In my book Bad Habits, a group of hockey players mocks my heroine, Alex, for buying tampons. Undaunted, she responds by raining down a shower of neon-wrapped tampons on their heads and striding away in her motorcycle boots, purple fauxhawk held high, vowing to destroy the patriarchy.
The incident earns her the nickname the Tampon Terror – which she’s actually pretty proud of.
Unfortunately, teenage me was not Alex. I was never brave enough to tell people I was bleeding, or that my mood swings were actually because of my period rather than just being a total bitch. I was the one cowering in the corner, shoving my tampons up my sleeve so no one saw them.
And I’m ashamed. Not of my period, but of the shame I felt.
When I was in high school, period products were distributed on the black market. We crouched next to friends’ desks, we cornered each other in locker rooms, we spoke in low voices and in code: “Do you have…something?” And by something, we meant anything – the flattened half-opened pad at the bottom of your gym bag, the battered emergency tampon that’s been jostled by gel pens in your pencil case for six months.
Once something – anything – was secured, time for the menstrual walk of shame. Notice the hunched shoulders, the just-in-case sweatshirt tied around the waist, the crinkly shitty-for-the-environment plastic-wrapped tampon clutched in the fist, the shifty avoidance of eye contact as you scurry out of the room and hope desperately to have the bathroom to yourself.
Periods just weren’t discussed. Adults didn’t talk about them, except the day in health class when they separated boys and girls and showed us a graphic birth video that made my friend pass out. Cool teenage girls on the Friday night TV shows didn’t have them – except maybe once, a first period, for one of the “very special episodes” which usually revolved around car accidents or drug abuse. Apparently a period was in the same category: a bizarre, dangerous, one-time incident deserving of punishment.
Or mockery – the cool teenage TV girls didn’t have periods, but their cool teenage TV boyfriends had jokes about PMS, especially if a girl dared to stand up for herself. We didn’t want to be the butt of those jokes.
So purchasing period products was also an undercover activity, requiring a group. Two friends stood watch on either end of that aisle in the CVS Pharmacy, and they were my bodyguards when I went to the cash register. If we spotted anyone we knew – a classmate, someone’s mom, or (God forbid!) a guy from school—we ran for cover.
Almost twenty years later, I wish I could say all that is a distant memory. But even though I can brave that aisle by myself now, I still shrink a bit when I bring a box of super tampons and a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups to a cashier.
Let’s end it.
It’s time to move from period shame to period chic. I’m sure many of you already have, but I’m calling on the rest of us, including myself, to get bold. Let’s abolish the tampon black market. Instead of crouching, whispering, and passing anything hand-to-hand under desks, let’s demand products that are good for our bodies and for the environment, and make sure everyone who needs them has them. Let’s stand tall, hold our tampons, pads, and cute menstrual accessories above our heads, and ditch the menstrual walk of shame for the menstrual strut. Let’s use our loud and proud voices to talk about our struggles, our cramps, our doubts, and our amazing bodies.
And if someone gives you side-eye or snark for your period pride, take some inspiration from the Tampon Terror and rain down protection upon them. But be sure to pick them all back up, because a good tampon is hard to find.
BAD HABITS by Flynn Meaney is published by Penguin (RRP £7.99) and is out now.