Possibly the only thing more annoying than having an actual period every month or more is having to act like it's embarrassing or shameful. This is, unfortunately, a fact of femaleness. For as long as the uterine has shed its nutrient-rich lining in tandem with the lunar cycle, people have acted like that shit was cray. Maybe it IS a little cray, but, excuse me? — that's for us to call. But maybe, just MAYBE, we've reached a tipping point here, and no longer feel the need to dance around the issue.
Case in point: The recent viral propagation of the Hello, Flo ad campaign — where a teen camp gyno counselor acts as a kind of period shaman for her peers — has proven, with over 5 million views, that not only do we not need to collapse in shame and self-hatred for being female, but that direct, even crass discussions of the realities of periods are possible! And funny! And enjoyable! In the ad, a doll is rigged to squirt ketchup from between her legs for a period demonstration, mind you, and the bold, unapologetic approach is extremely fucking refreshing.
Sure, it's just one ad, but could this mean what I hope it means? That perhaps we are collectively ready to stop dancing around the gross-out factor and just talk frankly and/or humorously and out loud about our periods whenever we want?! Even with men!? Even in spaces that don't have to be designated as "lady safe spaces" ?!?
As someone who has been having a period for over 20 years now, I say yes, and please, and thank you. Because over the two decades and change I've been riding the cotton pony/falling to the communists, I can personally attest to receiving the following cultural mixed messages:
- Periods are horrible
- Periods are a wonderful sign of blossoming femininity
- Periods are gross
- Periods are painful
- Dudes don't want to know anything about periods
- Some dudes are into having sex with you on your period
- There's a thing called "earning your red wings"
- Periods are not a legit excuse to stay home from work or school
- Periods are a legit excuse to go batshit crazy
- PMS is totes real
- PMS is utter myth
The truth of course is that periods are different for every woman, and they mean different things to different people. Some women have no period. Some women have easy periods they barely notice. Some women have terrible periods that leave them debilitated. Some women have just-ok periods. Some women have some of these periods sometimes, and other kinds of periods other times.
Yes, of course it is weird to have blood coming out of your vag at first, but after a million times, you get used to it. You live with it. It may never be a comfortable experience for you or it may in fact become a reassuring ritual. It may force you to be good to yourself once a month, or inconvenience you as long as it's happening. You may wait with breathless anticipation for the day it ends, or you may miss it when it is gone.
But either way, you shouldn't have to act like it's some taboo demon ritual, and information about periods and options for managing them — cup, sponge, pad, tamp — should be widely available. There is so much weirdness/stigma about periods, in part because of our long history of telegraphing this to each other after it is telegraphed to us from women who had it telegraphed to them, and so on and so on. For most of my life, it's as if the only way we can see or talk about our own periods is from the perspective of how it makes guys feel to have to know about them, which is grossed out, so better pipe down about it.
That's why I love this "period piece" over at Rookie ("What I Wish I Knew About My Period") directed at first-timers or just anyone who doesn't know stuff about periods still, not just because it features as an image a big finger with blood on it, but because it's calm, reassuring and no bigs about periods. Even period sex.
We should all be no bigs about periods. We should talk freely about our periods when they happen, and be honest about when it sucks. We should be real about them, so we can stop perpetuating the notion of some weird belly magic happening inside women's bodies that's all too easy to dismiss or dehumanize.
Women's bodies are poorly understood as it is. That's why it's great to see the effect of the Hello, Flo video, which, yes, is designed to sell a tampon delivery service for young women, but has gotten people talking about periods and how they feel about them. (Another tampon delivery service called Juniper is geared more toward adult ladies.)
Spurred by the viral success of Hello, Flo, a segment over at CNN called "Period Power," has a reporter talking with women in Times Square about how they feel about their periods. The women are surprisingly not shy when asked what pet names they use for their periods: "My monthly gift," says one. "Bloody Mary" says another, with a smirk. At 46, the reporter admits she still speaks euphemistically of her period and was embarrassed recently to ask a clerk in the store where tampons were located.
But she found a handful of younger women who seemed totally at ease with their bodies and their femaleness — whatever their experience or terminology. And she wants to pass that attitude on to her daughters. If all women do that, maybe we can totally crush this thing in one generation. And please, for the love of God, stop coddling the men in your life about it. There's nothing to hide here. Take their advice:
"If there is one piece of advice to give someone about their period," says one woman interviewed, "it's accept it as it comes." Another was a bit more excited: "Speak loud, speak proud, this is who we are! Live it, wear it, be it! I'm a spokesperson for the period!"
Photo via Jamen Percy/Shutterstock