...and so are the tampon-selfies. The other day, an American lady in her 70s told me that when she first started to menstruate, she had no idea what was happening and thought she was going to die. Sadly, there are places in the world today where young girls are still as woefully unprepared.
Another friend said she’d kept her period a secret for two years. A mother confessed she didn’t know how to talk to her daughter about menstruation —and she lives in Boulder, Colorado, with more therapists and thought-leaders per capita than probably anywhere else on the planet.
How is it that something so fundamental to our lives could be so undercover and hidden away—like the tampons women tuck in their sleeves on the way to the restroom at work?
There are, thankfully, strong indicators that the red tide of secrecy is finally changing. In fact, for social activists and entrepreneurs, menstruation is having a bit of a heyday.
A satirical take on first moon parties by Hello Flo has garnered almost 30 million views since it debuted on YouTube nine months ago. Recently, dozens of new companies like Hello Flo (which sends “period starter kits” to girls) have appeared on the scene helping to bring menstruation out of the closet and onto the market.
The added interest and innovations are vitally needed. A woman can now choose from a rainbow of colorful silicon menstrual cups (the increased use of which could drastically reduce waste from paper feminine hygiene products). Nonprofit organizations are getting reusable cloth pads into the hands of women and girls in the developing world (often sewn by those same hands) where up to 10% of girls miss school every month because they lack any material means to stem the flow.
But it’s not quite all flowers and chocolates for all things menstrual, at least not yet.
In parts of India where women on their cycles are shunned and prevented from cooking or praying, menstruation is nothing short of a crime. In the 21st Century, no female anywhere should fear making pickles rot (although the symbolism is obvious).
Clearly, it’s time —well past time— to end “the curse” once and for all.
How, exactly, do we do that? Talking about it openly is a start. Further, more research needs to be done into how to help women suffer less during their periods. For example, did you know changing altitudes could change your cycle? Yet I’ve scoured the web trying to find any research on this to no avail.
We do know that healthy diets and adequate exercise can greatly reduce pre-menstrual syndrome. Keeping extra weight off is also key since excess fat produces more estrogen, which can exacerbate PMS. Eastern modalities, too, such as acupuncture, are proving highly effective in mitigating bloating, cramping and menstrual irregularities.
There’s even a movement (also started by Hello Flo) to tweet a selfie with your tampon under the hash tag #tamponliberation. Nevertheless, too many teenagers today still consider menstruation an embarrassing topic of conversation. And since some girls go on to suffer terribly on their cycles, throwing a party at their onset may indeed seem laughable.
Or maybe not.
A few years ago, I was getting a ride back to the airport from Tulum, Mexico, when the driver’s cell phone rang. After speaking in Spanish for a bit he ended the call, clearly excited, so I asked him if he might let me in on the obviously good news. Smiling, with tears in his eyes, he told me that his wife had called to say their daughter had gotten her first period. What was he going to do? His surprising answer: "I'm going to buy her a dozen roses!"
There’s a pretty word for the first time a girl gets her period: menarche (I prefer the softer French pronunciation), with over 40k Google searches last month on that term. I’d like to live in a world where all young girls experience menarche as a time to celebrate.
Maybe a party is too tame.
If indeed the world can be saved by the Western woman, as the Dalai Lama famously suggested, then it is high time we empower girls and women worldwide to take the reins of their procreative powers with the authority endowed by their sex.
~Jules Cazedessus, founder of Venus Matters.