We Need to Talk. Period.

It’s safe to say that women are far better off today than 50 years ago, but there’s nothing that reminds me more of how much further there is to go than the stigma around the time of the month when Satan – I mean, ‘mother nature’ – comes to visit. It’s amazing how many people are ‘grossed out’ and pull a face whenever someone mentions anything to do with periods. A tampon falls out of your bag and suddenly everyone is looking at it in horror. I mean I could understand if it was a used one, but when has anyone ever had a used tampon in their bag? That’s not what happens.

I went to an all-girls secondary school, so luckily was in an environment during the dreaded teen years where everyone was pretty accepting about periods. The times girls used to bring it up to male teachers to see what would happen occurred fairly often, and nine times out of ten the male teacher would pale, panic, and send the girl to matron. The only negative experience I’ve had about periods in school was when one teacher literally yelled at the class about how girls just needed to ‘man up’ (great use of language there) and stop asking to leave the class because you felt ill from your period, which was then repeated in an assembly. This was only made up by the fact that another teacher completely disagreed, explaining that when she had her period as a teenager she would often have to call in sick. It seems to me that not many people understand that, like bodies, everyone’s period is different. Some girls have light periods, some girls get heavy periods, and some girls have different kinds every cycle. Some throw up, some get cramps, some get excruciating headaches, and some barely notice their period come and go.

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So why don’t people know these sort of things? Well, despite the fact that are society is improving, the ‘period’ is still a taboo topic – and when you really think about it, it’s difficult to understand why. Those who have periods, whether they identify as women or not, are made to feel ashamed for bleeding each month like it’s disgusting, as if we can just choose not to. Is it just not common knowledge that periods are 100% natural, aren’t unhygienic, and literally happen to everyone who has a vagina? Hell, it’s still front page news when someone posts a photo of themselves with blood spotting through their jeans. There are protests and campaigns with women free bleeding that make people lose their minds. I didn’t know that everyone experiences something different when they have periods until my late teens, simply because we just don’t talk about it. It’s like we have to act like having our period is some dirty little secret, despite the fact that everyone knows about it anyway.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic recently due to the campaigning about the moon cup, known in some places as the diva cup depending on which brand you use. Typically there are two main ways to handle your period, which are using tampons or sanitary towels or both. Both of these aren’t good for the environment with a lot of packaging, but it’s all that was on offer. There are some other options like some birth control that stops your period all together, but who knows the long term effects that has on someone’s body – you’re literally using drugs to stop a natural cycle the body goes through.

Despite this, there have been some new products being introduced. The two that I’m aware of are the THINX underwear, which are underwear that you can wear on your period that you can just stick in the wash after wearing them for a few hours, holding as much as two tampon’s worth of blood. Reusable, completely hygienic, and far less hassle. The second is the moon cup, something that’s recently taken a real spike on social media and has won plenty of awards. Essentially it’s a cup that sits slightly lower down than a tampon does and it collects the blood. Again, it’s reusable as you can easily clean it out, and overall better for the environment. I decided to give one a try and, when I had some positive results, I talked to a few friends and family members about it. I was mildly surprised to find that some just didn’t want to know about it, the very mention of the word ‘period’ striking such horror in their hearts that they couldn’t bear to go on. The mere idea of blood leaving someone’s vagina just as bad and disgusting as discussing explosive diarrhoea. And it’s simply mad.

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Why is society still enforcing this stigma around periods? Why are we still teaching young kids that this is something you don’t discuss or talk about, that it should be kept ‘hush hush’ because people just don’t want to hear about it? Why must those who have periods have to suffer because of everyone else’s unwarranted distaste? Again, a period is 100% natural, and trust me – it is far worse for the person who actually has to have the period. When I was a young teen I became physically sick each month, and still get excruciating cramps that I have to pretend aren’t happening and just breathe through, feeling sick for a good couple of days. Why should I have to keep quiet about it? Why shouldn’t I be talking about it? Why can’t I discuss something natural about my body without worrying that someone else will be uncomfortable?

