As Boots launches its new ‘period delay’ service, aimed at women who’d rather not bleed on holidays or big occasions, Strong Women editor Miranda Larbi questions how treating periods as an inconvenience really empowers us in the long-term.
I was on holiday last month in 35°C Tel Aviv, and was on my period for half of my time there. Knowing that it’d come in my second week, I packed a stack of period pants, my Mooncup and various navy coloured bikinis. And you know what? It was totally fine.
Sure, I felt a bit like a beach ball a few days before it arrived (thanks, premenstrual bloat) and that didn’t exactly make me feel amazing about flashing my flesh, but once my period began, I just cracked on as usual. In fact, I’d argue that being somewhere warm and not having to deal with the stresses of home life and work made that period far easier to deal with – to say nothing of being able to float, weightless, in the sea.
But it wasn’t always like this. Back in the day, my holiday prep began with hoarding enough of my pill that I’d be able to backpack it for weeks on end to avoid having a period. And before going on contraception, I used to ask to be prescribed period delay tablets whenever a holiday was on the horizon. Towards the start of my menstruating life, I free-bled on a 36-hour coach trip back from Portugal, and after that, I was prepared to do just about anything to stem the flow abroad.
Fast forward to 2022, and Boots is now offering a new period delay service via its Online Doctor. How nostalgic! How sixth form me would have jumped for joy at not having to schlep to the doctor to explain why having a period in the middle of the summer orchestral tour to Bruges (niche, I know) would be inconvenient. How thrilled I’d have been to discover that the high street chemist could help me to postpone my period for up to 17 days (even if £27 took a hefty bite out of my budget in 2005).
But then again, 16-year-old me wouldn’t know that 11 years down the line, my period would stop altogether thanks to a heady cocktail of chronic stress and clean eating. For nearly three years, I frolicked around in bikinis and wore white linen shorts without once wondering if that drip of sweat or sea water was actually blood. And for nearly three years, I lay awake in the middle of the night wondering if I was infertile or going through early menopause at 27.
It may be a cliche (and cliches tend to be true), but you really don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone – and that’s absolutely the case with periods. We spend so much of our young lives trying to get rid of them, viewing our monthly bleed as a bloody inconvenience but when it suddenly stops of its own accord, it’s terrifying. If periods are the unofficial ‘fifth vital sign’ of good health, not having them when you’re of ‘fertile age’ is surely a sign that something’s wrong.
The period positivity movement has grown exponentially in recent years, as more women take an interest in their cycle. It’s almost weird now to not to use a tracker like Clue or Flo. We’ve spoken loads on Strong Women about how to eat and move to support better menstrual health, and there are any number of ethical and sustainable period companies out there offering innovative period pants, reusable cups and organic tampons. The wellness industry has rebranded periods into being a kind of self-care luxury – which (if you can afford to participate) is great. We should be celebrating every time a bleed happens, because that’s literally what our bodies are designed to do.
Why then does this narrative around periods disrupting fun still exist? I was 16 in 2006 – 16 years ago – and pharmacists are still making a big deal of offering to put periods on hold so women can enjoy their holidays.
Obviously, everyone’s different and for someone who experiences incredibly heavy periods with a load of unpleasant symptoms, enjoying a holiday while bleeding might be an impossibility. It’s great that options exist for delaying nature, should one need to. But you do have to wonder: when are we going to stop thinking of periods as something to avoid? And why isn’t the onus on public facility providers, for example, to make society more period-friendly?
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.