But that secrecy around taboos requires our consent. When we don’t consent, we often find that the fear or embarrassment everyone is so eager to avoid from speaking about the taboo subject just evaporates.
I remember listening with horror in fifth grade to the school nurse telling us about “our special day” (that’s what they called it back then). She showed us diagrams of our internal organs, and she used terms like “uterus” and “slough off.” What all of us really wanted to know, though, was how would it feel to have your period? My friend Kate was the brave one who asked the first question, “How much blood are we talking about?” When the nurse answered, “a couple of tablespoons total,” you could hear the sighs of relief across the room. And then, because she was brave, others piped up. The whole mood in the room changed; everyone relaxed and even laughed.
Now I am a teacher, and I have an exercise that I like to do to get students to really break down the silence taboo. In my psychology of women class, believe it or not, I ask students to wear a red ribbon on their shirt when they have their period. But that’s not the challenging part. It’s up to the students to decide what to say to people who ask, “What’s the red ribbon for?” Some say, “I’m wearing it to celebrate that I have my period!” Others, “This ribbon shows that I’m healthy because I’m having my period.” Amazingly, nobody responds with “Ew gross.” Nobody says, “Shhh!” I remember one girl told me that when she explained the ribbon, another girl said, “Oh, cool. I’ve got mine too. Can I borrow a tampon?”
What would you say? If you think about it, we’ve all kind of agreed to be silent about our periods. But we don’t have to be. What would be so terrible about opening up? I bet you’d be surprised at how your open, comfortable attitude sets the tone for everyone around you, and I bet lots of other girls would take your cue. Be bold and brave. Forget “Aunt Flo” and just say, “I’m having my period. Deal with it.” When you need permission to go to the bathroom to change your pad, just say so. The bright, happy colors that U by Kotex* products come in are kind of like a red ribbon. No need to hide; you can just show them off! When someone asks, “What’s that?” Say, “A panty-liner. Need one?”
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