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How Charli XCX is fighting period shame, one tampon string at a time

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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The singer’s tampon string slipped out of her costume at a recent concert in Austin, Texas and the artist used the occasion to spotlight menstruation and fight period shame.

Pop music is, famously, a world of smoke and mirrors.

Stars assume alter egos like Sasha Fierce and Joanne, or perform behind the curtained safety of a wig. (Sia, we’re looking at you.) Everything is, quite literally, stage managed, from the orchestrated release of an album to every single dance move on stage. Pop is all about image creation, and its stars the canvas.

So when an artist like Charli XCX comes along, preaching authenticity and honesty, fans sit up and listen. “[My fans] really care about me,” Charli XCX said in an interview this year. “And I really care about them. We’re speaking the same language, and maybe nobody else gets that language, but we totally understand. I just feel my music is now a safe space for me to be really honest. I don’t feel afraid.” 

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Fans at Charli XCX’s most recent concert in Austin, Texas, witnessed that kind of honesty firsthand when the artist’s tampon string slipped out of her costume during a particularly acrobatic performance.

“My tampon string is out tonight,” the singer said onstage, reaching around to find the offending item. “Last night I was like, ‘I thought it came out’, but tonight, it came out, Austin.”

Later, the singer shared a video of the moment to her social media with the hilarious caption: “My tampon string stole the show. Her stage presence is iconic tbh.”

Some other artists might have treated the moment with shame or embarrassment, but not Charli. By bringing attention to her rogue tampon string and sharing the video on social media, the artist did her bit to address period shame and draw attention to the fact that there is nothing humiliating about a tampon.

Period shame is a very real thing: Almost half of US women have been humiliated by men because of their period. Almost a third of women surveyed in the US have cancelled plans, including plans that involve rigorous exercise like going to the gym or, you know, performing a livewire concert, because of their period.

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In third world countries the impact of period shame is even more pressing. Some 88% of women and girls around the world don’t have access to clean and safe sanitary products. In Africa, one in 10 girls do not attend school when they have their periods, because they either don’t have sanitary products or because they feel ashamed. According to many experts, period stigma is one of the main reasons behind a disparity in education levels among girls and boys around the world.

Things are changing, albeit slowly. When celebrities like Charli XCX use their concerts and social media platforms to spotlight how normal and manifestly not shameful it is to have a period and use a tampon, they make a difference. When celebrities like Elizabeth Banks use their acceptance speech at a major awards gala to say the word tampon loud and proud, they make a difference.

“I want to change the world,” Banks said upon receiving the Pioneer of the Year honour from the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation this week. “I wanted to say something tonight that has never been said on this stage, at this forum… I wanted to say tampon. TAMPON. Tampon.” 

Elizabeth Banks and the Charlie's Angels cast
Ella Balinska, Naomi Scott, Kristen Stewart and Elizabeth Banks attend the Will Rogers 78th Annual Pioneer Dinner Honoring Elizabeth Banks.

Banks went on to say that she included a tampon scene in the forthcoming Charlie’s Angels reboot, starring Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska, for the same reason she wanted to shout the word tampon from the stage of an awards show – to end period stigma once and for all.

There is still a long way to go. Last year, when the Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan-starring Mary Queen of Scots was released a moment featuring the Scottish royal menstruating caused an uproar in the media.

“In America, I was asked ‘how difficult was it to shoot that menstrual blood scene?’” director Josie Rourke recalled. “But it was probably one of the most straightforward scenes that we show because there were six women there and we all know what happens and we all know what to do.” 

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When these quotes were reported in the media, many outlets ran headlines saying that Rourke had “defended” the menstruation scene – suggesting that periods are something that need to be accounted for. “I was not ‘defending’ this menstruation scene,” Rourke later clarified on Twitter. “It requires no defence.”

Which is exactly the message that Charli XCX preached with her cheeky onstage tampon banter and her subsequent Instagram video this week. Like Charli’s tampon string, for many women, sanitary products are the great supporting acts of our entire menstruating lives. A round of applause, please. 

Images: Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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