Last week we saw the #Fatkini hashtag go viral with women of all shapes and sizes, but mostly on the larger side, sharing photos of themselves hanging out by the pool or at the beach wearing bikinis. Essentially it became the visualization of the oft-repeated joke of this summer – “How do you get a bikini body? Put a bikini on your body.” The joy with which this slogan was embraced by women served as a refreshing reminder that a movement of body acceptance and awareness is really gaining ground.
In the same week I was disappointed to see the reaction to Guardian writer Jessica Valenti’s request for information about the availability of subsidized or free tampons on Twitter. The outpouring of negativity, anger, and disgust was, although perhaps not shocking, a stark reminder how far we have to go in terms of acceptance of this normal, healthy bodily function.
In a Guardian feature, earlier in the week, columnist Mariella Frostrup was quoted as saying that the one thing she liked most about her Mirena IUD was “five fabulously menstrual-free years without having to give…the monthly female inconvenience, which has quite rightly been nicknamed ‘the curse,’ a second thought.” She went on to explain, “I’m sure in this crazy mixed-up world there are women who love their periods and partners who are equally enamoured. I’m not among them.” The writer of the article describes how her own response to her doctor asking if she’d like to not have her period any more was along the lines of “Is the Pope Catholic?”
In my teenage years I had horrible periods – severe cramps, heavy bleeding to the point that I would faint dramatically and embarrassingly and have to spend afternoons in the school sick room. In the sick room I would be visited by my least favorite gym teacher who would take pleasure in telling me that if only I went outside and ran around the track in the rain for a bit, I’d feel so much better. I then spent ten years on the Pill not having a period, that is, I just had the withdrawal bleed during breaks, when I bothered to take breaks. Now I’m off the Pill and my cycle is regular, almost completely pain-free, manageably light, and a happy indicator that I am once again very much not pregnant.
So, I get why someone might see their own period as a “curse” and I get why some women would want to forgo it entirely. However, what I find more difficult to take on is the assumption inherent in the statements made in that Guardian piece, that all women must hate menstruation and that hatred is really the only sane reaction to this female experience. It’s the implication that you would have to be crazy to see periods as something anywhere near positive that I find troubling.
Vice recently published a post titled ‘I Fertilized My Salad With Period Blood’ that begins with writer Beca Grim’s declaration, “So, as a poor gardener and menstrual-cup enthusiast, I decided to collect my next cycle to help grow some plants.” She relates how she cultivated some lettuce and concludes, “The fact that I grew something from my body is still exciting to me. You won’t see a dude doing that.” Clearly Beca has “accepted” her period fully, and the way that plays out for her is great, but we need not think that if we don’t hate our period that our only alternative is to take her lead.
Proud member of the “menstrati” (her term), Chris Bobel wrote an insightful piece on this topic titled ‘In Defense of Hating my Period’ in which she outlines how we might come to accept menstruation as part of life. As she describes, there is a “pervasive assumption that thinking differently about our cycles necessarily points to LOVING our cycles. As if there are ONLY two choices on the menstrual menu: I’ll have the Obsolete Shaming Nuisance or My Cycle is Womb-alicious. That doesn’t work for me as I suspect it does not work for others.” She continues, “There’s a whole lot of territory between refusing to see menstruation as meaningless OR as proof positive that my body is unruly, out of control, and a source of deep-seated shame AND embracing my menses as the Sine qua non of my gender identity or the gift that keeps on giving, about every 28 days.”
When it comes to body acceptance, we are busy untangling the messages we receive from the media, advertising, education, and other people in general from what we ourselves think and feel about ourselves. Yet, when it comes to our periods, we are sometimes too keen to take the messages we receive at face value and accept them. But, this does seem to be changing too. We are seeing more women sharing their stories about using Diva Cups and cloth pads, tracking their cycles with apps like Clue, figuring out ways of dealing with cramps naturally, and otherwise being just more open and honest about the fact that they bleed regularly.
Because period acceptance is whatever you make of it, I asked some body positive period-havers how they feel about this new attitude becoming the norm. Here’s what they shared:
“I have found having more exposure to my menstrual blood means I am no longer freaked out by it. I think the over-sanitisation of marketing for menstrual products contributes to this feeling (“Feel cleaner and fresher!” and not using red liquid in the ads…). I have found using reusable pads extremely helpful in this. You really have to face and accept your body. It’s quite liberating.” – Limon Gato
“Something simple that has helped me is just talking about periods with my friends – not in a ‘ugh, it’s that time again’ way, but in discussing patterns, talking about being aware of our cycles, leading into lots of chat about knowing our bodies in a positive way. I wish there was more out there – I’ve loved looking into Alisa Vitti’s FLO Living initiative…menstruation is an amazing thing which we should celebrate and work with, not shame and hide away.” – Gemma Ruth Wilson
“I think Fertilityfriend.com is a good site. When you create a free account they send you one email a day for a total of 20 that explains just about everything having to do with your cycle. I found it really empowering because none of it was taught in school!” – Sarah Sefic
“I think that period acceptance is a lot more emotional and social than physical. I think it comes down to allowing ourselves to be in whatever state we are in during our periods (even if that means sleeping all day), being comfortable talking about them, and not being afraid of anyone seeing you taking a menstrual product to the bathroom. It’s all about accepting our bodies, not that you have to play with period blood to accept your period. Or even that you have to think your period is the best thing ever or love being on your period to accept it and be happy with it as part of your body. You can still get annoyed at your period and accept it.” – Hannah Ransom, fertility awareness educator at Holistic Hormonal Health.
“I think accepting our periods will look – does look – like a great variety of different things. For some menstruators, it is fertilizing their gardens or painting with their menstrual fluids. For others, it’s charting their cycles and learning how their menstrual cycle is related to other processes of their bodies, like thyroid function, neurological processes, bone health, cardiorespiratory strength, and more. In some places, it’s access to menstrual products (and potable water) so that girls don’t have to drop out of school. For some of us, it’s examining the way menstruation and women’s reproductive health are represented in media and challenging those meanings, developing new ones. There’s no reason to imagine only one way to accept our periods, or only one correct way.” – Elizabeth Kissling, author of ‘Capitalizing on the Curse: The Business of Menstruation.’
“I don’t think everyone has to LOVE their period. That would be weird. I don’t LOVE my blood pressure, or my peak flow, or my resting heart rate, or my regular bowels! I just kind of rely on and appreciate that these are all signs of good health. So is a regular period. I chose to start the #periodpositive project as part of my Master’s research to add some positive stuff to all the negativity out there – I’m aiming for period neutral! I know how maths works!” – Chella Quint, creator of STAINS TM
Period neutral. How do you feel about that?