I was 11 when I
got my first period. It was 10 days after my 11th birthday when I noticed spots of blood in my underwear. I knew exactly what it was, although I had assumed it was still years away, and told my mother. She handed me some pads and gave me a basic rundown of what to expect. We never discussed it again until I started experiencing horrific menstrual cramps a few years later.
When I ask my mother about it now that we can talk about anything and everything, she says she didn't think it was something we needed to talk about. It was pretty straightforward, we had already covered it during our little "bird and the bees" chat, so that was that. But looking back I think there was more to it than that. Had the topic not been about menstruation, I can't imagine it would have been swept under the carpet so easily.
"The stigma around periods, and many other aspects of female-ness, are complex and longstanding in our society and in nearly every other society around the world," Molly Hayward, founder of
Cora, the modern women's wellness brand, tells Bustle. "It will not be easily or quickly dismantled."
While we have come a long way when it comes to
talking about periods, we're still not talking about them in a way that we should. Here are discussions we should be having instead.
We Need To Look At The Cycle As A Whole
"While the last few years have seen a shift in the level of attention periods have received in the media, and therefore a larger cultural tolerance for the subject, I think the next frontier when it comes to menstruation is really looking at the
cycle as a whole, and drawing the lines to our physical health, emotional and psychological wellbeing, and spiritual connection," Hayward says.
As Hayward points out, that because
menstruation as been stigmatized in every society for so long, even now, in 2018, it's hard to shake that negative thought process behind it.
"When we start to understand menstruation depth of significance to the female (and human) experience, and the way it is a common experience of women in every part of the world, it’s hard not to begin to feel our perceptions of it shift to something more positive and meaningful," Hayward says.
We Need to Understand The Stigma
As is the case with everything that has a stigma attached to it, once we can identify and accept the topic, issue, and experience, we can work to kick the stigma around it to the curb. But unfortunately, as Hayward points out, it will not be easy to dismantle such a mentality.
"If we want to change society’s perception of our bodies and our periods," Hayward says, "we ourselves must first change our perceptions of them and our consciousness around them."
It's here that we need we need to
dissociate the negativity that surrounds menstruation, no matter how we were raised, what we were taught, or what archaic belief system was drilled into our heads.
We Need To Talk About Appreciating Our Periods
No matter your gender, sexuality, or how you identify, if you stop and think about it, like
really think about, menstrual cycles and the purpose they serve aren't just scientifically fascinating, but somewhat of a miracle.
"When we can begin to realize the power of our cycles and the innate wisdom they hold, we can begin to appreciate them, and to manage them with reverence and consideration," Hayward says. "Secondly, we can begin to be more open about them with our intimate partners, particularly if those partners are male and may have never had a chance to hear someone speak openly and positively about periods."
We Need To Talk About Period Products, As Well As Pro-Period Policy
There are more
states that charge tampon taxes than there are states that don't charge those taxes. That's a major problem — and a problem that's absurd. In taxing period products (which are pricey enough, FYI), it's not just period-shaming people everywhere, but basically punishing menstruators for menstruating.
"We must take any opportunity to champion the wider availability of healthier products (like organic tampons and pads), vote for politicians who are in favor of abolishing the tax on menstrual products, and support organizations that provide access to period care to women and girls in need," Hayward says.
We Need To Own What Shame We Have
From our very first periods, it's
too common to think about it in terms of fear and shame — fear of staining your pants, shame around going to the school nurse for cramps, and so much more. So how do we undo that?
"First, be kind to yourself," says Hayward. "Ask yourself why you believe you feel that shame. More often than not, it’s less about a specific experience you may have had in the past, and instead about the general taboo and shame that our culture has instilled directly and indirectly since you were young. Recognize that this is the time of feminine consciousness — of awakening to our full and inherent power."
As Hayward points out, if anything, one should be proud of their cycle and menstruation. Sure, it may not pop up at the most convenient times, but it's something profoundly unique to the menstruating experience. Something of such a caliber shouldn't be ushered into the other room like a dirty secret; it should be celebrated.
We Need To Get Comfortable With Talking About ALL Of It
"In my experience, shame is perpetuated by a feeling of isolation — that we are the only ones experiencing or feeling something, and therefore that we should feel badly or hide it," Hayward says. "But the truth is, we have so many common experiences as women, including our periods, and as soon as we take the first step to speak openly about them with others, we find that it’s as if those others have been waiting for the chance to share their experiences too. There’s a true feeling of connection and community when we speak freely about our bodies — the things we love and the things that challenge us alike."
Hayward is right; no matter the subject, just know you're not alone is something very extraordinary. It can make you like you're on a team — even if we've yet to get matching tee-shirts.