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Periods and breaking the cycle of Shame

Updated: Jul 18, 2021

Photo credits: Rafael Barros

I spent my first 7 years on this planet enjoying playing with boys. My brother and cousins were my true best friends, until we started developing our gender identities. Suddenly, a gap was created, and our bridge was -for some reason I couldn’t understand then- broken. I was constantly reminded that they were boys, that it was weird for us to play together, that our soccer games were no longer a thing, sleepovers were not an option anymore, and that we were different.

That gap developed my desire to fit in within a different group; the ladies group. My grandmother, mother, aunts, and older female cousins. Their presence was so attractive, and their bond was so strong I wanted to become part of it. They were strong women, mothers, teachers, homemakers, midwives, and artists. Their gatherings were filled with joy, laughter, caring, confidence, and dancing. Who wouldn’t want to be part of it?

I was 10 years old when I Just started conceptualizing the ideas of god, sins, and worship. Fear and shame started becoming a known pattern in my little world. When I started developing breasts and armpits’ and pubic hair, I panicked, “This is not what I prayed for!” No one in my class started showing any of these signs of “growing up”. And my little 10-year-old self was ashamed for “praying” to be part of the ladies group.

I did not have “The Talk”. When I was 11 years old I had my menarche – My first menstruation experience. My feelings were a mix of both honor and shame. Deep within I knew something has changed in my whole being, transformed, awakened; although, when I saw the blood, “This is a punishment from god for I am a sinner,” I thought to myself. I kept it a secret from everyone- my mother, older sister, grandma, cousins, aunts, and friends. I thought that my menarche marked me as a “bad” person. I thought I was alone.

I came to realize; I was not alone. Thousands of girls around the world do not receive education about their menstrual cycle prior to it happening. Thousands of girls think they are dying as they bleed. They think they are punished, cursed, and or pure during their periods. And a horrific number of them do not have access to sustainable clean period products. I, for sure, was not alone.

I like period euphemisms: code red, the red wedding, strawberry week, time of the month, shark week, bloody marry, aunt flow, and my personal favorite; moon time. Even though these euphemisms are so fun to use, they did so little to educate this generation on the reality of menstruation; what to expect, what it meant, when to expect it again, why is it happening, and what is considered to be normal?

While we might have the privilege of having the access to disposable pads, cloth pads, menstrual cups, or tampons, many young girls and women around the world do not. Menstruation is marked as a Week of Shame as they sit on cardboard, or use rocks, tree leaves, or ashes to collect their blood until they are done. Not to forget that women are forbidden from cooking, or entering places of worship in some religions that consider them unclean during menstruation.

Women had perfected the art of keeping a secret, especially when it comes to their periods- Hiding the fact that they’re not fasting during Ramadan, passing pads secretly in the hallways of the school or workplace, giving periods nicknames, never asking dad to buy period products, and throwing away any piece of clothing that has blood on it without the attempt to even wash it. Why?

What had happened in the past 1000 years that we moved from honoring the feminine to treating it as a curse that needs to be hidden, shut down, and ashamed of? What had happened that we stopped using women’s blood as fertilizers to our crops? What happened that we stopped celebrating the girls’ menarches? What had happened to women guiding the tribes? This shame is global, it’s local, and it is individual.

There is a cost to the shame and silence. We are witnessing global effort to stop the cycle of shame e.g. Bleeding woman running a marathon, or women creating menstruation blood art. These could be extreme cases to some of you reading, but all I am asking for here is to start a conversation in attempt to breaking the cycle of shame: What toxins are in our menstrual products? Who should provide those products? Would you ask if your daughters have enough products? How was your first period like? What do you want people to know? What is a period?

If you have not had “The Talk” before your menarche, I invite you to start now! And I am here to listen.


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