Life

4 activists on why we need to change the period narrative

Periods don’t stop in a pandemic. In partnership with The Body Shop’s Period Product Donation initiative, we speak to four people about why it’s essential we end the menstruation taboo and get products to those who can’t afford it… 

This pandemic has seen us all experience a shortage of things we’re used to getting on a whim. There was the toilet roll mass panic, followed shortly by a country-wide flour shortage. 

But as many of us get a taste of not being able to access products we feel that we need, try amplifying that frustration and apply it to accessing period products, and in turn the effect it would have on how desperate you’d feel. 

That’s the reality 1 in 10 women and girls in the UK face every month when they menstruate and can’t get access to products due to their circumstances, be it financial or physical (such as people who are homeless, those who are in refuges and asylum seekers).

And that struggle doesn’t stop in a pandemic, which is why we teamed up with The Body Shop to speak to four activists about why changing the narrative around periods to destigmatise them is key to dealing with the issue and to help raise awareness of The Body Shop’s Period Product Donation initiative that started in 2019 to get products to those who can’t afford it through charities like Bloody Good Period (you can donate here) - because it’s more important than ever to help each other…

Gabby Edlin, 33, founder of Bloody Good Period 

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“I founded Bloody Good Period in October 2016. We provide period products to asylum seekers, refugees and those who can’t afford them, and work to normalise menstruation.

I read an article in 2015 about how homeless women deal with their periods – it was something I’d simply never thought about before.

We’ve been told for centuries that periods should be secret and you’re not supposed to talk about them, so why would you wonder how someone else is managing theirs?

Later, I volunteered at an asylum seeker centre that collected ‘essentials’, but not period products – those were only handed out ‘in emergencies’.

Since when is having a period an emergency? 

’Challenge accepted’, I thought, and Bloody Good Period was born.

Some of the women we work with have to use very cheap pads they’re allergic to – and that’s the best case scenario.

Others don’t leave the house, or sit on towels all day. Some re-use pads, or cut-up socks and t-shirts. Many use toilet paper. One woman told us she had to use her daughter’s nappy.

Being able to take care of yourself is a human right.

The government needs to make period products freely accessible. Businesses need to supply them for staff and customers. Supply companies need to bring prices down.

People should also be given access to reusables, like menstrual cups or period pants. They’re not only cost-effective and good for the environment, but also teach you that bleeding and getting messy is natural and normal.

The more you think about it, the more ridiculous it is that there’s a stigma about a fundamental biological fact. That’s why my aim is for period neutrality – that your period just is. You can be proud of it, sure, but you don’t have to be. The only requirement is it doesn’t affect you in a negative way.

I really hope that one day Bloody Good Period won’t have to exist.”

Emma Breschi, 26, model and advocate for UN Women UK and Bloody Good Period 

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“People are funny, aren’t they? They’ll be perfectly happy watching a gory horror movie, but tell them my fanny’s leaking and they’ll run for the hills.

I got my period at 13 and straight away I’d be like, ‘Dad, I’ve got my period’ and describe what was happening in graphic detail.

I wanted both to shock him, but also to discover why it made him uncomfortable. And that’s why I’m still talking about it now. I don’t want to preach, I want to have an open and honest discussion: why is this shameful? Why are you embarrassed? Why can’t I wave a tampon around on my way into the toilet?

I remember once at school, we were at the swimming pool and my underwear fell out of my bag. A lot of kids were pointing and shouting, ‘Look! There are period-stained panties!’ and I was joining in. But then I realised my mum had labelled my underwear. ‘EMMA BRESCHI’ was hand-stitched in capital letters on the pants.

Everyone screamed, ‘They’re yours!’ and I was horrified. But it taught me early on to deal with the shame through humour. 

Humour, shock-value and light-heartedness enables us to discuss real things without judgement or worthiness, which allows us to achieve understanding and compassion. And that’s how I try to change the conversation around periods.

It’s about changing perspective. Shame should be reserved for the things we do, not what we are.”

Kenny Ethan Jones, 26, model, activist and first trans man to front a period campaign

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“Having periods is a topic that most trans men – especially masculine trans men – don’t feel comfortable discussing, which goes to show I’m doing the right thing in talking about it!

I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria at 14, and started my periods at 15. My mum and sister were my best friends throughout my entire transition, but while they were incredibly supportive, I felt trapped. 

I felt a complete disconnect from my body.

I started speaking openly about it in March 2018, and discovered it not only raised awareness, but helped me to personally deal with my own shame around the subject.

In December last year, I posted on social media that I was having bad period pains and that my medication wasn’t helping as much as it used to. A lot of trans men commented saying, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever felt comfortable even reading about periods’.

To see trans men publicly engaging in the conversation was a really big thing for me. I’ve also had a lot of mums and teachers say it’s helped them to reach out to sons going through the same which makes me smile. I wish I’d had that when I was young.

It took me a while to work out where the shame had come from: was it because I was having a period, or was because of how periods were portrayed? And I realised it was the portrayal.

Society says: ‘This is who has periods – and it’s not you’. If we can change that portrayal, periods would lose their shame for trans people, as they’d just be a normal part of the experience.

I want to see trans people represented so they can join the conversation if they want to - and so can everyone else.”

Ruqsana Begum, 36, professional boxer, former Muay Thai kickboxing world champion and author of Born Fighter

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“When I train, no one knows my cycle and no one asks.

Sometimes I get into the ring and spar and I’m slightly weaker and in a bit more pain. But it’s not acceptable in a male-dominated world to talk about it, even if it directly affects you, your work and your day-to-day life.

I think that’s true in non-sporting worlds too.

A friend came to pick me up at the airport recently and came on suddenly, and she couldn’t find any pads.

Nothing in restaurants or in the toilets. She had to use toilet paper. And even if there were pads available, you’d have to pay for them – what if you don’t have any money? You’re what, meant to feel ashamed? 

That whole, ‘Oh, is it the time of the month?’ insult is unacceptable because the truth is, our hormones do change and our bodies do change during our cycle, and we have to be aware of that – not hide it because it’s in some way embarrassing.

To deny ourselves is to put us at a disadvantage and even in danger.

I’ve had to learn to talk about it and accept it’s not something we should feel ashamed of or embarrassed about – it’s our biology. Otherwise I could get seriously injured.

It takes a lot of courage to say, ‘You know what? I’m not up for this today, can we change the programme?’

That’s not a weakness, it’s a fact. It’s about performance, about knowing your body and respecting it, both in and out of the ring.”

The Body Shop has teamed up with Bloody Good Period to ensure that those who can’t afford period products have access to them throughout this pandemic and beyond. 

In addition to that, donations from The Body Shop and their customers have resulted in thousands of menstrual supplies given to local organisations across the county to help those who need them most – including 10,000 packs from The Body Shop at Home being donated so far. The Body Shop has also funded three Bloody Good Period education programmes – providing free comprehensive education about female sexual and reproductive health to asylum seekers, and people that cannot normally access it. 

Support the partnership and those who need access to basic period essentials below.