Why We Need to End Period Shaming

 

Author: Holly Campbell

You’ve likely experienced somebody’s overt disgust at the sight of menstrual blood or had your views devalued because you are “on your period” – an insult used to disregard a person of any gender as irrational. This culture of shame is sexist and used as a tool to maintain the subordination of women. We need to talk openly about periods to empower women, support positive experiences for trans-men and encourage safe and environmentally sustainable sanitary products.

The social anxiety around women’s menstrual cycles is exhaustingly intrusive. Period shaming means that whilst women are dealing with pain, cramps and expensive sanitary products, we also have to manage our periods with utmost secrecy too. This consensus of shame and embarrassment means public conversations around menstruation are avoided and challenging concepts to include trans-men is nowhere near considered. The menstrual cycle is an inherently natural and biological function, yet we live in a culture that associates periods with weakness and irrationality – traits historically associated with women for the convenience of patriarchy. This oppression devalues women and marginalises trans-men.

Period shaming limits open conversations around menstruation and the potential for positive action to combat related social, health and environmental impacts. Period, vagina and tampon are not shameful, dirty words. However a patriarchal society has created a culture that squirms at the sound of them. We need to challenge this for honest discussions around the environmental and health impacts of sanitary products. We use on average 11,000 tampons in our lifetime, all dumped in landfill taking centuries to degrade. Furthermore, manufacturers are not legally obliged to disclose ingredients, meaning many consumers are unaware that their sanitary products contain harmful toxins. In third world countries, periods are utterly unmentionable and women resort to using unhygienic rags. Homeless women are crippling in period pain on freezing cold streets and cannot afford the luxury of sanitary towels – despite the British government providing free condoms to all citizens. This cultural ignorance further marginalises trans-men. Through removing gender from menstruation and discussing it as a biological function, we contribute to their inclusivity. However, whilst this conversation is being had, it is not broached in mainstream conversations.

We can take action to unload this stigma by talking openly with our peers about our experiences – asking a friend for a tampon should be as easy as asking for a tissue! We should not have to bear the burden of cramps, expensive sanitary products and cultural shame in addition to confronting those who perpetuate that shame. However, in the name of those deeply affected by the stigma, we can make it our responsibility to enact defiance, from proudly asking your friend for a sanitary towel in public to starting a campaign.  Rupi Kaur uses art, the free bleed movement is uses protest and recently, Madison Beer used her celebrity platform to challenge period-shamers (below).

When we talk openly and confidently about our menstrual cycles, we reclaim power and ownership of our bodies. We own vaginas, use tampons and we have periods. Let’s call it what it is and normalise what society cannot seem to accept.

 

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Reflection: ProjectFEM’s Feminist Fashion Catwalk and Exhibition

High on the buzz of the debut ProjectFEM fashion event, Founder Holly Campbell reflects on the day, thanks all involved and offers food for thought for the next epic event…

The event was truly a success. After months of planning and exasperating hard work Danielle, Annie, Georgie and I managed to pull together our first event working late nights and weekends around our full time jobs. We emailed until our fingers were numb, persistently pitched for funding and flyered until we ran out of places to go; it all paid off on the day and we seamlessly improvised through unexpected challenges.

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The Team: Annie (Media), Holly (Director), Georgie (Stylist), Danielle (Event Manager at Cargo)

We welcomed guests including the Women’s Equality Party’s Sophie Walker and Catherine Meyer, plus size model Jada Sezer, activist model Rain Dove and America’s Next Top Model’s first gay contestant Cory Wade. All of whom were incredibly passionate about the cause and recognised the necessity of opening a conversation about the detrimental impacts of fashion around gender, beauty, diversity and representation. Sophie Walker gave a captivating speech about WEP’s #NoSizeFitsAll body image campaign, in which a fundamental component is to pressure London mayer Sadiq Khan into withdrawing funding from London Fashion Week for shows that do not cast at least one model of size 12 or above. Our audience were reassuringly engaged and opened up further important conversations around body image and fashion. Take action here.

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Sophie Walker, Leader of the Women’s Equality Party, speaking on 09.09.16

Then the show began! Our models were beaming with confidence and excitement and it showed. Designers included Gudrun & Gudrun, a sustainable knitwear brand and Neon Moon a feminist lingerie brand. Each look made a statement through visual culture in terms of gender and beauty.

