Normal. It’s such a funny little word. It’s only natural to wonder or worry about being normal – especially when it comes to our bodies. But I think we often mistake the word normal for “right” when really all it means is common or standard. And when you think about it, who cares about being common?
When you’re talking about periods or your body, the word you really should strive for is “healthy.” In the long run, that’s what’s important. Because, truth be known, there is no normal when it comes to our bodies. Just think about hair color, for example. Sure there are four simple categories of natural hair colors – black, brown, red and blonde. But think of all the variations in any of those categories. There are so many different shades and colors; you can’t really label anything as the norm. The same principle holds true when it comes to our periods and our bodies.
So let’s cross some things off the Normal Wishlist:
- Cycle length. There is a huge range in how long your menstrual cycle lasts. The average is 28 days from the start of your period to the start of your next period. But your cycle might be shorter or longer than that -- anywhere from 21 to 45 days. Your best bet is to track your periods for a while and determine your average cycle length. Keep in mind that if you just started menstruating, your periods might be irregular for a few years.
- Body type. I remember my niece getting so upset when shopping for a homecoming dress one year. We went to a popular store for teens and nothing fit her. The dresses were made for girls without many curves and my niece, while healthy and at the right weight for her body, had hips and breasts and couldn’t squeeze her curves into those tiny dresses. That store giving the impression that there was one right body type, and there isn’t. Girls come in all shapes and sizes – short, tall, muscular, thin, curvy – and not a single one of them is better than the other. Don’t worry if your hips are a little bigger than the girl who sits next to you in class. Instead, focus on having the healthiest version of you possible. Exercise, eat right, and maintain a healthy weight. That’s all that matters. Your body is beautiful just as it was intended to be. (Oh, and about my niece: We found a gorgeous dress at another store. She made homecoming court and she was stunning.)
- Vaginas and vulvas. Just like body type, there is an enormous variation in how our vulvas look. I wish I could snap my fingers and make Body Drama by Nancy Redd required reading for young girls. There are some pages that show up close photos of quite a few women’s vulvas and not a one of them looks the same. Sure, it’s a bit shocking to look at at first, but then it’s fascinating because we’re all so different. Whether your labia are big, small, pink, brown, or uneven… you’re okay. And whether you leave your pubic hair au natural, trim it up, shave it off completely, or even do a little vajazzling… you’re all good.
- Period color. Other than a brief, relatively uninformative health class at my school, nobody ever talked to me about menstruation before I had my first period. So I was a bit freaked out when I saw the blood was kind of brown. I was so confused, I first wondered if period blood somehow mixed with poop before it came out. (I didn’t understand anatomy very well back then, did I?) Period blood actually isn’t just blood – it also contains tissues that are sloughed off during menstruation. Also, as blood is exposed to air it can become brown in color. So the color of your period blood can have a big range from bright red to a dull brown.
Worrying about whether you’re just like other girls is a waste of time. Because if you lined all the other girls up, none of them would be just like the other. You need to know what’s typical and normal for your body – how your body looks and works. That’s how you were meant to be and that’s the only “normal” that matters.
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