By drawing back this veil of shame we start having these conversations – no two periods are the same, no two menstruators are the same.
Dear Past Me,
You get your period when you are thirteen. It’s on a beach holiday alone with your father and you spend the trip weeping in the bathroom trying to force oversized tampons into that impossibly small hole. Over the years, you develop a complicated relationship with your period. Sometimes it’s fine, and sometimes it bears its teeth.
A shame will fester in you over the years. You will feel brutally exposed, ashamed of this new identity you’ve been assigned. No longer yourself, but a swollen stomach and breasts laden with a mother’s milk. Terrified of that tired narrative that you have officially ‘become a woman’, you will fold your body up and hide it away. You can’t be seen to be red and loud and leaking. You won’t talk to anyone about this; silencing this ‘dirty’ word and this ‘dirty’ experience. Your friends will open up to each other, drawn together by the threads of their experience but you will remain silent. You won’t even talk to your mother, recoiling when she mentions her menstruation, and silently forcing her to buy you pads because you can’t face the walk of shame through the supermarket.
I am writing this to tell you that one day this shame will dissipate. During the worst period of your life, you’ll see through it all in a fevered vision. Gradually, you’ll understand that this insidious web is weaved by society to shut us up during ‘our time of the month’. This narrative paints us as irrational slaves to our hormones – incapable of leadership, unpredictable with power – whilst simultaneously systematically denying the extent of our pain. You’ll see that companies profit from our need for discretion and non-menstruators profit off of our perceived weakness. One day you’ll understand how this all seeped into your skin and made you lose yourself, just a little.
I hate that we bought into this narrative for years but I love that we feel a little freer from it now. That we feel a powerful connection with other menstruators. That we can relinquish symptoms we’ve always held to our chest and ask for help. That we can read and write about all sorts of experiences, learning how different intersections affect the way that we bleed. By drawing back this veil of shame we start having these conversations – no two periods are the same, no two menstruators are the same. Although you now feel united with others, you also don’t feel like your period forces you to conform to some feminine stereotype. Your period is no longer straddling your gender identity, whip in hand. You can now bleed and feel free to be yourself.
So, little Lula, if something shifts in the universe and you can hear me: don’t be so hard on yourself, talk to your friends and don’t let this shame wrapped in its discrete silent wrapper win.
A bit about Sanitree:
Sanitree is a social enterprise based in Edinburgh and Jaipur working to tackle period poverty and the stigma surrounding menstruation in a sustainable, collaborative and ethical way. We train women from vulnerable backgrounds to sew and sell organic, reusable and biodegradable period pads at the Her Shakti Centre, a workshop and community space in Jaipur. Please check out our Instagram and website to learn more about our pads, as well as our work tackling period shame and stigma.
Graphic by Lucia Villegas.