I got my first period at the underripe age of 10. I looked down into my sparkly, frog-print underwear from Limited Too one night, and there she was. I immediately started sobbing.
By that point, I had already spent hours of my life poring over Valorie Schaefer’s The Care and Keeping of You in anticipation of this exact moment, but even so, when push came to flow, I was confused, horrified, and embarrassed. Holy hell, was I embarrassed. Even though I was the only girl I knew who had been wearing deodorant and a training bra for two-plus years, I still figured I was years (light-years, even!) away from having to deal with cramps and mood swings and panty liners. After all, the average age for getting a first period is 12-and-a-half…guess I was advanced. Ugh.
Aside from my mom, I didn’t tell a soul. I didn’t want to divert my friends’ attention from blissfully decorating their Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers and learning the since-forgotten art of cursive. I didn’t want anyone to know my mom had to teach me how to use tampons during spring break so I could take my cool new tankini for a spin in the water without the scene looking like an outtake from Jaws. I wanted total anonymity because I felt like a freak. For years. Even when the rest of my friends eventually got their periods, I never got totally comfortable with the notion of my body bleeding on the reg—not even into adulthood. Not too long ago, when my period came as a surprise during sex with a long-term boyfriend, I was so embarrassed I locked myself in the bathroom and cried for the better part of an hour.
Even when the rest of my friends eventually got their periods, I never got totally comfortable with the notion of my body bleeding on the reg—not even into adulthood.
All of this is to say that, at best, my period and I have a complicated relationship that has, more than once, resulted in me crying in a bathroom. Admittedly, thanks in large part to hormonal birth control, my rides on the crimson tide (thanks, Cher Horowitz) were few and far between from the ages of 15 to 27. But when I recently decided to go off of it and my monthly periods came back with a vengeance for their regularly scheduled programming, I decided to mend our shaky relationship.
Society has kind of teed this one up for me since in recent years, the menstruation conversation has changed a lot, and for the better. Before 2017, a brand had never, ever used red dye to represent period blood in a commercial. It was as if brands didn’t want to openly acknowledge so much of the human race bleeds on the reg, instead choosing to use a weird blue substance that looks more like Smurf pee than anything that comes from my body every month. Now, though, the phrase “period positivity” has become increasingly common—there’s even a period game coming out next year!—and I can barely get on the subway without seeing an ad telling me how much I should love my moon cycle. I mean, the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short this year went to a film called Period. End of Sentence. about a group of women fighting the stigma around menstruation in India.
All of this evidence supporting to power of the period made my shame-spiraling attitude feel outdated, so I resolved to learn to love my period. To do it, I called upon founders of top feminine-care brands for tips. Then, I put them into practice, and the craziest thing happened: It actually really worked.
The first rule of periods is to talk incessantly about periods
“We seek community in almost every aspect of our lives, but with periods, we tend to walk the path alone.” says Amber Fawson, co-founder of Saalt, a sustainable menstrual-cup brand, referring to the way periods have traditionally been treated. “We need just as much community around our period as any other area of our life.” So the first thing I did when I got my period last week was send a coworker a message to tell her about it (…this type of stuff happens here at Well+Good), then I texted all of my friends about it. I also brought it up in real-life social conversations at any chance I got, including at bars and parties.
Since no one really wanted to hear about the details of my reproductive health, I decided to switch gears and ask everyone I knew about their own relationships with their periods. “Every month, I feel like I get a personal checkup,” one friend tells me, noting that she uses her period as a barometer that her body is working properly. “I like that it confirms I’m not pregnant,” says another. “I like that it gives me an excuse to eat cookies on the couch,” says a third.
All of this sharing is important for learning to love your period, according to Alex Friedman and Jordana Kier, co-founders of reproductive care company LOLA. “The key to ‘loving” your period throughout all life phases is feeling empowered to share and receive advice from other women who have been there before you. This way, you’ll be ready take on whatever comes next.”
Silly? Maybe. But you know what? Hearing other people speak so highly of their own Aunt Flo helped me hate mine just a little bit less than usual.
