It’s #aboutbloodytime we talked about periods – and two A-listers have a vested interest in changing the conversation
A few years ago, when I was health editor at Grazia and working in its predominately female office, during my period I would sneak a tampon up my sleeve and surreptitiously head off to the toilets. It seems ridiculous when I think of it, but how many of you do the same? Probably quite a few, given a recent YouGov poll for ActionAid found that one in five women under 40 are embarrassed to talk about their period with friends, and 50% are ashamed of mentioning it to their female boss (75% if they have a male boss).
But it seems things are changing. There’s a new period emoji on the way from women’s rights group Plan International, and Bodyform has teamed up with The Self EsteemTeam to tackle the taboo surrounding menstruation with its #aboutbloodytime campaign.
But the biggest change is that celebrities are getting in on the act. Hollywood star Jessica Alba is moving her Honest Company business into creating an organic tampon and sanitary care line, saying that she ‘wanted to give people a real, viable alternative, but something that’s also good for the planet and good for her’.
And it’s just been announced that supermodel Natalia Vodianova has become an investor in period-tracking app FLO (it has over 10 million users), and she’s also launched a taboo-breaking campaign called Let’s Talk About It. Period.
Natalia Vodianova has launched the 'Let's Talk About It. Period' campaign
Speaking to Grazia, Natalia says, ‘In parts of Asia, only 12% of women have access to sanitary products, and in parts of India girls can be separated from their families and banned from temples during their periods.’ Just last year in Nepal, a 15-year-old girl suffocated to death in the shed she had to sleep in during her periods.
‘In the UK we’re moving in the right direction,’ says Natalia, ‘but there’s still a way to go. I have friends who work high up in the business side of fashion and they’ve heard male bosses joke that a woman must be having her period if she’s been assertive in a meeting.’
Even the US President has been accused of period-shaming: after Fox News interviewer Megyn Kelly questioned Donald Trump during his presidential campaign, he told CNN afterwards, ‘She starts asking me all sorts of questions. You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.’
The FLO app helps women to track their periods
Professor Gedis Grudzinskas, a professor of obstretics and gynaecology at the Princess Grace Hospital in London, is a longtime outspoken advocate of paid menstrual leave in the UK, as he thinks it would boost morale and productivity. He cites the example of Chinese relay swimmer Fu Yuanhui, who talked about her team’s fourth place spot at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Post-race, the 20-year-old told an interviewer, ‘I don’t think I performed very well today. It’s because my period came yesterday, so I felt particularly tired – but this isn’t an excuse. I still didn’t swim well enough.’
NHS figures show 90% of women experience period pain, with 20% describing it as moderate and 2% as severe. Another study found 14% of women frequently can’t work properly because of PMS. ‘Workplaces need to be more open, more realistic and also more respectful about periods and the impact they can have,’ says Grudzinskas.
Or, to quote actress Emma Thompson, who supports the ActionAid campaign, ‘When I was a girl, we used to say that if men had periods there would be bowls of tampons on the bar in pubs, next to the peanuts. Let’s face it, without periods none of us would even exist. So it’s time to accept and support this essential, healthy function.’ Surely it’s #aboutbloodytime?
Photos: Alice Whitby