TV presenter Lauren Layfield wants to normalise the way we talk about periods. So to celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day, she discusses the impact of period taboos, and why we should all start talking openly about our periods.
Let's talk about periods
Sometimes when I’m in my place of work, I like to bellow: “ARGH GUYS, MY OVARIES ARE SQUEEZING ME!” Other times, when I feel an unexpected dampness in my knickers, I might declare, “Uh oh, I’m losing blood! I’M LOSING BLOOD!” like I’m in an episode of Casualty.
Or after I’ve been to the toilet, I might pop back in and mutter something quietly but audibly like, “Oooooh it’s like a horror movie down there…”
Some people find it funny (big cheers to those people), but some people reply disgustedly, “Urgh, for goodness sake Lauren, it’s not even 10am…”, which brings me great joy that I’ve made them squirm before lunch.
The more gory the detail I can give, the better. You see, I enjoy talking about this stuff.
First, because I like being a bit provocative. It's a little bit attention seeking which, let’s face it, is a symptom of being a TV presenter.
And second, because I want to tackle period taboos, and normalise the way we talk about menstrual hygiene.
I want to normalise the way we talk about menstrual hygiene."
Leaks, taboos and period embarrassment
I’ve always been a 'late bloomer'. I didn’t get boobs until I was about 25. (I mean, seriously, what did I do in a past life to deserve that?)
My first period didn’t come until 16, maybe even 17? ALL my mates got their blob before me, and the only positive conversation I can remember about periods was ‘The Big Announcement’.
One of our friends would strut into school and beam proudly, “I started my period last night!” We would congratulate each other about hitting the big time and joining the club but after that, conversations about periods were generally negative.
I remember one girl who had a pretty major leak that seeped right through her knickers and school skirt and onto her chair in our French class. She spent the rest of the day struggling to pull down her school blazer to hide the red stain that was slowly turning into a rusty-brown as it dried in the air.
“Tut, awhhhhh bless her!” we would whisper, patronisingly, while being thankful it hadn’t happened to us.
And who can forget the embarassment of a sanitary towel falling out of your backpack and being used a frisbee / some sort of headgear by pre-pubescent boys. Those were the days, eh?
Why is menstruation something we hide?
Last week, I was en route to a TV shoot on the train from Manchester to London when things start to feel a little bit...squelchy.
We all do it; grab a tampon from our handbags and covertly slide it up our jumper sleeve to keep it hidden from view while we scurry to the loo. I always think, 'Why? Why am I still doing this? It’s a roll of cotton wool within a cardboard tube with a bit of string attached - it’s essentially all the items you need to make your very own Blue Peter Tracy Island. Why I am hiding it?’
The truth is, periods have always been something to conceal - something to talk about in a hushed voice.
There will be people who will read this and think that talking about bodily functions SHOULD be kept quiet and that its vulgar to talk about it out loud. But when you look worldwide, there’s a bigger problem.
Periods have always been something to conceal - something to talk about in a hushed voice."
ActionAid has found that a lack of affordable and available sanitary products means many girls are too embarrassed to go to school when they’re on their periods.
They are missing out on an education and not fulfilling their potential, which is SUCH a huge waste. To overcome it, they may use rags and old clothing to soak up menstrual blood but this can cause infections.
Surely, this shouldn’t be a problem in 2018?
Positive attitudes about periods are vital to girls' development
So what can I do? Well, I can’t travel the world giving out free tampons like Drake giving out dollar bills in the ‘God’s Plan’ video.
But what I can do, girls, is try to encourage you to talk about your periods more. Periods are a wonder. Yeah, sometimes they make you feel rubbish, but other times I’m amazed at how I can still present live TV despite the fact I’m ACTUALLY LOSING BLOOD.
We need to re-define everything we’ve been taught about periods being unclean.
We need to re-educate both girls and boys by providing sex education at an earlier age. We need girls to know that positive attitudes about periods are vital to their development.
And we need the next generation to grow up in a world where they’re not afraid to deadeye their male boss and tell them they need five minutes to go and sort out the incoming flood in their pants.
Next time I’m on that Manchester to London train, I’m going to pull my tampon out from beneath my sleeve and twirl it down the train aisle, like a majorette’s baton. And I hope you do too.
Find out more about ActionAid's World Menstrual Hygiene Day appeal to see how you can help make sure no girl is held back because of her period.