Author's Note: This blog was inspired by a little sign in the ladies' "lounge" at Nordstrom last week which instructed me to place my feminine protection products in the trash. I detest the phrase's shaming connotation, indicating that women's femininity, their very bodily processes, requires the use of "protection." And I think it reflects the accurate but unacceptable way we view periods: that they're a sneaky, secretive, disgusting plague of womanhood. Having gone from period-shameful to period-proud myself, I had to chip in my 2-cents.
Explain, don't shame.
Explaining menstruation to your daughter? Focus on gentle and accurate explanations, ensuring that your language isn’t laced with words that will generate fear or shame.
It shouldn’t be a talk about these issues, but an ongoing dialogue about natural body changes and processes. Expose your daughter to your period in a way that normalizes it, familiarizes them with the various products, and invites questions. The “news” that she’ll be getting a period shouldn’t be news at all. Instead, if you feed her age-appropriate information as she approaches early tweendom, the process will naturally piece itself together with your guidance.
Don’t do an information-dump on her, rushing through the explanation because of your own discomfort. If you seem uncomfortable or ashamed or nervous, you will transfer that negative energy onto her. It will affect how she assesses and feels about her body, whether she fears or anticipates these changes, and whether she feels that her period dirty and shameful instead of healthy and normal.
Many of us were raised by period-shamers, sometimes just unsuspecting mothers who were too uncomfortable to be reassuring. But period-shamers are all around us: in public restrooms where signs warn of flushing “feminine protection” products, in big-box stores where tampons are hidden away in a dark corner, or in private schools where girls are forced to wear khaki pants (seriously – this SUCKED!).
These memories stick.
Do you remember when you started your period? How about the embarrassing leaks or untimely arrivals on a Mexican vacation? I sure do. Here’s a glimpse into my story.
My mother first explained menstruation to me while I was taking a bath. She came into the bathroom where I was soaking, totally comfortable with my body and unsuspecting. She sat down on the edge of the tub, told me that I’d soon get my period, explained what that meant, and completely terrified me. On display in the tub, I suddenly felt exposed. I jumped out, grabbed my towel, and fled to my room, bursting into tears behind my closed door. I was bewildered and scared and confused.
And then, some months later, my period struck on a random Saturday. It was during my mother’s monthly Saturday shift at the hospital, so she was gone for 5 hours – meaning that my alcoholic father had locked himself in the garage with his beer. This was his routine when she worked: he ignored his precious daughters and instead spent the time with his demons. It was all dreadful, as was the moment that I knocked on the garage door, my first period blood dripping into my underwear. “Dad? Dad? I, um, I need help.” Drunkenly and sloppily, he opened the door and asked if I knew what to do. Yes, I knew where my mother kept her feminine products. He instructed me to go upstairs and help myself to them. I grabbed several pads and headed to my room with a tear-stained face. For the next few hours, until she returned home from work, I checked my underwear every few moments. Each time that I saw some blood had gathered, I changed the pad. I think I probably changed it every 20 minutes until she came home. I had no idea what I was supposed to do and was woefully unprepared for this moment. The entire thing was terrible, and I wouldn’t feel completely comfortable with my period’s presence til nearly two decades later.
The age of period empowerment
I’m a THINX gal, meaning I never need to grab period products on my Target runs. I gush about THINX to my friends: they’re comfy, gorgeous, 100% reliable (seriously!), and environmentally-friendly. No more cardboard applicators or fishing for quarters in the bottom of my purse to jam into the Nordstrom bathroom’s sanitary napkin dispenser. Nope. I carry a THINX thong in my purse and live a menstruation-liberated life. I love it. At a recent conference, after I spoke about my experience with pelvic pain, I chatted with an attendee about my THINX loyalty and witnessed a group of women passing around and examining this magical thong that I’d pulled from my purse.
Sound the choir: “ahhhhhhh!” Yes, I’d come full-circle. From period-shamed to period-empowered, I speak freely and candidly about what my body does, the fluids it emits, and my techniques for dealing with it. There’s way too much shaming of women’s bodies instead of flaunting their awesomeness (like, seriously – my uterus maintains a 28-day calendar better than Gmail!).
My message? Words can hurt, so be careful which ones you use. Girls often have fragile self-esteem and need to be supported as they weather their bodies’ changes. Encourage, validate, share, laugh, and hug those girls. And while you’re at it, think about your own ideas about your period – do you shame yourself, using it as a reason why you can’t wear a bikini (BTW, THINX’s sports briefs are a great black bikini stand-in!), can’t wear white, can’t have sex, etc. etc. Embrace and celebrate it as part of your glorious femininity. And most importantly, live your life, period and all.