This is why we need campaigns like the moon cup and THINX. We need to normalise periods and stop tolerating those who punish us when it’s mentioned. I was going to talk about these campaigns in an application for a job answering a question about important campaigns, but was advised not to because it might put off any men looking over the application. This is not what we should have to be concerned about, and it is not a precaution I should have to take just to protect someone’s sensitive ears from talking about what so many of us have to experience. We should be making a move to stop this kind of behaviour. We need to march up to them, sit them down and say:

“We need to talk. Period”.

Pretty

I wish I was pretty. 

That was something that I used to think every day – when I looked in the mirror in the morning, if I caught my reflection in a window, when I looked at other people, and pretty much any second in between. I wish I was pretty. I wish, I wish, I wish.

Every teenager feels insecure, but a lot of them don’t have much reason to be. I was one of the unlucky ones. Puberty hit, and whilst it seemed like every other girl was moving on from training bras to ‘proper’ bras, I got acne. I wrote about this in another post, but to catch you up: I’ve had acne since I was ten, and although now my skin is a lot better, it used to be awful. I would get really big spots on my chin and my nose, thousands of tiny spots across my forehead and big globs of spots over my cheekbones. It sucked. Big time. I still remember the first time some spot treatment actually worked and my Mum ran her hand over my forehead and said ‘Oooh, smooooth’. I tried every skin cream and pill that the doctor would prescribe, but nothing really worked. My skin only really improved in my last year or so of school and now, after a year of university, I only ever get blackheads and a couple spots every now and then. Still, I can’t help but think about how I used to feel completely insecure every day, hating how I looked.

I wish I was pretty. I wish I had different skin. I wish I wasn’t ugly. 

I suppose there’s a lot that can be said about the media at this point and how it wrongly portrays teenagers – I mean, come on, the amount of films and TV shows I used to watch where everyone had model looks didn’t help. But it isn’t just the media that’s to blame.

I remember going to the cinema with a couple of friends and we were chatting before the film started. One of them had a spot on her chin – just one single spot on an otherwise unblemished face – and she was almost in tears. She went on and on about how awful she looked, and kept saying ‘Just look at it! It’s so disgusting!’. In my head I was rolling my eyes, so I finally plucked up the courage and in a completely self-deprecating/joking manner said ‘Hey, at least you don’t look like me!’. They both looked to me, and singly-spot-on-her-chin girl said ‘yeah, I guess you’re right’ and then they went on to standard girl chatter.

That was probably one of the first times that I realised that other people looked at me to reassure themselves. I mean, sure, I’d always think that I looked awful and thought everyone was judging my appearance, but it hadn’t really ever been confirmed before then. I was pretty miserable for the rest of the outing and more than likely for the rest of the month – again, I was a hormonal teenager. It really doesn’t matter when people tell you that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, because all you can think about it what’s on the outside. I wanted someone to tell me that there was a new treatment where I could get new skin or a different face or something, just anything to make me feel even just a little bit prettier. I’m also pretty sure that I believed with every inch of my being that if I was prettier, it would solve all my problems. People might like me more, I’d probably do better in school, maybe I’d get a job – all the important things for a teenager, clearly.

I’m not entirely sure where I planned to go with this blog – I suppose in typical blog fashion, I didn’t have a plan other than to vent about my problems and hope that maybe someone can relate. It would be nice, though, if looks weren’t as important as they are – although we all pretend they’re not.

Skin Deep

In my moments of procrastination, I tend to watch TV that requires the least amount of concentration and, yesterday. I turned on the ‘Idiot Box’ (name courtesy of my Dad, despite the fact that he watches Wheeler Dealers so often it’s not true) yesterday and started watching some good ol’ Catfish.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the show, I do not mean this:

Instead, I mean this:

Now, ‘catfishing’ is known as pretending to be someone you’re not online in order to hook someone into an online relationship. This programme shows the truths and lies of online dating, started by the host Nev who had his own experience after his online girlfriend turned out to be not who she said she is. People involved in online relationships (who haven’t met their partner in real life) email Nev to to help them meet their love. Sometimes, the person they meet is exactly who they claimed to be, just with a few insecurities or something along those lines, but more than usual it’s someone completely different.

You may wonder at this point where I’m going with this.

