Cass Clemmer '15: AU Alumna & Mastermind Behind "Toni the Tampon"

Coloring books are pretty easy to come by, but it's not every day that you come across one about a cleverly-named character called "Toni the Tampon". American University alumna Cass Clemmer '15 is the mastermind behind the children's coloring book, The Adventures of Toni the Tampon: A Period Coloring Book. Her Campus American spoke with Clemmer to find out more about the idea for the book and Toni's future. 

Her Campus American: How did you come up with the idea for Toni the Tampon?

Cass Clemmer: I actually came up with the idea at AU and ended up working on it through my senior year when it became part of my capstone on creating new mediums for teaching sex education.  

HCAU: What demographic are you specifically targeting with the coloring book? 

CC: Primarily the book is focused on helping young kids develop a positive relationship with periods, whether they are already menstruating or not. I also created it as a tool to help parents, guardians, and teachers have what many consider to be difficult conversations with young menstruators about menstrual hygiene, period product options, and anatomy.

HCAU: Why do you think it’s important children have an understanding of Toni the Tampon and his friends, like Marina the Menstrual Cup and Sebastian the Sponge?

CC: We need to empower everyone, children included, with the information they need to make their own choices about what is best for their body. For myself, I had no idea what a menstrual cup or sponge was until I was almost out of college, and as an athlete in high school, these products would have made a world of difference in my own comfort and confidence as a menstruator. Who are we to decide which products people should be aware of and why? I say, introduce kids and adults alike to all of the options they have when it comes to hygiene products and trust them to make their own decisions regarding their health and comfort. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to include the awesome period panties in my character line-up, but one does make an appearance in a UFO on page 21!

HCAU: Why did you decide to create “The Adventures of Toni the Tampon” as a coloring book?

CC:  I wanted to create something that was in stark contrast to content-heavy education tools. While they absolutely have their place, it’s difficult to get kids excited about their own reproductive health when it’s presented in black and white text. My goal was to give kids (and adults) a way to actively engage in their own education by coloring a book that inspires you to ask questions and do your own research on menstrual health. My niece and nephew were my first two customers and they have loved coloring in the book while pointing at different characters and asking me what role each of them plays in menstruation. They’re both seven, but already they’re excited to learn more about a subject that has been taboo for too long!

HCAU: What inspired you to want to educate children on this topic?

CC: Mostly because when I was a kid, I had no information about menstruation whatsoever, and I was incredibly ashamed of my own reproductive health processes. When my mom talked briefly about periods to me, I remember being incredibly uncomfortable and wanting the moment to end as fast as possible. I absorbed absolutely nothing of what we talked about, and ended up sitting in the bathroom with a Tampax instruction manual, being utterly confused as to what to do. I would have much preferred to have had that conversation while being able to color in a cowboy tampon!

HCAU: Can you tell us a little bit about your time here at AU and how that influenced your desire to write a book?

CC: AU is actually the place where it all happened. I was taking an anthropology class at AU where my professor asked us to create a way to push against a social taboo of our choice. I chose menstruation, after studying it all semester, and decided to create a few sketches with tampon characters. After Professor Williams encouraged me to take it further, I spent the next year working on it and turned it into a crucial part of my senior capstone for gender and sexuality studies. Professor Findlay and my capstone class were so crucial in helping me take the project from a mini set of rough sketches to a full-fledged book. What is really cool is that very serendipitously, I had forgotten to complete my gen-ed in art, so I was forced to take an intro to art studio class the last semester I was at AU. If you look at some of my first sketches, you can tell I wasn’t very skilled in drawing – but after taking just one semester of art with Professor Nancy Daly, my skill improved ten-fold, allowing me to produce illustrations worthy of a published book. So it’s really thanks to the incredible students and professors at AU that I was able to complete this awesome project!

HCAU: What do you hope children get out of Toni the Tampon and his adventures in the future?

CC: I hope that my period coloring book presents a new way to talk about menstruation. Instead of shrouding periods with feelings of shame and discomfort, this book gives us the opportunity to discuss periods in a lighthearted, humorous way through coloring pages of astronaut tampons and sea sponges. Even my niece, like I mentioned, who has not yet started her cycle, got a kick out of the book. I loved that while she sat there smiling, coloring in Patrice the Pad in purple crayon, it was really easy to have a basic conversation about what she should start to expect with her first period. She ran around the house proudly showing all of us her colored pages, and my heart filled up with joy to hear a young kid that was actually excited to talk about periods in a way I had never dreamed of. So I hope that by coloring in these fun, zany pages, we can work to normalize the experience of periods across ages and genders in a way that allows menstruators to take ownership of their own bodies.

HCAU: Toni has a pretty popular social media following, how do you hope further engage his followers in the New Year?

CC: Toni will continue to have many adventures as I pull my little tampon pal out everywhere I go. I hope my followers will keep enjoying photos of a tampon with googly places in the most random spots across the US as well as in Goma, Congo where I am temporarily stationed now. But we will both be returning to the US for the menstrual health conference in Atlanta this June, and the hope is that Toni and I will be taking a road trip afterwards to keep making people laugh and smile while smashing the period taboo.  

HCAU: What does the future hold for Toni the Tampon and his friends?

CC: Now that I’ve completed this first coloring book, Toni and I have been working on another top-secret education tool to help continue promoting menstrual health education, so stay tuned!

 

Image credit: cover, all other photos provided by Cass Clemmer.