By Briana Ryan
Menstruation is a totally natural occurrence and yet, shame, stigma, and taboos around the process exist in virtually every culture and society on the planet. The dangerous and potentially fatal practice of using menstrual huts or, chhaupadi still exists in Nepal, young menstruators in Malawi are told not to cook with salt while on their periods, and a 2018 study by period underwear brand, Thinx, found that 73% of the U.S. menstruators they surveyed had hidden menstrual care products from view on their way to the restroom. In fact, a 2017 survey conducted by non-profit organization, WaterAid, found that 62% of the women surveyed would rather attend a formal event with a large coffee stain on their outfit than be seen carrying a menstrual care product. The idea that the majority of menstruators are ashamed of a natural function of their bodies is appalling and it’s high time we came together to shatter the stigma and embrace a healthier attitude towards menstruation.
One of the ways we can start creating a more period positive culture is by making menstruation an occasion for celebration and just as cultures all over the globe have stigmas around menstruation, many cultures also have unique ways of honoring menstruation. Researching how other communities, countries, and cultures celebrate is a great way to get ideas of your own for how you want to celebrate your period or help a loved one celebrate theirs. For example, some communities in Fiji honor menstruators’ first periods with special conversations about the significance of this milestone and on the fourth day of the first cycle, “tunudra,” families celebrate with a feast. Certain groups in Southern India lavish menstruators with gifts in a special coming of age ceremony and in regions of Japan, menstruators and their families celebrate the coming of their first period with a meal called “sekihan” which is made of sticky rice and adzuki beans and is red in appearance, symbolizing happiness and celebration.
Thankfully, a number of individuals and organizations alike are working to change the culture around menstrual health and shatter the stigma. Days for Girls is one non-profit that not only supplies reusable menstrual care products to menstruators across the globe, but also provides reproductive health education with each distribution to teach menstruators that their cycles are natural, healthy, and something to be proud of. As part of their educational sessions, menstruators in attendance are invited to raise a fist in a gesture meant to both conceptualize the approximate size of their uterus and remind them that they are strong, powerful, and confident. Wateraid America and a number of other non-profit organizations also help destigmatize menstruation by starting conversations about menstruation both on the ground and online through a variety of campaigns, In fact, Period.org is actually responsible for starting National Period Day as a day for people to band together and demand an end to period poverty and stigma.
It isn’t just big nonprofits and volunteer efforts that have the power to change the culture around menstrual health though. It will take menstruators and people across the globe choosing to celebrate themselves, their periods, and all the things their bodies can do to create the shift in culture we all need.
The simple act of choosing to see yourself and your period as a gift, or the act of helping someone else see themselves and their cycle as a gift, is one of the greatest forms of rebellion you can take part in. So go ahead and buy yourself some of your favorite pamper items to enjoy during your period, give yourself or someone else a first period gift to celebrate how their body has grown and changed, or buy your partner their favorite chocolate bar or menstrual care item.
While luxury items and yummy snacks can be a great way to celebrate menstruation, celebration can even be as simple as taking the time to really research what menstrual care products are out there and what ingredients are in the products you use. While the menstrual health industry has come a long way, there is still a serious lack of understanding around how the ingredients in traditional disposable pads and tampons impact menstruators’ bodies and historically, a lot of dangerous chemicals and materials have been used. Give back to yourself and your body by selecting the healthiest menstrual products you can, like 100% cotton disposable pads or tampons, washable fabric pads, or menstrual cups.
Advocating for menstrual equity and for the creation of a more positive culture around menstruation is also something individuals can do, with or without the support or help of a larger organization. While lots of menstrual health non-profit organizations create petitions and invite people to take part in various forms of pro-period political action, you can also create an impact by using your voice to vote for policies that increase access to menstrual care products or for political candidates who will support menstrual health efforts. Initiating positive policy changes by contacting your local legislators or simply starting conversations about menstruation either in person or over social media are also powerful actions you can take to start changing the menstrual health culture in your communities.
Really, there is no wrong way to celebrate your cycle or spread period positivity in the world. What matters most is that we all do our part to change the culture around menstruation--whatever that looks like for us. Menstruation is a gift, but more than that it is an essential part of life and completely natural. Menstruation is a sign of physical growth and development and it gives menstruators an incredible amount of information about their health and fertility. By choosing to celebrate menstruation, we can all help to usher in a new era of period positivity and shatter the shame around menstruation once and for all.