To the Editor:
“When I was in the foster care system, they had very few period supplies, most of which were one size and highly uncomfortable … many foster youth don’t have access to such essential products.”
“I was always nervous to ask my mother to buy more pads or tampons because I knew how expensive they were, and I sat through many uncomfortable days at school just to avoid financial strain on my parents.”
“There exists an unspoken stigma around periods that does not justify menstrual pain as a worthy enough excuse to skip a practice, or stay in bed over seeing friends.”
Human. It’s the beauty that defines and deepens our existence. In a reality as isolating as the COVID-19 pandemic, humanness is our universal connection.
Humans with Periods, a social media awareness campaign that began during National Period Poverty Awareness Week (May 24-30), documents and explores humanness. With the aim to dismantle the stigma around periods by opening up about period-related struggles, menstruators all over Connecticut shared their own period stories for the public to read. I’ve shared a few of the responses we received at the beginning of this piece.
Topics ranged from period poverty — a lack of access to menstrual products due to financial burdens — to the stereotypes many menstruators confront, including a lack of sympathy, as many believe periods are a “girl’s issue.”
Unlike other normal bodily functions, like hair growth, urination, or digestion, the menstrual cycle is stigmatized and serves as a financial burden for many.
To put this situation into perspective for those who do not menstruate: when was the last time you had to pay for toilet paper in a restroom? On most accounts, never. Imagine inserting a quarter into a machine that only gives you one usage of toilet paper. This is the reality for many menstruators. Period products are a necessity, and it’s well past time that we treat them as such.
Tampons and pads, in most places, are not free and many schools struggle to provide them. In Connecticut, 1 in 8 women and girls between the ages of 12 and 44 lives below the Federal Poverty Level, and almost 60% of families living in poverty struggle to keep up with their bills and cover unexpected expenses. The cost of period products makes them inaccessible for many individuals who are low-income, forcing them to resort to using unsafe and unhygienic alternatives like rags, toilet paper, or even adult incontinence products.
In elementary school, I was the first person in my class to reach menarche, my first menstrual cycle. As a result, the subject of periods evolved into a fear: I was often too scared to talk to my mom about it, much less my closest friends. I was called an “early bloomer” and exercised extreme discretion every time I was on my period. The most debilitating part of the stigma was that I was ashamed of my own body.
Over the years I have slowly found beauty in the menstrual cycle. How magical is it that, in preparation for pregnancy, our bodies can nurture a child? Endure so much pain and come back stronger and healthier? It is simply amazing what our bodies are capable of.
But much of the general public do not see it this way. One of the goals of Humans with Periods was to change that perspective, opening readers up to a discussion that many consider taboo, with insufficient media coverage and a history of inducing shame. These Humans with Periods stories also explored these inequities through a rarely perceived lens of poverty. I have been fortunate enough to live with easy access to period products, unlike the 40% of female public school students in grades 7-12 in Connecticut that attend schools with high concentrations of student poverty. They likely cannot say the same.
One of the first steps towards real change is education and awareness. I invite you to learn more about period poverty, and what The Diaper Bank of Connecticut’s Beam program is doing to help in our community, by visiting the Diaper Bank’s Beam webpage.
But change does not end there. Let’s keep this conversation going, for all to hear.
Wilton High School sophomore Joy Ren is one of the co-creators of Humans With Periods, a project supported by the Connecticut Alliance for Period Supplies, a program of The Diaper Bank of Connecticut. Visit the Diaper Bank of CT’s Facebook page to see some of the Human With Periods Project.