Embracing a Shameless Period
The morning my period started, I woke in the middle of the night with blood and cramps followed by instantaneous excitement. My heart basically morphed into a piñata and busted open with emotional confetti. I screeched and giggled and screeched.
From the moment I was introduced to menstruation, I longed to undergo the process. The shedding, the bleeding, the enduring — it was so fascinating to me. To this day, I still look forward to these monthly blood festivals. That being said, the start of my period was so special. I didn’t even bother with the 13-year-old nonchalant facade. I was totally, undeniably thrilled and I wanted everyone to know.
But quickly I discovered pushback. The people I talked to — my family, friends, teachers — urged me to hush, to be discrete, to hide my period and feelings about it. They suggested that it was secretive, even embarrassing and gross, that I should discuss and experience it privately, or at the very least in code.
This was all very confusing. I did not feel ashamed, but it seemed like shame was the expectation. However, as a 13-year-old girl, I knew well that I was also expected not to question or challenge these ideas, so I didn’t. Instead, I listened and learned to experience my period not as a natural bodily process, but as a disgusting taboo. I used the code words, snuck pads into my pockets, pretended that the pain did not exist. I hid myself for the comfort of others.
Unfortunately, my personal experience is not unique to me. Many friends have expressed feeling a similar pressure to hide their period. In fact, even the word period is still difficult for many people to say. According to research commissioned by THINX, “44% of women studied have resorted to using more palatable names for their periods like ‘shark week’, ‘crimson tide’, or ‘time of the month’.” Additionally, the same research revealed that “42% of women have endured period shaming.”
This is such an insane, saddening statistic that results from a long, long history of global society enforcing the notion that women are “impure” or “unclean” while menstruating. This idea stems from various sources such as religious and philosophical texts. Although societal perception has drastically improved since 73 AD, the age-old shaming tradition still pervades society in both subtle and overt ways. For instance, mainstream tampon companies often stray away from utilizing the color red in their packaging and advertisements. This honestly makes me giggle because it’s so silly. More seriously, certain groups still force women to stay in huts during their periods. Why are we so disgusted by something so natural? Why are we so afraid of being transparent and honest about periods? Why are we literally and metaphorically hiding?
Eventually, after loads of nights scrolling through Tumblr and deconstructing, I decided to stop hiding. I learned to embrace my body and view its bloody tendencies shamelessly. At first, it was difficult, especially during high school and my freshman year of college. It felt isolating to speak frankly about my cycle or walk around with a menstrual cup in my hand. But the discomfort led to amazing conversations about periods, the body, and identity politics. Now, I probably receive at least one notification a week from a friend, old classmate, or acquaintance asking me for advice or tagging me in a period related post. These interactions give me hope that our world is progressing towards openness about periods and, more generally, the human body.
So, how can we keep pushing for this utopian openness? Well, first we need to change the way we think. Just like height growth, a cold, yeast infections, or an urge to itch, periods are a normal aspect of having a body, of being a body, of being human. Millions and millions of women, men, and non-binary people bleed and that is normal. Periods are normal. We all need to encourage and remind each other of this fact. We can do so by accomplishing small, but important things. I could discuss 100 reasons, but I will just list three.
1. Remember that all genders menstruate — We must recognize that cis-women are not the only people who experience menstrual cycles. Transgender men and non-binary people menstruate too! That being said, it is important that all genders are invited to talk about periods, not only to normalize the conversation but also to ensure that it is inclusive. Obviously, it is vital to be socially aware and use discernment. Unfortunately, discussions around the body are not always easy or positive. In fact, they can be triggering and difficult for people. Include, but do not force! Respect people’s boundaries. If they don’t want to talk about periods, then that is okay too!
2. Stop hiding your period supplies — Long are the days that we feel the need to slip tampons underneath desks and then quickly into our pockets. Periods are normal and so are tampons and pads and cups and the cute undies and all the other ways we manage our cycles. So stop slipping, sneaking, snooping and start carrying those supplies with pride, or whatever unashamed feeling, because chances are that you feel a little icky.
3. Just say the word period — Period! Say it to your mom, your brother, your friend, your acquaintance, your boss, whoever. Just say it, period!
These might seem silly or obvious, but small, everyday steps like the aforementioned are necessary to tackle larger issues such as societal period shaming, menstrual equity, and reproductive rights. I’ll leave you with a few links to organizations and companies that are doing fabulous work at destigmatizing periods and making every person’s experience easier. Bleed easy!
Clue – https://helloclue.com/
Thinx – https://www.shethinx.com/
PERIOD. – https://www.period.org