Your first period (also known as ‘menarche’) can be complicated, confusing and often shameful. And it’s not your fault that you feel this way. With the mixed messaging surrounding menstruation, this is expected. For centuries in the Western world, women have been conditioned to hate their bodies and its natural processes. Any menstrual conversation is considered taboo and ‘unsanitary’. Periods are often censored and used to belittle women. The media is also inundated with images of women and cleanliness, associating ideal femininity with purity. When a woman behaves outside these lines of femininity she is often accused of being ‘on her period,’ to explain her ‘disobedience’.
From a global perspective, some cultures celebrate menarches, while others see it as an opportunity to ostracise. Before colonisation and the pervasive negative attitude towards all things female, women’s periods were celebrated and commemorated in many regions of the world. In these parts of the globe, a woman’s period is seen as a spiritual and cultural event of great significance.
In ancient times, there was limited knowledge of the human body and any biological processes, leading some to see periods as ‘holy and mystical’, and at other times ‘cursed and untouchable’. Being labelled as mysterious, menstrual blood was sometimes seen as sorcerous or magical, incorporated in spells, rituals and wish-making.
Many ancient cultures associated menstruation with the moon, as their menstrual cycles were in sync with the moon’s monthly cycle. In Native American culture, women who were menstruating were viewed as reverent, holding great spiritual power. These women were given an opportunity to remove themselves from their daily routines to revitalise and seize their spiritual energy.
Contemporarily, different cultures celebrate periods in various ways. In some cultures, the transition is more subtle, such as in Japan. There, some families celebrate menarches by consuming a meal called sekihan. The meal consists of rice and adzuki beans, a meal often reserved for special occasions as the beans are expensive. Similarly, in Iceland, the mother bakes a traditionally white and red cake to symbolise her daughter coming of age. Contrastingly, in some parts of South Asia, menarches are a huge festivity, celebrated with extended family and friends. After some time in seclusion from society, the girl is showered with a mixture that varies regionally. Following the ceremony, they are dressed in formal attire and gifted jewellery, gold and money.
Celebrating periods can be a way of reclaiming the portrayal of menstruation and combating the stigma around menstrual representation. With less stigma and taboo, women have a greater opportunity to embrace their bodies and concentrate on the more important elements of periods. When women and girls are unafraid of periods, they will be more open to understanding and managing them. As a result, more girls and women around the world can feel comfortable, confident and supported through their periods.
Getting your first period can be an overwhelming experience. But it can be a momentous occasion instead of one shrouded in shame and disgust. In a perfect world, there would be no stigma around periods and they would be seen as completely natural, just like growing hair on your head. We need to reshape the narrative around how we view periods in Australia. Everyone’s experience is different. Not everyone who gets their period is female and not all females get their periods. Menstruation doesn’t define your womanhood, but it should still be celebrated as a shared source of power.
Sanduni Hewa Katupothage
Sanduni is a body and a soul: a human. She is interested in arts, science, social justice and spirituality. She also loves lemonade and cupcakes.
Have you signed our Rosie Period Petition yet? We are calling on state and territory Education and Health Ministers to provide free menstrual products in school bathrooms, so that every student can navigate their school years with dignity + respect. If you agree that it’s #AboutBloodyTime you can sign the petition here.