Period Shaming: What is it? And why it needs to stop

 

Author: Holly C. Campbell

You’ve likely experienced somebody’s overt disgust at the sight of menstrual blood or had your views devalued with the phrase “She’s on her period” – an insult used to disregard a person of any gender as irrational. This is a culture of sexism used to instil shame and maintain the subordination of women. As a form of activism, we need to talk openly about menstrual cycles 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 silences women and limits our experience of the world. Whilst enduring physical symptoms of pain, cramps and headaches and the economic injustice of expensive sanitary products, we’re also subjected to social shaming leading us to internalise ideas that our bodies and biology is wrong.

This consensus of shame leads to embarrassment for many and means that much-needed public conversations around menstruation are avoided. It also means that challenging concepts and promoting inclusion of trans-men are 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 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 and taking centuries to degrade. Shockingly, manufacturers are not legally obliged to disclose the ingredients of these products, meaning many consumers are unaware that their sanitary products contain harmful toxins. In many developing countries, conversations on periods are off limits meaning 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 also operates to further marginalise trans-men.

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 it.

However, in the name of unloading the stigma we can enact defiance. Rupi Kaur has used art to challenge conceptions, the free bleed movement has used protest for awareness raising and recently, Madison Beer used her celebrity platform to normalise period (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. Calling it what it is a necessary leap for normalising and accepting women’s bodies.

 

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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Styling Radical Buttons, the Feminist Badge Designer

This week we styled pieces by Radical Buttons, an accessories brand that aim to ‘make the world a less oppressive place, one button at  a time’. Radical Buttons launched last year with the vision to create feminist and social-justice themed accessories to promote self-empowerment and anti-oppression. Half the proceeds of your purchases go to charities and you can customise your own pieces!

We chose the following handmade pieces to style into two different looks:

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The designs make statements on a range of social justice issues that affect women and the LGBTQA+ community from sexism to veganism and politics. We love the humour and novelty behind the designs, which makes each piece more meaningful in expressing your identity through your style.

Pink is Power

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The designs of the badges and necklace have been co-ordinated with the colours of the shirt and coat for an unashamedly pink and feminine look. We should not be ashamed of embracing our femininity for fear of compromising how seriously we are taken by the outside world. Reclaim pink into your style, it holds power and sentiment. Take ownership of being a woman who embraces her femininity without compromising her mission.

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This sentiment also goes for the novelty pumps, fashion should be fun, creative and expressive so own it by pairing cute, unique pieces with Radical Buttons accessories that make powerful statements.

Look 2Express Yourself

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Instead of buying into a pre-motif’d jacket, go DIY and customise your own with motifs and badges that make meaningful statements that express you, your views and your values.

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A mesh crop top and appliqué bralet makes a visual statement of liberation and empowerment by taking ownership of your body regardless of shape or size. We are taught to cover up and wear styles that ‘flatter’, but it can be liberating to show your body in the public sphere, when women are predominantly told to cover up boobs and hide any fat.

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We believe that self-expression, either through novelty accessories or statements on pins is fundamental to style. Don’t be a dupe of fashion by buying pre-motif’d jackets this season, create and customise your own with badges that are important and expressive to you. Regardless of what the catwalks and magazines tell us is in season right now, carry novelty accessories through because they create a sense of timeless character and personality for your look.

Show us how you are styling your Radical Buttons accessories, and we will share them on our Instagram page!

Written and styled by Holly C

Get on Board!

We are recruiting volunteers to join our mission in uniting fashion and feminism to create a positive and empowering fashion culture!

Are you skilled in and/or want experience in social media marketing, fashion, or event planning? Or if you just want to get involved in our mission and love what we do, then get in touch via social media or ProjectFEM@hotmail.com.

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