Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, an indication of the changing demographics in our country that the growth in the adult diaper market is outpacing all paper household staples. Forget toilet paper, baby wipes, tissues and napkins. Depend Silhouette and Always Discreet are the newest hot consumer items, manufacturers’ answer to the aging but physically active consumer who wouldn’t be caught wearing something that proclaims the relentless onslaught of the calendar.
But wait, wait. Let me backtrack to explain why I’m writing about something as strangely normal as adult incontinence. Frankly it’s a bit weird and somewhat uncomfortable for me to do this, and that has plenty to do with how and when I was raised. I’m old enough to remember a time when menstruation was a subject never brought up in public and then only couched in euphemistic terms. Sanitary napkins and tampons were purchased (furtively) by women, and never ever by fathers, husbands, boyfriends or brothers. Those days are thankfully gone, but remnants of a certain unease remain.
Which, in the natural progression of bodily functions, brings me to adult diapers. You’ve probably seen, as I have, some of the commercials hawking the new, more streamlined products, but it wasn’t until I heard a story on National Public Radio about how the market is about to take off that I paused to ponder what this all means.
The adult diaper market is expected to post a 48 percent increase in sales, to $2.7 billion, by 2020, up from $1.8 billion last year, according to U.S. Euromonitor International. In contrast, the expected growth for baby diapers is 2.6 percent, to $6.3 billion, during the same period. The company forecasts that the demand for adult diapers could exceed that of babies’ in about a decade. There are many reasons for this, namely because more of us are living longer. Besides, when we reach the point of needing diapers (occasionally or all the time), we don’t grow out of it, as babies do.
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This is a big issue for women of a certain age, and there are estimates that 80 percent of those with bladder control issues are… yes, us. Something to do with pregnancy and childbirth and — allow me a bit of editorializing here — the eventual betrayal of even the most well-taken-care-of body.
But what fascinates me are not the numbers, though I’m something of a facts and figures fanatic. The intriguing part of this phenomenon is the very savvy way in which manufacturers are tapping a market that might have once found incontinence to be a humiliating topic associated with unwelcomed aging.
The Bladder Leak, ladies (and gentlemen), is coming out of the closet. And if the random leaking-while-laughing accident isn’t exactly mainstream, at least an admission of it may become less mortifying in a youth-obsessed society. Sort of like the much-needed openness to the discussion of a woman’s menses, no?
Consider: Kimberly Clark, maker of Depend Fit briefs, produced a video featuring employees wearing nothing but these said briefs. To advertise its Always Discreet line, rival P&G hired entertainers I would hardly consider old: television star Sheryl Underwood, 52, and slam poet Mike McGee, 40.
I’m not sure where this push to de-stigmatize adult diapers will lead us, but I have no doubt that the trend will demand a dash of fashion and a touch of style. Surely lace-design or paisley- print adult briefs can’t be far behind. I, for one, am voting for a tie-dye pattern.