What my daughter taught me about menstruation

I didn’t get my first period until I was 15 years old. I was the last within my circle of friends, and by then, even my younger sister was a veteran (oh the indignity).

You’ve never seen a teen girl more prepared for this milestone than I was. I had been carrying tampons in my school bag for so long I suspect they were covered in dust! I had even had practice in breaking the news to parents as my best friend had been too embarrassed to tell her mother when she started her period and I had broken this news for her: “Mrs M, our Janelle has become a woman…” The main feeling I recall when I started menstruating was that of relief. Finally, I was in the “big girls” club! I was so elated I ran into my school assembly and screamed out “I have my period!” to my friends – not realising the teachers were already present and waiting to start. My Year Advisor was very gracious and began the assembly by congratulating me.

For many girls today though there is not this same sense of preparedness, nor do they think there is much to celebrate.

Indeed, a recent survey of Australian teens showed that more than one third of them missed at least one class every month due to their menstrual cycle. Over 60% of these students said they would find it hard to speak to a teacher about their periods. Many reported being in high levels of pain and not only found it hard to focus on their learning, but had to sit out of sport and social activities.

So, why don’t we talk more honestly and openly about our periods?

Culturally, we’ve absorbed messages that would have us associate them with shame. Certainly there is still huge stigma associated with menstruation in some countries (menstruation taboos can keep women and girls from touching water or cooking, attending religious ceremonies, or engaging in community activities. These taboos reinforce gender-based discrimination, perpetuating the idea the menstruating women and girls are unclean).

But even here in Australia for too long we have shrouded the menstrual cycle in mystery, after all, why do feminine hygiene advertisements all too often use blue dye? Author Nina Funnell reflected in her essay on the stigma surrounding menstruation, Leaky Ladies and Their Worrisome Wombs, that as a teen girl she and her friends questioned, “What do they think we are, Smurfs or something? And why do the women always dance around like getting their period is the Best Thing Ever? It’s sooo patronising. Why can’t they ever just portray the subject realistically?”.

And so to the reality check my daughter Teyah, aged 22, gave me about menstuation.

My daughter Teyah and I.

She recently challenged me to rethink my addiction to tampons. “But Mum,” she explained, “leak-proof pants are so much more economical and better for the environment!”

Teyah sees breaking down the stigma around menstruation as an important feminist issue – and sees challenging our reliance on disposable solutions as a form of environmental activism.

So, when Modibodi, an Australian brand of leak-proof undies that walks the talk on breaking down taboos surrounding our periods, approached us and asked if we would consider letting them sponsor a couple of posts celebrating World Hygiene Day at our Instagram, we jumped at the opportunity (Teyah is our Insta admin).

This is our first paid sponsorship Insta post! Although Enlighten has been approached by a number of corporations for partnerships before, we have previously declined all commercial sponsorship. But this was a meeting of hearts and minds (and honestly, they had us at hello).

Because we do need to talk more about menstruation – whether that be loud and proud at school assemblies, or through quieter conversations in our homes. And even I still have some learning to do.


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