Use your period to tune in to your body
My friends were apparently onto something: Using your period as a way to keep track of your body is a great way to learn to love the monthly visitor. “Your menstrual cycle is an easy barometer into your overall health and wellness,” says OB-GYN Sherry Ross, MD, author of She-Ology: Your Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period. “You period should be your best girlfriend, since when your hormones are offset, irregular periods can occur. For women who are not taking hormonal birth control, our periods can be a ‘hormonal barometer’ telling us if we are in sync with our body.” Since stress, among other things like sleep and diet, can cause an imbalance in your hormones and affect the frequency of your flow, getting a regular period serves as an indicator that everything else is A-okay.
“As you see your period as a sign of health, vitality, and a process in harmony with the earth, it seems less like an annoyance, and more like a sign of strength and health.” —Amber Fawson, co-founder of Saalt
And Dr. Ross isn’t the only one who feels this way. “Your period tips you off to your entire monthly cycle—the synced rise and fall of your hormones throughout the month,” says Fawson. “As you see your period as a sign of health, vitality, and a process in harmony with the Earth, it seems less like an annoyance, and more like a sign of strength and health. Periods perpetuate the human race, they deserve some major kudos and so do you.” Point taken.
In an attempt to feel more *~*in tune*~* with my cycle, I started journaling about my period. An excerpt: “Got my period last night. Was actually happy! I felt like it explained the fact that I have felt MEH for the last week and that I couldn’t stop eating Halo Top (and adding chocolate chips to it) all night last night. Still tasted gross though.”
By day five, however, things read a little bit differently. “Still don’t love the blood, but grateful for the fact that I’m bleeding.” Though I couldn’t exactly get onboard with the crime-scene situation in my pants, I did appreciate the fact that it was letting me know that my body was functioning properly. Progress over perfection, #amirite?
Finding the right period products is key
Period tech has come a long way since those unfortunate belted sanitary pads that women didn’t have much choice but to wear until adhesive pads hit the market in the ’70s. I’ve always been a no-exceptions tampon-wearer but am first to admit that those puppies are far from perfect (case in point: I recently got one stuck inside of me, and it damn near traumatized me, though apparently it’s actually a pretty common occurrence).
So I did the thing I swore I’d never, ever do and gave THINX underwear a try. I slept in them on the heaviest night of my flow, and I’ve gotta be honest: I didn’t hate it! Actually, the whole free-bleeding thing was kind of great. While I don’t think I’ll be testing out the THINX period-sex blanket anytime soon (for one, I’m single as hell; and for another, though period sex is supposed to be amazing, I’m not feeling ready to really go for it quite yet), I do know that the brand’s undies will be a part of my permanent collection of period paraphernalia from here on out.
If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for the next generation
Even if period positivity isn’t in the cards for you, doing your part to destigmatize it for future generations can and should be. “A sixth-grader who needs a pad in the middle of the day should not feel shame, but should feel confident taking action to care for her period,” says Fawson. “The more comfortable and positive you are (or pretend to be) about your period, the easier it is for others to also talk productively about theirs. This period-positive outlook allows people to ask questions and seek medical help when they need it. It prevents others from feeling shame about their own period and extends into feelings of empowerment and positivity about the rest of their body.”
When I think back to how horrible 10-year-old me felt about getting her period, I know she’s right. While brands like THINX, Saalt, and LOLA are doing their part to destigmatize our collective cultural feelings about menstruation, it’s also up to each and every one of us individually to take charge of this for ourselves by talking about it and working toward appreciating our periods for the sake of what they mean for our bodies. “No one should be embarrassed to go to the doctor or voice a concern about their period,” Fawson says—and she’s right.
My relationship with my body has always been a complicated one, but after talking to pretty much every uterus-having person in my contacts list, I’ve realized my period is something worthy of my gratitude, no matter how annoying it is when it ruins my favorite pair of underwear or pops up during vacation. (Which is, to be clear, super annoying.) I can’t imagine ever feeling straight-up thrilled about Aunt Flo coming for a visit, but I can now officially appreciate what it means for me and my reproductive health. Plus, like my pals say, it’s an excuse to lay on the couch, eat cookies, and know that my body is doing its job, period.
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