When i was in fourth grade, a fifth grade boy sitting a few rows behind me on the bus hollered to me, “Hey, have you had sex yet?” I gave him either words or just a look of bewilderment. He then exclaimed, “‘Cuz you have big boobs!” I got my first bra in the second grade, began wearing one regularly in the third, and was probably a full B-cup by the time this incident occurred.
I also started my period when I was in the fourth grade. I turned 9 in October, and got it the following January. I was the first girl in my grade to get it by almost a full year. (Luckily, the next girl to get it happened to be my very best friend. I very much appreciated the camaraderie.
Experiencing puberty at such a young age wasn’t traumatic. I didn’t cry, I wasn’t afraid of the blood, I didn’t curse Mother Eve’s hankering for sucrose.
I didn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed, but I felt secretive and self-conscious. Elementary school bathroom stalls don’t have disposal units (little girls don’t menstruate, so why would they?), so I would have to put my pad in my lunchbox and change it in the one stall in the bathroom outside the cafeteria that was commonly used by adults as well as children. I didn’t feel burdened or angry about my period, I just felt like it mad me different in a way that couldn’t be celebrated.
A few of my friends had their periods in the sixth grade, and by the end of seventh, it had become the norm rather than the exception. It was nice to begin to feel that my body was doing something that made me like other girls, instead of something that made me different from them. But I wish it wouldn’t have taken so long.
But, with the exception of one, I never knew when any of the girls in my grade began to menstruate. I got the feeling that, for everybody, the sexual maturation of one’s body was something that we felt we were supposed to keep quiet. It may not have been something to be ashamed of, but it wasn’t something to be proud of. You didn’t have to cry, but you certainly wouldn’t be happy…you certainly wouldn’t act anything like this boss of a little girl:
This self-proclaimed “camp gyno” is more than okay with getting her period- she’s excited, confident, and empowered. She is anxious to share with others what she knows and is comfortable shouting the word “vagina”. One should never act or speak for the sole purpose of shock value, but “vagina” is not a crass word, and mention of one’s cycle is not uncivilized.
This advertisement for Hello Flo, a period supply company, doesn’t portray the onset of menses as unnerving or awkward, like it has been in every other media form I can think of. It portrays it light-heartedly, with humor and practicality. This portrayal is empowering for not just pre-teen girls, but for all women. The internet is full of videos making fun of every-day life, why shouldn’t we as women take time to make fun of ourselves?
I’m not negating the reality of the discomfort that can come from PMS, camping, and other effects of hormonal changes, but we don’t need to be miserable, complaining victims of the natural processes of our own bodies. The upcoming generation of both girls and boys would benefit from a shift in the way we as a culture view and explain puberty.
One of my favorite interactions portrayed is when one young girl hands another young girl a tampon and a handheld-mirror, calling them her “sword” and her “shield”. Those are powerful descriptors- and there is power in knowing, understanding, and accepting your body.
And we don’t need to be so uptight about it. A little blood never killed anybody.