This isn’t a TV review (although, if you want my opinion, Catfish:the TV show is entertaining to watch – which is all I’m looking for in between bursts of revision. In actual fact, I had a realisation in the programme which probably isn’t that life altering, but it made me feel like I’d just had an epiphany.

As I was watching, it was a typical episode where the guy goes to meet his girlfriend who claims she is a size 6 blonde bombshell, but is instead several sizes larger. I kept on thinking, ‘Why would someone take part in an online relationship and why would you pretend to be someone you’re not? Surely you know it’s never going to end well?’. Then as I kept watching, it started to sink in – ok, it’s pretty obvious anyway, but still – that the people faking their identity always happen to be a lot larger than they pretended to be.

Before any of you start sending me abuse about how you should judge someone’s personality and not their appearance, this isn’t exactly where I’m going with today’s rant. I’m the first person to jump into the argument that personality should always be favoured instead of appearance, as would most people, but what does this programme in particular tell us about our society? It shows us that, despite everyone’s claims that they favour personality, in actual fact people still favour appearances. Why else would we have so many people pretending to be someone they’re not? To hide their appearance, perhaps?

Nowadays, I’m a lot more confident in my appearance than I used to be thanks to a great family, some awesome friends, and those few wonderful individuals who drop a compliment to a stranger like it’s nothing, when in fact it means the world. Hell, even when a stranger smiles at me on the Tube (which, if you’re a frequenter of London, you’ll know that smiles hardly ever happen) it helps to brighten my day.

I had serious confidence issues and consequently I was always self-conscious of the way I looked thanks to an early hit of puberty. My lovely hormones caused a huge bout of acne which essentially crushed my confidence in days. It sounds melodramatic and tons of people will say, ‘Everyone gets spots, just deal with it’ and I don’t see myself as vain, but acne did ruin a part of life starting at the age of ten. In primary school, whilst everyone else around me had lovely skin I was there with spots and blackheads. Starting secondary school, it felt even worse because I didn’t know anyone and – in year 7 – not many others had acne like me.

I’m incredibly lucky that all I’ve had to deal with is acne because it could have been so much worse – there are people out there who have to deal with something much worse than that, but it still affected me. I tried every acne cream/soup/wash that I could find and so many different types of pills that would supposedly help that I’ve lost count, but they never worked.

^^This is me in year 7 (excuse the silly expression) and it’s the only picture that I can find on my facebook that I haven’t deleted which shows some acne. Before you ask – yes, I did spend hours going through all my photos to make sure there were none of me that showed any really bad acne because I couldn’t bear the thought that people would look at me and see the acne. There are many times where all I wanted was a different face and I couldn’t understand why I had to have the acne when other girls in my school had perfect skin. Seriously, some girls literally get nothing; their ‘puberty’ just involves getting bigger boobs. HOW IS THAT FAIR??

Anyway, so I had many teenage breakdowns over acne – as I’m sure many teenagers do – but luckily the acne has died down now after eight years of turmoil. I still have some, but it’s less noticeable and it doesn’t have such an awful affect on my confidence. In fact, I even tried to get into modelling at one point and, for all you out there who have confidence issues, the best way to get rid of them is through yourself in the deep end. Don’t go on whacky diets or operations, just go stand in front of a camera and smile. It sure helped me.

So, what the hell is this post all about? Is this just a chance to get my sob story out there? …Not exactly. Actually, I think I wanted to make a point about our society or something deep like that. It just hit me that the only reason we have programmes like Catfish out there is because there is still such a huge problem in our society about appearances. Be that if you have a lot of acne, a bit of extra weight which people put too much focus on or even if you have a misconception on the way you look. If you even look at people filming celebrities, the commentators will talk about their clothes, or how they look a big bigger then normal and therefore she must be pregnant, because surely she wouldn’t do something as awful as putting on weight! Heaven forbid! Celebrities just can’t be like us regular mortals where a bit of extra weight is practically mandatory.

It’s silly to say that we live in a society where everyone thinks that personality is the most important thing, because it clearly isn’t true. I wish it could be different, but I suppose time will tell.

Let me know what you think ~ Eleanor