A period piece: destigmatising menstrual blood


As I write this, I am bleeding. Don’t worry, it’s just this special little time that we get to go through where we shed our uterus lining like a snake shedding its skin, except the process is less beautiful and more spotty. If I were to put this blood in an advert for a phone, apparently, it would all be fun and games. However, the moment it’s put in an advert for a sanitary pad, people start having a problem with it.

The recent Bodyform advert is the first to show red liquid on a sanitary towel instead of the infamous blue fluid. For this to only be happening now and to then be facing criticism is hard to believe. Luckily, though, many of the reactions have been positive – mainly from women who are pretty used to seeing red liquid for a few days a month, or sometimes for the rest of eternity, on brave underwear lost in war.

Some try to compare showing period blood to showing other bodily fluids in adverts in a ‘where does it end?!’ kind of argument. Firstly, people do not have as vigorous a reaction to blood from a cut on someone’s knee as they do to period blood. There is an Instagram account which posts pictures of nipples sent in by followers, without stating the gender of the nipple-bearer. This makes it harder for Instagram to ban only female nipples, meaning that sometimes the men’s nipples get banned, sometimes the women’s. Equality. So too the connotations of blood change with the context – the same can’t be said for the other fluids.

More importantly, the reality is, there isn’t the same kind of specific stigma surrounding other bodily fluids as there is with periods. In the words of Traci Baxter, Bodyform’s marketing manager, “We know that the ‘period taboo’ is damaging. It means people are more likely to struggle with the effects of period poverty, whilst others struggle with their mental health and wellbeing.”

The connotations of blood change with the context

Linking the taboo to period poverty and mental health shows how serious an effect something seemingly small, like blue liquid, might have on people. It was reported earlier this year that girls are missing school because they cannot afford sanitary products, and yet the reality of period poverty is only just beginning to be taken seriously. There is no doubt that building a more realistic depiction of periods and lessening the stigma around them can only help. Sanitary products have long been overlooked as objects for charitable donation because taboos can lead to people not stating their need for them and therefore missing out. People not considering them important enough for donations might play a part too. Plus, period products are expensive and, as sayeth our feminist hero Theresa May, ‘there is no magic money tree’.

Recently, there have also been concerns raised in the medical community about the lack of research surrounding period pain. For a long time, period pain has been considered so normal that it has been dismissed by both doctors and patients, leading to a condition like endometriosis taking seven and a half years to be diagnosed on average.

Photograph: Hey Paul Studios via Flickr and Creative Commmons

As we can see, in the long run, stigma and a lack of research regarding periods can affect both mental and physical health. In the show Big Mouth, a girl who has just got her first period asks the Statue of Liberty – it’s an animated show, anything is possible – whether there is anything good about being a woman. She replies, in a thick French accent, ‘Well, if you’re very lucky, men will jack off at you on the subway so… no.’

As much as this sometimes feels like it’s true, it isn’t. There are beautiful things about womanhood, and even about periods – one being the lack of a baby inside me at this present moment. Let’s make vaginas great again. Why can’t we draw pretty vagina flowers on our notebooks instead? Why can’t we proudly design vagina stadiums for the FIFA World Cup? Why shouldn’t we stake our claim to the world by doodling vaginas all over it?

There are beautiful things about womanhood, and even periods

Women have been deemed impure throughout history, so perhaps it is not surprising if this belief lingers today in the form of disgust at the sight of corn syrup and food colouring on a sanitary pad. According to most major religions, a woman becomes impure and unclean once a month. In Islam, women aren’t allowed to pray, fast, or go to the mosque whilst on their periods. In Christianity, the Bible describes the unclean menstruating woman who makes anyone who touches her and everything she lies on unclean too. Sometimes my period catches me in the night by surprise, okay?

We need to get rid of this notion of the purity or impurity of women altogether. Women are just women and some of them bleed sometimes. Get over it.

Photograph: Mikael Moiner via Flickr and Creative Commons

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