It’s a normal mundane afternoon. You’re sitting in class taking notes on your laptop when you see you’re running low on battery. You reach into your backpack’s front pouch for your charger and tangled in its wires is a tampon. You frantically try and untangle the mess discretely, but instead you cause a scene and the tampon falls to the ground, resting beside your bag, out in the open for potentially all to see. OH THE HORROR! THE EMBARRASSMENT! THE HUMANIIIITY!
Have you been there before? Have you felt weird or embarrassed about having your tampon or pad out in the open? Have you felt like you have to conceal the fact that you’re on your period? Newsflash people: there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
As we saw in this hilarious article, guys often feel weird, uncomfortable, or even clueless about the menstrual cycle, but honestly, a lot of women feel weird about it too. In some cultures, women are even quarantined during their menstrual cycle, cast away from the rest of society because it’s so shameful, only to be let back in once they’re done bleeding. Although in the United States women aren’t literally shunned from society while on their periods, there is still a stigma surrounding it. A stigma that suggests you can’t talk about your period out loud. You can’t walk to the bathroom with a pad in your hand without it seeming inappropriate. And you can’t ask your friend to borrow a tampon without acting like it’s a drug deal.
As you may or may not know, most (but not all) women get their period. This is due to the shedding of their uterine walls. Each month, as a woman’s cycle begins, estrogen levels begin to rise and the lining of the womb thickens. Her eggs prepare themselves to be fertilized and travel through the fallopian tubes to her uterus. If an egg is not fertilized, it breaks apart, dropping hormone levels and shedding the lining of the uterus. This is what causes monthly bleeding. #Science. It’s all very natural and a sign that your body is healthy and working how it should. If periods are part of biology and science, something that’s natural and ingrained in most women’s biological makeup, why do some women feel weird or embarrassed about their periods?
I think a lot of the embarrassment or discomfort women feel surrounding their period is that society deems it socially unacceptable to talk about it out loud. Just how it’s not appropriate to say “vagina” or “penis” out lout without a slew of giggles or shocked looks following. Periods, vaginas, penises; these are all parts of the body. They are all natural, therefore we should feel free to talk about them.
I think lack of ease in talking about periods traces back to body insecurity in general. Body shaming is a huge thing in our culture today due to unrealistic ideals of beauty that mass media throws in our faces. Although we clearly know that airbrushing is a thing and there are few humans in this world that look like people on the covers of magazines, it’s still easy to feel insecure or imperfect while being bombarded with these images daily. If women (and men) feel insecure about their outward appearance, then how can they feel secure about things happening inside their bodies? When people talk about their bodies, the outward is always addressed. “I’m too tall,” “I’m too fat,” “I need to lose 5 pounds.” We never say, “Hey, I’m glad that my digestive system works well so I can eat foods I like,” or “I’m glad I get my period so I can house a tiny human inside of me someday if I so choose.” Talking about things other than the superficial outward appearance usually doesn’t happen these days, and I think this habit causes a lot of insecurity surrounding the menstrual cycle.
Periods are messy. Periods are stinky. Periods are sometimes painful. The fact that this monthly occurrence is a little uncomfortable and definitely not glamorous makes people hesitant to speak freely about it, or reveal that they are experiencing it at this exact moment. We want to present our best, most perfect self to others all the time, so the fact that something happening inside our bodies isn’t super glamorous deters us from feeling comfortable with experiencing it.
Why should women feel awkward if a tampon or pad falls out of their bag in public? Why should women secretively bring feminine products to the bathroom so they can change them during the day? Why should women feel uneasy talking about their periods out loud? The answer is we shouldn’t. I’m not saying you need to be freely walking around telling everyone how heavy your flow is this cycle, or parade around throwing tampons in the air, but don’t feel like you can’t if you want to. Don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed if a stranger sees the extra tampon in your bag. Don’t feel embarrassed when buying pads at the store and the employee ringing you up is a dude. Dudes need to know about periods, too. They don’t need to be as knowledgeable as women, necessarily, but they wouldn’t be in this world if it weren’t for periods, so why the heck should they blush at the sight of a tampon?
I don’t love my period, but I certainly don’t hate it. I don’t feel embarrassed by it, although it often annoys me. I no longer feel bashful when I whip out a colorfully packaged pad or tampon in front of others, then walk to the bathroom to do my business. I am a woman, I bleed from my vagina once a month, and I think that’s pretty rad. It means my body is working well. It means that I can have a kid one day if I want to. That is all so cool, you guys! Periods should not be something women are ashamed of, or something we feel like we need to hide.
With the recently released video game, Tampon Run, a video game in which you throw tampons at enemies that get in your way, others are working to break the stigma as well. Feel free to talk about periods as much or as little as you want. If your period is something you want to keep to yourself, then certainly do. I definitely don’t walk around telling everyone I see I’m on my period when I am, but if I naturally bring it up in conversation I don’t feel weird about it.
The point is, periods are gross, but they are natural, and not something we should feel we need to keep to ourselves. Period.
Image by Kristen M. Bryant