Shhhhh… we don’t want to talk too loudly, what we have to say is something that should be kept to ourselves…
Because its gross.
Its not our typical conversation.
But here is the thing, I’ve been having this conversation lately and I’ve noticed that we all have a story to tell about the first time that we experienced this. And the more we talk about it, the more normalized it becomes, and the stigma lessens…
So what am I talking about?
I used to peak around the corners of the feminine products aisle at the store, checking to see if there was anyone in the aisle – I recognize that if they were they were likely looking for the same thing as me but it didn’t matter, I didn’t want to be seen – those who saw me might think I was on my period – gasp. As I’d approach the cashier I would pray for a female, preferably an older one, a motherly type if possible. One that would take pity on this cycle of womanhood we all go through.
Half of the world population will at some point, if not for the majority of your teenage and adult years, have a period. While there are some exceptions most women of child bearing years bleed once a month.
As a teenager we had names, like Aunt Flow, shark week, surfing the crimson wave, among others to keep it on the down low what was happening down there. It’s not like we would have sleepovers and pillow fights talking about cramps and flow… at least I never attended any parties like that – was I missing something?
I’m not suggesting we should be shouting from the rafters when it is that time of the month. However, the lack of conversation can lead to a lot of confusion for young women just embarking on this journey. And the more conversation that we have the more likely a girl is going to feel confident that she can walk into that tampon aisle, pick up a pack of supers and carry on with her day regardless of who is around and who is at the cashier.
In fact, it has been refreshing lately to hear of the Chinese swimmer who discussed the fact that she was on her period during the Olympic games, or when Amy Schumer announced that in addition to Vivienne Westwood and Tom Ford she was also wearing O.B. They are breaking the barriers to this conversation that is often considered taboo, although it is a part of life for half the population.
I was lucky. I don’t remember exactly how I knew what a period was, I think the first time I heard the word was from Rudy on a classic episode of a show we no longer mention. Then there were sex ed classes and likely a conversation with my mother that I’ve blocked out. When the fateful day presented itself I was one of the first girls in my class, at least that I knew of, and so I made it through the first day and then asked my mom if we could talk as everyone was going to bed that night. It wasn’t a long talk. Mostly, “Do you understand? Do you have any questions? Do you need supplies?” Followed with the question every month of whether “supplies” were needed.
But not everyone has this experience.
I have been doing a lot of research lately on the content that is available to our youth, and have been discussing female health matters during interviews with a number of women. And the experiences are all different. I spoke with one young woman who got her period quite young, no one had explained it to her before, and she thought she was dying.
In a conversation with another was the story of the girl who also thought she was dying and actually walked to the doctor’s office and told him so. This might seem like a funny little anecdote to some, but imagine the shame and embarrassment a young girl might feel at this highly emotional and hormone charged, not to mention potentially painful time.
There are countries where there is such shame regarding periods that young girls miss school or are banished to live in cowsheds or even believe that menstruation is a disease. And so here I am, not only talking about it, but writing about it. This isn’t about that time that your flow crossed the threshold of your underwear and seeped into your pants, leaving a stain, but of girls who are shamed every month for experiencing what is one of the most natural things on earth.
So how do we change this? We need to start by not only changing the conversation, but starting the conversation. There are so many things that we should be talking about, this should be one of the least taboo topics out there. Let’s make this conversation easy, so we can start to delve into the conversations that are really difficult.
I won’t lie that the idea of pressing publish on this post has me a little nervous, there is still a part of me that is that woman who would check the tampon aisle before venturing down it, getting a double bag to hide what I bought. Somehow I’ve overcome that stigma. It could be the incredible work that women are doing to make this conversation less stigmatized, it could be that there are better options today than there were years ago. It could be that I finally understand that a period is a natural part of my body that allows me to understand my health.
Over time, you’ll get to know your flow, you’ll get to understand what works best for you. But at no time should there be shame, at no time should we feel the need to peak around corners or pray for the motherly drug store cashier. I’m not prepared to shout it from the rooftops when shark week visits, but I am prepared to engage in the conversation and help reduce the stigma.
Are you with me?
These days there are options for women when it comes to dealing with their Aunt, or friend, or crimson wave. Wings, applicator-less, cups, period underwear. My favourite option of the moment is period underwear. I was never a big fan of pads and tampons so these comfortable, super effective, and cute underwear work for me. There is less waste every month going into the landfill, and best of all the brand I like, Thinx, gives back – they provide reusable pads to women in developing countries that struggle to have access to those “supplies”, and they work to normalize the conversation around that time of the month. Many people don’t even realize this option exists, or thinks it might be icky. I am in no way affiliated with Thinx, I just really like them, you gotta find what you like.