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VIPs at the ProjectFEM event, 09.09.16

Diversity and representation are our fundamental aims and integral to our values and mission. We were successful in achieving racial diversity amongst our cast of models and we had a range of genders and ages. However, we recognise that we did not capture a cast as representative as we had hoped. We had two recruited plus-sized models and a model with physical disabilities, but at the last  minute they pulled out which was out of our control. This meant that we did not manage to represent physical disability in the show, whilst invisible disabilities were present amongst our cast.

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Catwalk Finale, 09.09.16

Upon reflection, as much as we advertised through social media, flyered and put out casting calls with a diverse modelling agencies, we struggled to capture the amount of transgender, age and ability diverse models as we wanted. We were inundated with applications from models from ranging ethnic background but found it a real task to reach those with broader ranging underrepresented qualities. Starting the project we thought individuals from these groups would eager get involved. Upon reflection, this challenge shows that if there is no consistent mainstream space for these people then how can there exist an aspiring population of models ready to jump at our adverts? We advertised with a diverse modelling agency but that brought us only young, slim and ethnically diverse models. Diversity is more than that.

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Models from the ProjectFEM Catwalk, 09.09.16

This exemplifies the need for us to continue our work in advocating true human representation within fashion. To achieve that we need to provide opportunities, hope and change for human beings who are completely unrepresented by the fashion industry. We need to give them the space to become models in the first place, to pressure fashion week organisers, designers and advertising agencies to allow equal space for these models. We cannot simply widen the goal posts of idealised beauty by having racial and size diversity, we need to reinvent those ideals from a deeper grassroots level with the radical value that we are all beautiful, all races, abilities, genders, sizes and ages included.

We cannot merely broaden the goal posts of what or who is considered idealised beauty, we need to revolutionise what we are told beauty is. If people outside the stereotypical ideal are not represented then they are unlikely to aspire to become models. We must provide that empowerment and a platform for them to do so. We have learnt a tremendous amount from hosting our first event and our values, drive and integrity has never been stronger!

Feedback from models following the event:

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Our Top 5 Change Makers for Diversity in Fashion

To highlight those in the world of fashion who are championing diversity and positive change, we have selected our favourite change makers to showcase the positive action being taken in the industry today…

  1. Lorde Inc.

Lorde Inc., a London based modelling agency, were established in 2013 by 26 year old founder Nafisa Kaptownwala. The agency recruits only models of colour to encourage racial diversity within the industry. As highlighted in our London Fashion Week article, non-white models are severely underrepresented demonstrating a deep-routed racial imbalance. In an interview with Nylon Nafisa criticises the lack of authentic diversity in alternative agencies, and aspires to normalise non-white models by making them readily available for hire with the aim of making models of colour a principle part of fashion, opposed to the tokenised or culturally appropriated representations that we see all too often.

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  1. Rein London

The high-end brand Rein was established in 2015 by London College of Fashion graduates Rebecca Morter and Gemma Vanson, with an explicitly feminist focus on ‘celebrating the female form, inspired by and for women…exploring clothing’s ability to empower’. Rein use visual culture through their designs to challenge social constructions of acceptability with revealing cut-outs and sheer materials. Furthermore, the designers value ethical manufacturing through using only local and sustainable sources. In Rein’s short history, they have already had much success including debuting at London Fashion Week in 2015 and dressing established women such as Lady Gaga. Rein’s success makes us hopeful that we can pave the way for feminism within fashion, not only through designs, but in explicit associations with feminism, sustainability and social action.

  1. Rain Dove

Androgynous model Rain Dove identifies as agender and has modelled for both men and womenswear collections such as Chromat and Malan Breton.  Not only is Rain breaking boundaries of gender on the catwalks, but is also using their knowledge and experiences to advocate for gender diversity within fashion. In an interview with Buzzfeed Rain says: “The gender thing doesn’t exist; it’s a social construct you don’t have to fit into… I model as all genders. I model as a human being”. Rain takes a refreshingly critical stance on gender constructs and fashion; season by season we see designers construct and reconstruct the idea of gender, of androgyny, femininity and masculinity, but Rain is using their voice to evoke positive change for more genderless clothing campaigns. Rain recognises the power fashion has to change the world and is using their platform to encourage that.

