Author: Jennifer Vrouvides, Founder of Your Period Called
Everyone who menstruates has a different relationship with their cycle and it can vary month to month. Your relationship to your cycle can be impacted by the people who taught you about menstruation, how much your cycle impacts your life, or how you identify as a person. Half the population is connected through this monthly experience yet in so many cultures, households, and relationships it is kept hidden in the shadows. In my case, I felt uncomfortable about my body changing in general and my upcoming period felt like this giant secret waiting to happen, one that I couldn’t really talk about.
Despite feeling horror and desire in equal measure at the thought of getting my first period, I was quite lucky. From the first moment I found blood on the toilet paper to learning how to put in a tampon, I had the guidance of my mom and best friend who were wise, calm, and reassuring. I learned the basics and then didn’t really talk about it again, just learned month by month on my own what this change was. My cramps got worse, my feelings more complex, and my relationship to my cycle went downhill.
Fast forward a decade and I am ironically teaching young people about menstruation and the importance of knowing your body. During this time I learned more about the reasons why I previously had felt so uncomfortable talking about my period. Hearing the experiences of 10-12 year olds prompted me to learn more about how our bodies work than my own years of puberty and teenagehood. Working with them, teenagers, and my very open-minded co-workers helped me to understand that the collective nervousness was directly tied to taboos and stigma. I later learned about the unwritten rules of menstrual etiquette and how they impact our lives so deeply.
Over the years, my relationship with my period became a difficult one, I am one of the menstruators who lives with horrible cramps, debilitating emotional swings and the most pervasive sense of self-doubt. It took me years to properly relate the latter two experiences as part of my menstrual cycle. Once I did, my life was changed forever. I moved from feeling like a victim of my cycle to wanting to talk about menstruation with anyone who would listen.
My complicated feelings around my own body changing has become a central beacon to how I now relate to the world. When I reflect on some of the ways we are encouraged to hide this incredibly powerful and beautiful part of our bodies I become so frustrated. My reflections and education have taught me so much about the ways menstruators are ushered into silencing the experience of their menstrual cycle. There are these unwritten rules, a code if you will, that is called ‘menstrual etiquette’. This term, coined in the 90’s, refers to all of the actions menstruators take in order to hide their period from society. Hide the fact that menstruation happens in order to hide the ‘shame’ of a perfectly normal body function.
We are encouraged to maintain these laws of menstrual etiquette through commercialised opportunities like pad and tampon companies using ‘discrete packaging’ as a marketing tool. Which is frustrating and funny when you think about it as we’re opening these products in typically female washrooms where, in all honesty, everyone else is also getting their period! Further examples are how menstruation education in primary schools does not use a co-ed approach, shielding half of the population about learning how menstruation is a normal and healthy function of the uterus. Another is how products like douches or scented pads exist, which are not only bad for your body, but also further the idea that vaginas and periods are smelly, which when healthy are not.
The past few years are seeing some very positive developments in terms of progress around de-stigmatising periods and shattering the concept of anything related to menstruation and etiquette. From the general availability of access to menstrual education, social media and influencers openly discussing periods, to discussions around menstrual equity as more commonplace than ever, the next generation of menstruators will be bolder than ever. One of my personal favourites has been the revolution and evolution of period products, especially the cup and period underwear. I was completely thrilled to try out Wuka period underwear because I stand by so much of what they do. From both a hygiene and sustainability perspective, Wuka has it right. They are on a mission to help end period poverty and breakdown any period related taboos, helping everybody wake up and kick ass.
I challenge you, next time that you are feeling shy when discussing menstruation to take a moment to reflect on why. Question why you feel you cannot discuss your body and try to work through the discomfort to also become a menstruation activist helping to dismantle period stigma.
Bio: Jennifer is the founder of Your Period Called, a menstrual education hub and Instagram community, and a proud supporter of Wuka’s mission to disseminate information about sustainable menstruation.