Shame is inherited. It can be passed on by society, culture, and even within families. Oddly enough, it seems to be socially acceptable to define a woman’s behavior by her period. If you’ve ever been asked, “Are you on your period?” when displaying a normal emotion like anger or sadness, or when you’re simply being assertive, chances are that you’ve experienced period stigma too.
Around the world, period stigmas are seen differently depending on the culture. My own family experienced generations of period stigma. This started with my abuelita, who grew up in a convent. When she got her first period no one explained what it was, why it was happening and how she should take care of herself. All she knew is what she was taught…that her period was something she should hide.
Years later, when my abuelita had her daughters, my 4 tias and my mother, she passed down that shame. My mom told me that growing up, she watched her mom bring her sisters one-by-one into a room for a secret chat. My mom would ask her sisters what they talked about, but they wouldn’t tell her. One day, when my mom was 14 years old, she screamed in panic in the girls’ bathroom at school because she saw blood on her underwear. When she got home, she was brought into a room to speak with my grandmother, where she was taught about puberty, symptoms of getting your period and how long periods last. At that moment, it dawned on my mom that this was the secret conversation her mother had with her sisters, and now it was her turn.
Well, when my mom had me, she was set on breaking the cycle. I remember when she brought me into the bathroom with her so I could see how she changed her pad. I asked her questions, and she answered. So, when I discovered blood on my underwear, I wasn’t scared. I was ready.
Just like my mother, I want to break the silence around periods. It’s time that we stop living in a cycle of shame. Periods are normal, and they shouldn’t stop you from living your best life! Here are five ways you can practice being period positive toward yourself and others in order to continue to spark change around this important topic.
- Show off your period products
How many times have you been out in public and have had to make a trip to the bathroom with a tampon hidden up your sleeve? We’ve been taught not to let anyone know when we’re on our period, to keep it a secret because it’s something dirty and shameful. Showing off your period products can normalize menstruation. Next time that you’re out and need to grab a tampon or pad, be casual about it. Feel free to take that tampon out of your bag and walk to the bathroom with pride! If anyone asks, try being honest—you may find that being open about your period can have a positive effect on others.
- Actually say the word “period.”
We’ve all heard these common nicknames for our periods: Shark Week, Aunt Flo, that “time of the month.” Using code words or nicknames for a period implies that it’s something to be hidden. Remember that period stigma and shame is internalized. Sometimes, we say or do things that perpetuate period shame without even knowing it. If you can, be gentle with yourself and others. Lead by example and always with compassion.
- Use inclusive language
It may be obvious that women have periods. But it is important to remember that not only women have periods. In fact, variety of people, including men and non-binary folks, can also menstruate. To show your solidarity towards trans and non-binary people who menstruate, try saying “people who menstruate” rather than only saying “women who menstruate.” This may seem like a small change, but it could mean the world to an LGTBQ individual who experiences period stigma.
- Remember that you’re more than just a period
Your period is precisely that: Your period. Regardless of what anyone says, you have to opportunity to shape the conversation, inspire change, and most importantly, be yourself! Whether you make a conscious effort to talk about menstruation, or if you prefer to take a quieter approach, do what makes you feel the most empowered.
- Be an advocate for others
Big or small, you can help stop period stigma. Empowering others through your actions can change the way you and those around you view menstruation. Whether it’s talking to your principal about putting free period products in your school’s restrooms, donating supplies to your local shelter, or championing other menstruators, there are countless ways that you can advocate and help fight period stigma.
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