If you’re an 80’s or 90’s gal you might remember the pure joy and excitement that came when mum came home from the shop with a Girlfriend magazine for you to read. It was the epitome of a young girls teen years, am I right?
You would thank her while quickly hurrying off to your room with it to hastily tear open the sealed section, which you would read behind closed doors and make notes of what you needed to show your girlfriends at school the next day. Tampons go where now?!
Or perhaps you flicked straight to the back where you would find the “How Embarrassing” double page spread where readers would write in with their shameful stories, often involving their crush and an awkward period related moment.
From our most vulnerable early teen years we have been made to believe that our menstrual cycles are something to be ashamed of, that we can’t wear white pants while we have our period for fear of leakage, and that it’s a topic that needs to be sealed in a magazine or pushed back with other cringe worthy reader stories.
When I first got my period at 11 I was absolutely gutted to say the least. I didn’t feel ready to become a young woman, I didn’t like the idea of having to be careful about what I wore, and I sure as heck didn’t want to have any moments like the ones I had read in the magazines. So, I did what any pubescent teen would do back then and I curled up into a ball in my mums bed while she did her best to console me by making a list of all of the fabulous celebrity women that lived amazing, glamourous, full to the brim lives all while dealing with their period once a month. Ok, I can do this, this isn’t a big deal, right?
Then swimming sports happened.
I was new to this period world and pads were what I felt most comfortable using. Tampons just seemed so grown up to me. They were those huge things wrapped in white paper that I used to pull out of mums bag in public when I was younger, “Muuuuuuuuum what are these?”.
So, I had my mum write me a note to excuse me from taking part. Ohh the shame I remember feeling having to pass that note over. But surely a teacher, of all people, would understand right?
But here’s the issue, and this is something that I have carried with me ever since, my male teacher didn’t buy this as a valid excuse. He told me, "you shouldn’t be using pads, you should be using tampons".
Can you believe it?
Queue the humiliation, the mortification of being told that what I was doing with my body wasn’t good enough. Why doesn’t the ground open up and swallow you when you really need it to? In case I didn’t feel humiliated enough having to sit out swimming sports because of this new found womanhood (which in all honesty I was still trying to come to terms with), I had to deal with the pressure from a male teacher to ‘fix’ the problem with what he thought was a perfectly good solution. No, definitely not, nope, this is not OK. You have over stepped the line. My body, my decisions.
Things have changed a lot since back then in terms of the products that are available for young girls to use while swimming with their period. I can't help but think back to how useful a pair of period proof togs would have been in that situation. I'm so happy that there are options these days so that no one has to be left sitting on the sideline if they'd rather be joining in.
What should be an empowering right of passage is far too often associated with icky words like shame, embarrassment, awkward, inconvenient.
How do we change this? We talk openly, we share our stories and we speak up to crush the stigma.
Are you going to join us?
The team at My Monthly would love to hear your story. Share with us your experience as a young woman learning to embrace your cycle, so that we can share it (anonymously if you would prefer) to open up a conversation within our online Facebook community of young girls and women.
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