters. The interview has been condensed and edited.
JW: So, how did you end up choosing Surprise Lake as the backdrop for “Camp Gyno”?
Bloom: I grew up going to Camp Galil, so that was the first place I thought of, but it was too far from the city, and I needed to make it a one-day shoot. So I went online and looked at every summer camp close to the city, and e-mailed them. Surprise Lake was the first to get back to me. They were wonderful to work with.
You and your children have Israeli names, and you were active in Habonim as a kid. Are you Israeli?
Both my parents are Israeli, but my sister and I were born here and grew up in Bergen County, N.J. Now it’s so different for Israeli families in the United States, they can go to Israel more frequently, can Skype and be connected. We were like a lone island — everyone else in our family was in Israel, and every week my mom would send one of those blue aerogramme letters to Israel. When we talked on the phone with relatives it had to be three minutes or less because it was so expensive.
Is “Camp Gyno” at all autobiographical? What was it like for you when you first got your period?
My mother grew up on a kibbutz back in the days when kids all lived together, so everything was really open in my household, because that was how she grew up …It wasn’t like my mother or sister hid her period, it seemed normal and natural. I remember it being exciting, feeling like now I’m really growing up … But I was not the camp gyno: I definitely have one person in mind I always thought of as knowing more than the rest of us about that.
Your ad is getting a lot of praise for making it more comfortable for girls and women to talk about menstruation. Is that one of your goals?
I think it’s amazing. We’ve started this conversation that women had been wanting to have and haven’t felt they could. Honestly that’s so much more important to me than selling a product. If my business becomes a billion-dollar business, I’ll still be most proud that it did something to change the conversation for girls about their bodies.
Has all the attention impacted sales yet and if so, are you able to handle all the new orders?
Yes, we’ve been around since March and have had trickles of customers coming in, but it wasn’t like a full-time business before. We have been very up front about the fact that the Period Starter Kit, which we just launched, is pre-order only and won’t be shipping until September. With regard to new people signing up for deliveries, we’ve communicated on the website that if you’re new, your first box won’t come until September. It’s kind of hysterical, because the first day the video ran, I quickly ran to Costco and got supplies and shipping boxes. But my husband and I realized right away there’s no way that would be enough. We’ve literally been moving pallets of tampons and pads to the back room of our house, because we’ve run out of space in the living room.
Has there been any pushback to all the frank talk about vaginas and tampons? After all, just a few months ago a Michigan legislator was silenced for saying “vagina” on the House floor during discussion of anti-abortion legislation.
Apparently on YouTube there have been a lot of negative as well as positive comments. I haven’t had time to look at them. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, but certainly a few people feel like the video is too graphic or that this should be a private thing. However, I just got an e-mail from a woman who said her 10-year-old daughter has watched it 50 times already! I thought this would resonate with women like me who can laugh and reflect about these tender moments. It’s been surprising to me that girls who are in it right now are relating to it too. I got an e-mail from an 11-year-old girl, and when I wrote her back, she said, “Ohmigod, my friends are going to be so jealous. We’ve all been watching this video!” That’s been very rewarding and gratifying. In general, there are not that many adolescent girl heroes to look up to that are not also being objectified. I guess we gave girls someone they could get excited about, who is dealing with real stuff they can relate to.
You are a working mom with two small children, and in other interviews you’ve emphasized that you balance work and life by following the “80-20” rule — figuring out what’s non-negotiable, but being willing to compromise on less important things. What’s non-negotiable for you and what are you willing to compromise on?
If you’d asked me before this week, I would have told you that one of the most important things with my kids, who are in day care during the day, is mealtimes: making sure they’re getting home-cooked food that’s nutritious and that I’m part of that process. Picking them up at day care and lying in bed with them when they go to sleep. This week that’s kind of gone out the window, but fortunately I’ve been able to rely on my mother and mother-in-law for help. This week I learned that even though I just recently started exercising and running again, that’s not one of my non-negotiables: I will give that up in a second to answer 50 e-mails in the time I would have spent doing it. Also, I want to be able to have a half-hour discussion that’s not about either of our businesses each night with my husband, David, who also founded a startup. One of our real non-negotiables is that Friday night the kids get picked up by both of us, and at the very least we have challah, candles, grape juice and nice wine. We made the decision that we want that for them.
Did you grow up celebrating Shabbat?
No. My mother grew up on kibbutz, and my father on moshav, and it was a very secular family. Certainly holidays were a big deal and are still a big deal, but more as a time for everyone to come together. It’s very easy to have a Jewish identity when your parents are Israeli, but harder when they’re not unless you do something to encourage it.