First period celebrations and not-so-celebrations
This is the fourth installment in our Period Series. This series aims to help teens understand the changes that they're going through without feeling ashamed. We'll try to dispel all the myths that your teen may read or hear and help them better understand that menstruation affects everyone and is a natural part of growing up.
- Dear tween me, let’s talk about your period, sweetie
- INFOGRAPHIC: Which menstruation product is the best for you?
- 10 myths about periods that you may still believe
Look at you, becoming a period connoisseur! That's pretty awesome if you ask me, that means you're becoming well versed in what your body can do.
Let's talk about your first period. Are you anxiously anticipating the day Aunt Flo will come visit? If Aunt Flo has already come to visit, did you celebrate your first period? I have a cousin who so desperately wanted her period that she'd put a bit of beetroot on her underwear hoping that would prompt her body to get on with it!
I wasn't very excited about mine, I was a late bloomer and was so content with not getting it.
Every menstruator's story is different. In some countries and cultures, first periods are a BIG DEAL! Family and friends will celebrate a young girl becoming a woman. She'll be showered with congratulations and gifts and be advised on what it means to be a woman.
Here's a round-up of some great ways to celebrate "becoming a women" from across the world. Does your family have a tradition?
The mother will cook a sweet and sticky dish made of red beans and rice called sekihan. The entire family will eat this together, but the mother will not announce why this special dish is being consumed. The father and the rest of the family members should try and guess what has happened.
When a girl has her first period, EVERYONE is told. A big party is thrown for the young girl and friends, family and relatives will come celebrate the huge milestone and even bring her gifts. From then on, she will assume the title of "senhorita".
Tamil people, India and Sri Lanka
On the first day of her period, she is bathed by her close female relatives, fed rich food and kept in isolation. Then she is bathed again and dressed in a sari. Family and friends are invited to a celebration ceremony. The young girl is given gifts and the guests enjoy the feast that’s been prepared. The sari symbolises that she is now a woman.
Also read: Puberty in girls
Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea
A young girl will be kept indoors for the first month of her period. Her female relatives will feed her medicinal herbs and a sticky pudding called tama tama. It is believed that the herbs will increase the girl's reproductive health. Once the month is done, she is showered with water and scrubbed with herbs. The village will then celebrate with her and family. She is paraded around the village, with every other woman in her family whispering her new responsibilities to her. Then everyone will feast and congratulate her on becoming a woman.
Apache tribe, Northern America
When a girl reaches puberty, a four-day ritual known as the Sunrise Ceremony is held in her honour. This ceremony takes months to prepare for: the symbolic attire she wears is intricately woven and the tipi she will stay in during the four days has to be built from scratch.
The elders teach the young girl about the spiritual journey to becoming a woman. She is covered in clay and cornmeal and cannot wash it off for the duration of the ceremony. She has to dance and run for four days and four nights. She runs in 4 directions, starting east. These directions symbolise the four stages of life: baby, child, teenager and woman. And on the last day she has to run further than on all the other days, shedding her childhood. The tribe will congratulate her and will feast with her family. Her spiritual guide will then give her her new name.
Also read: Teens: expect the worst
When it's not a celebration
Many people see a girl's first period as a reason to celebrate. Being a woman is awesome! Yes, there's stuff like patriarchy and misogyny that we have to fight on a daily basis (if I hear one more cat call...) but I wouldn't trade being a super(she)ro for anything.
Here are some cringe-worthy period stories for the public:
"I've struggled with an irregular period for years, this means that Aunt Flo doesn't visit as often as she should. One particular cycle was super-duper heavy (I believe I had a backlog of menstrual blood that my body had to get rid of). I spent most of the day in bed, but in the late afternoon, I began to feel better. I put my hot water bottle away and got out of bed to start making dinner for my roommate and I.
While I was channelling my inner Julia Child, my roommate came home and we started chatting about her eventful day. It was there, mid-conversation, in the white-tiled kitchen that my tampon overflowed and blood began trickling down my leg. I was mortified and ran to the bathroom. My roommate and I laughed about it a few days later, but I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole when it happened. Now every time I'm on my period, I have this paranoid feeling that blood is trickling down my leg."
- Lesego Madisa, Parent24 intern content producer
"I went to a rugby match during my first year in university wearing short shorts. As I climbed up the stairs a girl behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, "You tampon string is showing."
- Sihle Sogaula, freelance social media manager and stylist
"I was around 13 when I got my first period. This was in the 80s, so things were WAY more conservative than they are now. It was around Christmas time and my mother took me and my little sister to town to go shopping for new clothes. On the way there, my mom bought us some plums to eat while we were shopping. The day went by normally until I asked to go the loo. I went into the public toilet cubicle with my little sister and to my horror, I had blood on my underwear! I was hysterical! I thought I was reacting to the plums. I kept telling my sister, "Be careful, the plums are going to come out of your vagina!" My mother pulled me to aside to explain what was happening to my body and told me to stay away from boys."
- Sally Mmowa, production coordinator and fashion designer
I was in the 7th grade and I had just gotten my period a few months earlier so everything was still brand new. Besides, it didn't help that I was the first one in my group of friends to get it and I was weirdly embarrassed about that and didn't tell anyone (which is why I think it's super important to teach girls about this stuff from a young age and let them know how NORMAL it is). Anyway, I was in PE class and I was on my period; wearing this huge pad because I didn't use tampons and I was scared of spillage so I got the biggest pad I could find. The problem with this is that: I was wearing godawful tight teal track pants and the pad left a print on them. Everyone could see the huge pad I was wearing and I DIDN'T EVEN KNOW. So there I am, in PE class, stretching and pulling, and making my pad as obvious as it can possibly be. It wasn't until this sweet girl that I didn't even know and who was a grade above me came up to me and pulled me to the side and said: "I just want you to know that your pad is showing and everyone can see it and they're laughing at you". I was MORTIFIED. Even now thinking about it as an adult it still makes me feel so abashed, so you can only imagine how insecure teenage me felt. The worst part is I panicked and laughed it off and told the girl "haha no I'm not wearing a pad, it must be my underwear" and I still to this day don't understand why I lied to her and why I thought that it would be any less embarrassing if it was my underwear. I guess it's safe to say that that experience scarred me for a long time and for a while I was really ashamed to even talk about getting my period which is completely ridiculous. This is why I now try to be as open about it as possible because there is absolutely no shame in something so normal. Anyway, moral of the story is: don't ever wear tight teal track pants.
- Khawla, masters student
I know what an emotional rollercoaster 'that time of the month' can be. I try to embrace all of it, even the weird bowl movements. Call some of your friends and ask them if they have any funny stories to share about being on their period. I guarantee you that the next time you're on your 'ladies' days' you'll won't feel so down. I think this is the one time you're allowed to laugh at and not with.
Do you have any funny or embarrassing period stories to share? Email us at email@example.com and we may publish them. Please let us know if you'd like to stay anonymous.
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