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My revenge on period shaming

by Emilie Barbry on March 29, 2022

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One of my favorite  aspects of ageing is that the more I age, the less shit I have left to give. Each year that passes liberates me from a constraint, a taboo, offers me self-acceptance and makes me more free. Recently I got into a situation where I had to walk into the public space with bloody pants, and I did it proudly. I was not proud about the fact that at 36yo I forgot to pack pads in my bag and accidentally painted my bum in red, but proud that I didn’t care about it. I thought of little 12yo me who was mortified by the idea that boys of my class might know that I was menstruating, and acknowledging this growth made me damn proud.

One of my favorite  aspects of ageing is that the more I age, the less shit I have left to give.

I grew up in a family in which menstruations were not a taboo. I remember that the first time it happened, I was at home, and when I told my mom she got super excited about it, shouted the news at my dad who was in the garden and then she poured me a drink, which was really something as she barely drinks, and because I was 12yo. So I can say that my family didn’t induce the shame of menstruation in me, but everybody else did. Kids at school, some of my friends’ parents, sometimes teachers, media of course, and later boyfriends (yup). So despite the good work my mom did on the topic, I wasn’t comfortable about it.

My family didn’t induce the shame of menstruation in me, but everybody else did.

One day at a school break, a friend asked me for a tissue. I was caught in a conversation with someone else and carelessly dug in my bag, not looking at what I was doing. I grabbed a pack of tissues and handed it to her, still not paying attention and kept chatting. My friend didn’t take the tissues, and the conversation stopped. I noticed that I was not holding tissues, but a pad. They all burst into laughter, pointing at me, because I had a pad in my hand. I was mortified. I’m actually crying a bit whilst writing these lines as it brings me back into this moment of collective shaming. It was awful. I couldn’t wait for the school day to end and was trying to think of a way to never come back.

Years of work on self-acceptance and internal little struggles to normalise the monthly signal that I’m not pregnant left me with absolutely no shit left to give.

24 years later, I was sitting in my Kreuzberg studio and realised that I completely overlooked my menstruation situation and that my bright-coloured leggings now presented a blood stain and I didn’t have a pad or anything with me. I was supposed to join some friends for dinner right after leaving the studio and didn’t plan to pop by home before. And it was ALL GOOD. I wasn’t worried that my blood would leave a stain on my beloved leggings, as it was one of my production and they honestly wash like a dream, I knew that the stain would easily go away. And I wasn’t worried either that I would have to walk in the streets, go to the supermarket, take the U-bahn and go to my friend’s or that my jacket was too short to hide the blood stain. Years of work on self-acceptance and internal little struggles to normalise the monthly signal that I’m not pregnant left me with absolutely no shit left to give. That was such a nice feeling.

 

In the store, as I was queuing at the cashier desk, carelessly holding a pack of pads in one hand, and a bottle of red wine in the other, I thought hard of little 12yo Émilie, telling her: « look where we are now », and it was such a sweet empowerment. I even designed hoodies showing a bleeding vajayjay and I wear them proudly. It’s not always easy to drop all the nonsense society pressure and manage to step out of patriarchal control over our female bodies, but when you manage to make a step forward, there’s no coming back, and the victory is all yours.

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