I am 20 years old and I have ruined just as many sheets in my lifetime.
I don’t remember the first time Aunt Flo came a knockin’, something to do with an early peak in hormones due to consuming high amounts of fast food, but I’m a 90’s baby, we didn’t know any better. What I do remember is the reaction of those around me each time I would reveal to them that I was currently bleeding from my “you know where”.
When I was in the 6th grade, many of my compassionate prepubescent gal pals huddled around me like a protective defensive line, eager to offer their Bobby Jack jackets to hide the red spot slowly growing on the back of my bootcut jeans. Of course, they had heard of a period but aside from memories of their older sisters avoiding trips to the public pools and crude jokes from boys who were even more clueless than they were, they hadn’t actually been confronted with the beast itself and they found me fascinating. They fawned over me, oohing and awing, eager to finally get a peek into their womanly futures, and yet I didn’t feel proud or adored. I felt like a science experiment. A well-treated guinea pig, who was forced to explain over and over again the beauties and horrors of my body to that gaggle of girls through a cloud of my own juvenile ignorance and confusion. To this day, that is the best I have ever been made to feel about my period.
Later that year, after gaining just enough confidence to confess my woes to my female teacher but not enough know-how to stock an emergency pad in my backpack (at the time I couldn’t begin to understand the physics behind tampons), I felt the tell-tale signs of my new (semi-) monthly curse and prayed that my lesson on dead white men would end so that I could ask for help. We were finally dismissed for recess, and as my classmates ran to line up at the door I lingered behind, standing slowly. I covertly looked down at my seat- I was in the clear, I then deftly reached for the back of my pants- dry as a desert. God must have been smiling down on me that day because the girls in my class had grown bored of the class pet and I was quickly running out of clean Old Navy pants. My moment of gratefulness didn’t last long, I knew that if I didn’t find something soon my cover would be blown. So I quickly walked to the front of the classroom and whispered my dilemma into my teacher’s ear. Her face turned ashen but a look of determination quickly cemented itself on top of her new complexion. She made an excuse to riffle through her overstuffed purse and then proceeded to simultaneously direct the line leader, tuck an orange pad up my sleeve, and leave. That’s skill a man will never have. At the end of the school day, as I was leaving to attend to my sworn duties as a bus patrol, she stopped me. She worriedly asked if I was alright, to which I responded that I was doing fine but then she repeated her question, an air of true concern washing over her. So I repeated my answer, “I’m fine” she let me go without another word but her obvious degree of unease and overwhelming distress taught me something that it took me a very long time to unlearn. My period was an unfair emotional burden to those who knew better than to revere it, and I should conceal and fear it.
My baptism into womanhood was followed eight years later by a legal title of adulthood, and with that combination of supposed physical and mental maturity has come an urge to reflect on my own insecurities. Insecurities have come and gone and come back again but the one that has stayed consistent the longest is feeling of shame surrounding my menstrual cycle. For a long time I felt embarrassed by it, averting my gaze from the male checkout clerk on my trips to restock my bathroom cabinet and fighting through the feeling of daggers being pierced into my sides in order to avoid making my male classmates and colleagues think that my body has made me weak or inferior to them.
I was convinced that shame was the proper feeling to have and that any period undergone without that shame was one of putridity but luckily things have been slowly yet surely changing. Commercials dare to say the word period instead of merely referencing a euphemistic ‘time of the month’, Buzzfeed has all but dedicated one of their YouTube channels to a group of beautiful ethnically diverse women testing out something called ‘period hacks’, and Beyonce (BEYONCE) spoke intimately about her own menses in the preamble to her song “Hold Up”. Periods are more publicly acknowledged and accepted than ever before and generations of women are learning to love recognize, appreciate, and celebrate their periods and I am proud to be among them. Relearning years of mis-information about and contempt for my body and my period has not been and will not be easy. It’s not as simple as watching others come to self-acceptance (even if it is Beyonce) but I’m glad to be living in a time when the self-acceptance, self-love, and peer-support is spreading. I’m looking forward to learning all that there is to learn about the beautiful and messy (and funny and connecting and mysterious) aspects of my period I have yet to explore.
PS. Does anyone know how to get blood stains out of sheets, I’ve got at least 20 more years of this to go and cold water isn’t gonna cut it.