By Anastasia Volkoff
Growing up surrounded by strong images of various different expressions of womanhood within the media challenged my own perception of what it means to be a woman from a young age. While I was grappling with my own sense of femininity and gender presentation, questions (that I still cannot fully answer today) came to the forefront of my pre-adolescent mind: “How does my biology coincide with becoming a woman?” and “Does getting my period change that?”
I was raised by a very sex and body-positive mother and a conservative father. The duality in my home’s view on gender, sex, and sexuality impacted my view on my developing body, making it feel like a battleground of different viewpoints. Not to mention, outdated, archaic beliefs that a period marks a young girl’s transition to womanhood, exacerbated my confusion. I think it’s unfair to place the weight of womanhood on an, in my case, 11-year-old girl’s psyche. It’s inundating, it’s overwhelming, it’s heavy-to think: that your girlhood ends the second your uterus decides to shed its lining.
I was one of the first girls in my fifth-grade class to get my period. Beforehand, in the neurotic nature still true to myself today, I researched puberty intently. I wanted to know why my body looked so different from my peer’s bodies. Having boobs, body odor, and acne in the third grade put me at the center for questions and teasing. In locker rooms, my female classmates would point out the size of my boobs. While it was out of innocence and curiosity, for the first time, I became aware of how my body and womanhood separated me from my friends and peers. For the first, but surely not the last time, my body became a spectacle. My developing womanhood was free real-estate for comments rooted in misogyny. My anatomy made me vulnerable.
I got my period during lunch break in early Spring during fifth grade. I had this glorified idea as to what getting my first period would look like, and I was partially disappointed by how uneventful finding the stained blood in my underwear was. The canonic ice cream, oozing blood, and overly supportive, super-involved family members were merely a myth. It was just another banal day in 2017. Despite how disappointingly uneventful getting my first period was, I felt a sense of pride from it. I was now a woman-reborn and thrust into my own quasi-world of preteen womanhood. At the time, only a few other girls had gotten their period. It felt like an exclusive club of early developers. The shame or freakiness of starting puberty early subsided with this new emblem of adulthood. I remember thinking to myself, “I am the most grown-up girl in my grade”. In terms of adolescent development- maybe I was. In retrospect, it is completely meaningless.
By the middle of 8th grade, the discreet exchange of pads or tampons in bathroom stalls and complaints about cramps became a fairly common occurrence. We were “women”, at the grown age of 13. The girls who didn’t get it were “weird”. Anomalies almost. Arrested development, for sure. A biological function that happens at a different time for different people became a point of separation when it really did not have to. We were all eighth graders regardless of our periods or lack thereof, yet we perpetuated a culturally ubiquitous idea of shame over periods.
Instead of lifting each other up or focusing on how we could normalize something totally normal, we played into the patriarchal notion that periods are a point of contention. PMS jokes from boys didn’t help the matter. A culture of shame regarding all aspects of periods was created, which is incredibly conflicting for a young teen girl. On one hand, a period was symbolic of womanhood, whereas on the other hand, it was the butt of chauvinistic jokes. We couldn’t win. I believe that a period, in itself, carries no significance. Society gave it magnitude. Society, misogyny, and shame stigmatized it. There is no universal interpretation of a period. A period should be personal. Everybody has a different story and experience of it. Periods are unique to each person who bleeds, and they are nobody else’s business. It is our job, although difficult, to unlearn the insidious stigma surrounding periods spoon-fed to us our whole lives.