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Shark Week. Monthly Gift. Crimson Tide.
No matter what you call menstruation, it happens. Though there’s such a harsh stigma around bleeding every month that people are afraid to talk about it. Why?
Media shows us that having a period has to be secretive event, and it would be a sin if everyone knew about it. From ads promoting “discreet pads” equipped with cotton wrappers to cringey scenes in movies where a father is faced with the task of buying pads for his daughter, it sparks insecurity and shame in women (particularly young girls), as the media is telling them that getting a period if a socially unacceptable thing.
How dare you allow your body to do its natural duty? How barbaric!
I am open about speaking about periods with my female friends. We speak about flows—whether light or heavy, how we can’t function with heavy cramps, and our cravings for chocolate and warm blankets. Yet, when it comes to speaking to males about periods, there’s an instant shift in the air, causing said males to squirm and quickly change the subject. Have they not realized that the reason they are alive is because their mother missed their period and knew something wasn’t right with her body?
Period culture is one-sided, and I’ve been a victim of being sucked into its vortex. In the early days of getting my period, I’d watch the Playtex commercials of thin girls swinging tennis rackets while she was apparently on her period. The girl would always have this determined look on her face as the tennis ball would come hurtling toward her and she’d smack it into oblivion. If studied further, I guess the tennis ball represented a period and if you wore Playtex Sport tampons, you too could knock it right out. But let’s be real, no one is playing sports on their period. No one is going to run a marathon. Or swim in the Hudson River. Or daintily slip a pad out her bag while sitting at some ritzy cafe in New York City. I used to think a period was just something I could easily ignore. No big deal, she’s running track on her period. I can do that!
The reality of having a period is being curled into a shivering ball, in front of your laptop with Grace and Frankie on the screen, awaiting your Postmates order.
In elementary school, we had dedicated weeks to discussing puberty. The boys were placed in one room to talk about voice changes and wet dreams, while the girls were forced to learn about breast tenderness during periods. I was in fifth grade when I was handed a generic pad and taught how to put it on during an awkward demonstration from my soft spoken math teacher. Since then, I’ve been been a pad connoisseur. Though my first taste of using a tampon was at summer camp in seventh grade. My fellow cabin mates handed me tampon after tampon over the door of the bathroom stall. Everyone was rooting for me, cheering from outside the door. But it just wouldn’t work. I think I was just too scared. Very afraid of the pain and over 10 tampons wasted later, I’d given up. I’d be bound to the pad life for the rest of my life. I was extremely embarrassed that tampons wouldn’t work for me. Yet they had worked for the other girls. They spent a lot less time in the bathroom. Their tampons had cute wrappers. They could go water skiing and rope climbing with ease, while I sat downing another cherry cola slushie with my feet in the water, as they yelled, “Jump in!” from the deep end.
“I’m on my period,” I’d whisper through gritted teeth, looking around to make sure no boys would know of my dilemma. It wasn’t until this year that I began to embrace my period. I started wearing light-colored jeans because I wanted to. I didn’t restrict to dark clothing anymore. I began to be grateful as I experienced intense cramps or heavy flows, telling myself it was all a part of womanhood. I am grateful that this happens to me, as it is a special thing I can cherish and that a man can’t ruin. A close friend showed me the work of photographer Petra Collins, then I discovered poet Rupi Kaur’s photo series about menstruation. Both women spoke about an experience of being on a period, from showering to having sex. Just today, I’ve finally found an accurate period commercial! It’s from a feminist social activism group in the UK called Bodyform, depicting the truth about what having a period is like. And there’s definitely no one playing tennis.
Yet this isn’t enough. We need to stop placing these taboos on natural body functions. We need to not separate the boys and girls in classrooms because this only causes boys to be afraid to be around women on their period. By doing so, this also erases the division between cisgendered females and transgendered females, as education about periods would be neutral without a gender bias.
It’s time to get over yourself. Periods happen. They are not gross. Women are not demons.