When my Aunt Period Blood eventually did come to town, my avoidance was so finely calibrated that I blocked out the memory almost completely. I think, although I dont know for sure, that I was swimming in the ocean near my uncles house. I can recall quick ashes of confusion and panic, guiltily unspooling toilet paper in an unfamiliar bathroom by the beach.
I did not want to talk about it. I avoided talking about it so assiduously that for years I invariably failed to tell my menopausal mom when we had run out of stuffin corks and diaper nuggets (#copyrighted), forcing her to run to the grocery store at inhumane hours while I squeezed out silent, single tears in the car.
One time, I noticed that the little waxy strips you peel off the maxi pad adhesive were printed, over and over, with a slogan: Kotex Understands. In the worst moments, when my period felt like a death the death of innocence, the death of safety, the harbinger of a world where I was too fat, too weird, too childish, too ungainly Id sit hunched over on the toilet and stare at that slogan, and Id cry. Kotex understands. Somebody, somewhere, understands. (Some 47-year-old advertising copywriter in Culver City named Craig understands.)
This product will give you smoother, clearer skin
as it fights past, present, and future
signs of acne breakouts.
The most significant source of my adolescent period anxiety was the fact that, in the US and much of the west, acknowledging the completely normal and mundane function of most uteruses is still taboo. The taboo is so strong that it contributes to the widespread stonewalling of women from seats of power for fear that, as her first act in the White House, Hillary Clinton might change Presidents Day to Brownie Batter Makes the Boo-Hoos Stop Day. The taboo is strong enough that a dude once broke up with me because a surprise period started while we were having sex and the sight of it shattered some pornified illusion he had of women as messless pleasure pillows. The taboo is so strong that while weve all seen swimming pools of blood shed in horror movies and action movies and even on the news, when a woman ran the 2015 London Marathon without a tampon, photos of blood spotting her running gear made the social media rounds to near-universal disgust. The blood is the same the only difference is where its coming from. The disgust is at womens natural bodies, not at blood itself.
We can mention periods obliquely, of course, when we want to delegitimise womens real concerns, dismiss their more inconvenient emotions. But to suggest that having a period isnt an abomination, but is, in fact, natural and good, or my God to actually let people see what period blood looks like? (This is going to blow a lot of you guys minds, but: it looks like blood.) You might as well suggest replacing the national anthem with Donald Trump harmonising with an air horn.
Yeah, personally I hate my period and think its annoying and gross, but its not more gross than anything else that comes out of a human body. Its not more gross than faeces, urine, pus, bile, vomit, or the grossest bodily fluid of them all in my mothers professional opinion phlegm. And yet we are not horrified every time we go to the bathroom. We do not stigmatise people with stomach flu. The active ingredient in period stigma is misogyny.
Maybe periods wouldnt be so frightening if we didnt refer to them as red tide or shark week or any other euphemism that evokes neurotoxicity or dismemberment. Maybe if we didnt perpetuate the idea that vaginas are disgusting garbage dumps, government officials wouldnt think of vagina care as literally throwing money away. Maybe if girls felt free to talk about their periods in shouts instead of whispers, boys wouldnt grow up thinking that vaginas are disgusting and mysterious either. Maybe women would go to the doctor more. Maybe fewer women would die of cervical and uterine cancer. Maybe everyone would have better sex. Maybe women would finally be considered fully formed human beings, instead of offbrand men with defective genitals.
The truth is, my discomfort with my period didnt have anything to do with the thing itself it was just part of the lifelong, pervasive alienation from my body that every woman absorbs to some extent. Your body is never yours. Your body is your enemy. Your body is gross. Your body is wrong. Your body is broken. Your body isnt what men like. Your body is less important than a foetus. Your body should be perfect or it should be hidden.
Yeah, well, my name is Lindy West and Im fat and I bleed out of my hole sometimes. My body is mine now. Kotex understands.