It's time for a bloody change
Let's talk about periods
By Amie Tyrer
Illustration by Lauren Drinkwater
There isn’t a whole lot that I remember about Junior school, but there is one moment I can vividly recall that will be eternally ingrained on my mind. This moment takes place in the first-floor girls bathrooms in the third cubicle to the right. I’d experienced a tight, ripping sensation in my stomach so I headed to the loo to check everything was ok. It wasn’t ok - I pulled down my pants and there, on my pink American Apparel knickers was a big bloody surprise.
To my memory, no one had prepared me for this moment. I had absolutely no idea what was going on, for all I knew, this was it, I was dying at the premature age of 12. I felt an immediate sense of embarrassment and a feeling that I couldn't tell any one about this. I mean, I was dying from my vagina! So, I did what I now know many other young girls do in this situation, stuffed half a roll of tissue in my pants and carried on as if everything was normal.
I spent the first four days of my first ever period this way, repeatedly bleeding and stuffing, stuffing and bleeding, until I finally caved and had to alert my mum that I could be on the brink of death. She laughed, then smiled, gave me a huge hug and sat me down to explain the mystical and magical world of periods. I was obviously relieved to know that this wasn’t the end of my existence and that I was experiencing one of the most natural and normal bodily functions in the world. Equally, I was pretty gutted that I would have to experience this blood shed every month, for as long as I could imagine.
Illustration by Elsa Pearson
Fast forward 10 years and I’m a 22 year old woman, living in London, still slightly confused by periods. But, the thing that puzzles me most now, is not the act of bleeding itself (I’ve got the hang of that one luckily). Now, I am consistently confused by the enduring stigma that engulfs menstruation. For my entire teenage and adult life periods have been associated with disgust and shame. They are something not to be spoken about, to be hidden away, to be dealt with privately.
I think what this stigmatism fundamentally comes down to is that as women, we can’t be seen to be excreting anything from our bodies. Women shouldn't sweat, we shouldn't fart and we certainly shouldn't be seen to menstruate. We are taught from our earliest years that if we are going to enact any of these perfectly natural bodily functions, we must do so with concealment. Hold that fart till later gal, drown yourself in impulse, stuff that tampon up your sleeve and quietly slip away to the bathroom to do your dirty business in private.
It's time for a bloody change!
The impact of this indoctrinated shame is really quite profound. As females we are neglecting our body's most basic desire to be cared for and this often means that we don’t take the time to appreciate how much our bodies are going through when we menstruate. We want it to be over as quickly and discreetly as possible, so we rarely stop for a moment to tune in to the fact that our hormones are disturbed. The menstrual cycle is so much more than just a few days of pain and blood. Our periods exist in a roughly 4-week menstrual cycle which means throughout every day of the month our brain, ovaries and uterus work in synchronicity to produce 3 key hormones - estrogen, testosterone and progesterone - which rise and fall in a specific pattern throughout the month. The rise and fall of these hormones and the areas they are directed to can have an acute effect on women in myriad ways. Hormone levels may affect your mood, energy levels, sleep quality, food cravings, skin breakouts and even your spending habits and love life.
Understanding your menstrual cycle is fundamentally important as ignoring these instinctive corporal alterations can lead to a general misunderstanding of one’s own body. One Australian study, found that only 13 percent of the women they surveyed knew when they were fertile during their menstrual cycles. The confusion this fosters can have an impact on our mental wellbeing and begin to affect our daily routines. Considering we are taught that periods are gross, thus should be hidden, it is not surprising that majority of women just don’t have this basic understanding of their own body works. It is absolutely crucial that we begin to normalise the discussion around menstruation - It is a healthy, natural and positive part of being a woman and our girls need to know this.
It feels as though the tides are shifting as the media is beginning to zoom it’s ever harsh lens onto female menstruation. This year a short documentary titled Period. End of Sentence, won an Oscar … a film about Periods won an Oscar! The UK government announced that all school’s will provide free sanitary products to menstruating pupils across the country and a campaign called #BloodNormal was launched by Body Form which aims to ignite the conversation around the normalisation of periods. It features a short film that seeks to shift the cultural zeitgeist around period shaming by portraying honest and real depictions of menstruating. Scenes showing school children passing pads across the classroom, a young girl crying shifting into laughter, a man buying pads from the store and a woman asking for a sanitary towel across the dining room table send the strong visual message that periods are normal.
This gives me confidence that we are beginning to break down the barriers that society has been building so efficiently for so many years. But there is still work to be done ladies. It’s taken up until this point to get society to begin to understand that period products are not a luxury but a necessity and that as women we shouldn’t be left begging for free tampons but showered in them. We shouldn’t be made to feel dirty when we bleed but healthy. Period shaming suggests that there is something inherently wrong with being a women and we shouldn’t be embarrassed to a woman but proud of it.
It might not yet be mandatory to teach in schools or written about in texts books, but through producing a dialogue we can attempt combat the silence ourselves.
Let’s harness our own narrative ladies, let’s talk about PERIODS!
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