How to period
White pants. Secrets. Pain. Chocolate. Embarrassment. Mood swings. Ever since I can remember, this has been the vocabulary I have learnt to talk about periods. I’ve learnt all of these from somewhere, and chances are, you have too.
Lately, I’ve been reflecting on my own understanding of the acceptable way to talk about menstruation and have a period. Why did we learn these words? Where did they come from? Who said this was the mandatory period chat and experience checklist? Most importantly people, do we have to settle for it? No!
It didn’t take me long to trace these bad boys back to everyone's favourite television event: pad and tampon ads. We all know the scene, right? A happy go lucky (probably) white, thin woman leaping around a flower-filled meadow in you guessed it, white pants. It’s amazing because the woman is able to wear the white pants and nobody finds out she’s bleeding. Successful cycle, check. How dare people know she’s bleeding?! Later, the ad probably flicks to the same woman squirming around in bed because it’s impossible to sleep well while bleeding unless you buy insert product here.
Why was this the image always given to people who bleed? Why were periods painted as a hassle? Why could nobody find out ever? Why was it such a surprise that you could exercise and bleed at the same time? If men were ever in these ads, why were they so clueless? The man who sticks pads to himself and pretends to be a robot because he doesn’t know any better is a personal favourite of mine.
I owe this one to the fantastic array of movies that had a favourite (and only) image of people who bleed. There’s a man who makes a comment like, “she must be on her period” (because apparently women don’t have a right to just be moody). There’s a group of women who bring the bleeder chocolate while she holds a hot water bottle to her womb and complains about the pain and not being able to have sex. I’m not going to lie, this IS an accurate picture of what a period looks like for some people. I’m not discarding it or saying that experience is wrong.
But… why is it the only representation of periods? Who said you’re not allowed to have sex while you bleed? What about people who have periods so excruciating they can’t move? What about transgender men who bleed? What about people who don’t have pain at all? What about people who don’t crave chocolate?
I don’t know about you, but the only reason I eat chocolate on my period is because the media told me it was the only acceptable time to eat it. Would I want chocolate if no media ever mentioned it? Probably not.
This word took a little longer for me to unpack, and I still haven’t gotten there. I think that embarrassment comes from a complicated place that reflects the taboo most of the world has around periods and it’ll take a longggg time to dismantle it.
I remember being 14 years old and talking to my friends about tampons. I found out I was the only one who didn’t use applicator tampons and the embarrassment was real. “Wait…” they said. “You actually touch your vagina with your fingers??? Why would you have that grossness when the applicator sticks it in for you?”. I didn’t realise that touching my own body was supposed to be gross (imagine what 14-year old them would have thought about cups).
I remember the colour my cheeks used to flush when I got my period unexpectedly and had to ask for a pad or tampon. I remember being terrified my blood would leak at school and everyone would find out. Growing up, periods were the biggest cause of embarrassment I could possibly imagine. Why? Where did this idea come from? Why were our bodies supposed to be gross? Why were we not taught about the beauty of periods as well as the potential hassles?
I really don’t have an answer for why these words are so widely associated with bleeding. I don’t have the answers to my questions and it would be weird if I did. I can’t speak for everyone who bleeds! Wouldn’t it be interesting, though, if we started asking them? What would happen if we began to think critically about the representation of menstruation? I challenge you to wonder… what would we find? I’ve made my own visuals about what I think period talk could sound like. It’s not the answer. But it’s a start.
Look masculine and feminine. Be masculine or feminine. Wear whatever clothes they damn well choose. Eat whatever food their body says yes to. Do whatever activities they want to. Experience pain. Experience no pain. Sleep soundly. Sleep badly. Feel happy. Feel frustrated. Feel sad. Feel angry and not just because they’re bleeding. Feel gentle. Feel energised. Feel tired. Want to be alone. Want to be with people. Tell people they’re bleeding. Not tell anyone. Want to have sex and have sex. Don’t want to have sex and don’t.
Human. Beautiful. Unique. Soft. Tough. Painful. Light. Heavy. Powerful. Special. Proud. Machines. Life forces.
What are your words? How do you see your period? How would you like to see your period? If you don’t bleed, how would you like to talk about periods? What are people’s experiences around you?
Conversations are powerful, and your experience deserves to be honoured in them. Your body is yours. Nobody can tell you how to see it. Nobody can tell you how to bleed. You do not have to fit the media mould. Your experience is important. You are your own mould, perfectly sculpted for you. How beautiful is that?
Until next time,