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  1. Claire Barrow

London based designer Claire Barrow debuted her work at London Fashion Week 2013. At just 23 Barrow caught her break when one of her iconic hand-painted leather jackets was featured in Vogue. Not only are we inspired by Barrows journey of running a business alongside a degree as well as maintaining her creative work at just 23, but her ‘do-it-yourself’ ethos which reflects British subculture is culturally and politically engaging.  The inspiration from Barrow’s artwork ranges from feminist statements within girl gangs to recognising the prospects for young people today. We highlighted Barrow in our London Fashion Week article as the only designer to use a plus-size model, and to represent ethnic and age diversity. Barrows used male and female models to showcase her genderless collection, and continues to make political and current statements through her work.

 

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  1. Lucy Jones

In 2015 Lucy Jones won the Womenswear Designer of the Year award for her Seated Collection, which consists of accessible clothing focusing on aesthetic and comfort for wheelchair users. The collection was inspired by a fashion assignment which aimed to change the world; Jones recognised that people with disabilities are overlooked within fashion and wanted to make accessible solutions. To achieve this, Jones researched over 100 people with disabilities, all of whom felt marginalised by the fashion industry. Jones began to notice and solve the issues of accessibility faced by wheelchair users and their clothes, such as reinforcing sleeves and altering the cut of trousers. Jones believes that disability should be considered in a designers approach to design from the outset, as most wheelchair users have to simply make do with uncomfortable and impractical clothing, compromising either style or accessibility.

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Positive and genuinely representative images of race, disability, age and gender is fundamental to diversity within fashion and ultimately to the self-esteem of those observing and participating in it; from watching the catwalks to reading fashion magazines, the singular idealised image of accepted beauty which still permeates the industry is problematic, especially for young women. If fashion does not authentically reflect ethnically diverse, disabled, non-binary human beings, they are further marginalised from a culture which has such propensity to empower and change the world. The change makers highlighted are fundamental to sustaining positive and authentic diversity in the fashion industry, and we must value and champion those choosing to use their voice to create an inclusive culture.

Author:  Holly C

Where did the diversity go? London Fashion Week AW 16

On the closing of London Fashion Week 2016 and after New York Fashion Week being considered the most diverse in recent history (pictured below), we expected to see some great statements by designers on this side of the pond.

So, we watched all of the shows through a feminist critical lens, considering the diversity and representation of models in terms of ethnicity, body size, age, dis/ability, and gender. In terms of visual culture, we viewed the designs of garments critically to interpret any challenges of social constructions or socio-political messages.

What we found…

Representative body size – Absent

Representative age – Absent

Disability – Absent

Ethnicity – Almost absent

In terms of ethnicity, we can celebrate that almost half (14/32) of the models selected for the Bora Aksu show were non-white. Although this comes after a backlash against the lack of ethnic diversity in his SS16 show where the models were overwhelmingly white compared to the amount of selected non-white models.

In comparison to this, the majority of designers showcasing this week greatly lacked a genuine representation of ethnic diversity amongst their selection of models. Of 23 models, designer 1205 cast 2 Asian and 21 white models. Rejina Pyo and Pringle of Scotland seemed to tokenise models of colour, with Rejina Pyo selecting 2 Asian and 1 black model and Pringle selecting 2 black models, with all other models cast being white. This pattern trended throughout the majority of the designers’ castings, with Aksu being the only designer to demonstrate a large proportion of ethnically diverse models.

In terms of visual culture and garment design, concepts of gender featured strongly. Christopher Raeburn and Paul Smith featured more stereotypically masculine designs for their womenswear collections. Gender fluidity had a distinct presence within the Phoebe English and Claire Barrow collections, where genderless garments were modelled on males and females.

Claire Barrow was also the only designer to feature the only normal/plus sized model on an LFW catwalk, and the only designer to make explicit statements about gender and gender fluidity.

We also noted that flat shoes continued to trend (thank god, we can still walk throughout Autumn/Winter 16) and the nipple was freed by Sibling, Barbara Casasola and Felder Felder.

Our round-up: LFW disappoints with an abysmal array of diversity. Whiteness, thinness and youth is trending…Again! There is still no space for disability, ethnic diversity and normal body size on London’s catwalks. Diversity seems to be a trend that simply cannot stay, and for now we will have to stick with New York Fashion Week. However, the statements made by designers such as Claire Barrow and Phoebe English leave us hopeful of the continued challenging of gender norms and stereotypes on catwalks for seasons to come.

Tell us what you think and leave a comment!

Written by Holly C