In the race for most striking viral video of 2017, few can compete with the 48-second-long clip that Steph Góngora posted to Instagram two weeks ago. In it, the Costa Rican yogi is flowing through her practice while red menstrual blood flows through her white yoga pants.
It’s been viewed over 480,000 times—and accumulated nearly 7,000 comments, with some viewers welcoming the opportunity to talk about periods in public and others calling for more, er, bloodshed. (Yes, she’s received a few death threats.)
“We start to think of our menstruating selves as something that also needs to be hidden, something filthy and distasteful.”
Góngora joins activists like “Period Girl” and brands like Lola and Thinx in the crusade for menstrual realness—but while she might be a newly minted she-ro, the yogi stresses that she wasn’t freely bleeding like London marathoner-turned-period revolutionary Kiran Gandhi.
Instead, in an exclusive interview with Well+Good, Góngora explains that she was just illustrating what happens when tampons fail (as they often do)—“I have a very heavy period,” she explains. “I can bleed through two super-plus tampons and a decent-sized pad in an hour.”
Here, the flexy-feminist shares why she shot the video, how she feels about the controversy that’s ensued, and where she hopes the conversation, er, flows from here.
Keep reading for some real talk about period shaming, courtesy of Instagram yoga sensation Steph Góngora.
What was going through your mind while filming the video?
There was no fear or hesitation about the video. It was a heavy day for me and I had an hour practice planned, so I knew that by the end I would almost certainly have at least a small leak. When I felt it, about five minutes before the end of practice, I just pulled on the white pants and kept going.
Today’s society doesn’t read. They’re gawkers, and in order to bring any attention to a subject, sometimes you need a little shock value—hence the video and not just the caption. After it was done, I didn’t hesitate to post it. I ran the text by my husband and a few close friends, just to make sure it was getting my point across, but once I decide to do something, I’m usually full force ahead.
How has the response been since the video went viral?
The response has been as expected—very polarized. Some people love it. I’ve gotten comments, DMs, and emails [from people] sharing their period shaming story or just saying thank you for starting a conversation about something that has been shrouded in silence for too long. There have been many stories [from mothers] of redemption or changing the discussion with their daughters, and many kind men who stressed that they will now do everything in their power to make the ladies in their life feel more comfortable discussing their period.
Other people hate it. Of course, there are some more negative comments that were so extreme they will stick with me. I had people tell me I should go kill myself. Others tell me they would like to kill me. I had one especially eloquent gentleman state that women should never discuss their period ever because it’s disgusting—and in fact, during their period, they had better allow their significant other access to their “back door” if they didn’t want to get cheated on.
I’m fine with both types of responses. Both the empowered comments and hateful comments just go to show that this is a subject that needs to be discussed and brought into the open.
Why do you think there’s such a culture of contempt around menstruation?
I just think that it’s what we’ve been taught. When I was in elementary school, they pulled the boys out of class so that the girls could learn about periods. Even then it was shrouded in secrecy, when all people should know the basics of what goes on in the bodies of others. We start to think of our menstruating selves as something that also needs to be hidden, something filthy and distasteful.
This video really vividly brings up this idea of period shaming. Is that something you’ve experienced in the past?
I was a gymnast in high school and I had such bad anxiety if I was bleeding during a competition that I would be running to the bathroom every 30 minutes to double check that nothing was showing. I had nightmares about bleeding on the floor mat or finishing my routine facing the judges and having them see how filthy and shameful I was. Which was silly, because I wasn’t filthy or shameful—I was just a girl with a period, having a leak.
Clearly this video has struck a chord with many people, but I’m curious how it has affected you.
[It’s] made me feel much better about the possibility of leaking a little in public. It’s still a high risk for me and my heavy, erratic bleeding, so it’s likely to happen at least a few more times in my life. Seeing all of the support out there has definitely left me feeling more confident with myself and my period—and quite honestly, even the hate and cruel words have helped.
I’ve seen the worst things that people can say, and you know what? I’m doing great. It’s been an interesting exercise to take their hate or disgust and roll it around in my head before realizing that it simply stems from their own misplaced shame or ignorance about the functions of the body, and that it really has nothing to do with me.
Now that you’ve shed light on the topic, where are you planning to go from here?
That’s a great question, and one I’m still deciding on myself. I would be interested in taking it further and continuing the discussion, but I also believe there are many other issues to address in today’s world. So really, I’m still deciding how I can be of the most service in this discussion.
The “tampon tax” is another sneaky form of discrimination against menstruating women, but it’s slowly being repealed—find out whether it’s still happening in your state. If so, consider taking action by stepping into the role of activist.