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Saturday, 6 August 2016

We Need To Talk About Periods.

Hannah Barnes

Let me begin by saying that I love my Nan - I visit her once or twice a week and we sit and natter, covering such a broad range of topics that I couldn’t even begin to tell you how we landed on this one. However, my Nan is very much a woman of her time and we often find ourselves light heartedly bickering about the changing ways of the world; the things I see as progress, and she often sees as the complete corruption of society.

Last night we landed on the topic of periods, possibly via a discussion on the appropriate amount of sexual education ‘the kids’ (my cousins, her youngest grandchildren) should be receiving at school.

Me: tell them everything, arm them with knowledge! Empower them with understanding!
Her: ‘impatient tut’ I think it’s better not to know, it’s sick!
So, we got to talking about our different experiences of shark week– a lot of hardware for her, with absolutely no information (even on packaging!!!) as to how to use a tampon when they finally arrived and no information whatsoever from anyone at all (and my family is one of women, so many women, as far back as the eye can see) about the fact that it would happen, when it might happen, and once it did – why the hell it happened at all. Here, my Nan sited a vague awareness of the why, thanks to having seen a family cat having kittens but also mentioned she thought it was a onetime thing, until it happened again the month after.

That is, no real information at all, apart from these useful tidbits; 

1. Never discuss it in front of the men folk, never let them see your hardware...actually just don’t discuss it with anyone unless you’re pretty certain you’re dying.

2. Don’t wash your hair whilst you’re on your period.

Yep! One of the two (absolutely irrelevant) pieces of information my Nan, and probably many of your own grandparents, were given to help then deal with one of the biggest hormonal changes their bodies would ever go through, was not to wash their hair.

edit2Nan says this completely off hand mid-conversation as though it’s a perfectly acceptable statement to make. Don’t get me wrong, she puts as much stock in it with hindsight as I did upon hearing it, but back in her day that wasn’t the case. All the women she knew avoided washing their hair whilst menstruating and, thanks to the taboo surrounding the discussion of aunt flo; they didn’t even ask why.
Ever curious, and completely baffled as to the correlation, I took to Google - but even google couldn’t tell me why this idea ever gained traction. It appears to be a popular Chinese myth, with a very kooky article citing it as a cause of cancer. According to this same article, we should also be drinking warm water, instead of cold, whilst the painters are in, to avoid cancer in later life (obviously?!?). This advice supposedly comes from a ‘well known Taiwanese medical professor’ who is, rather ironically, unnamed. I can find no better source for this than a copied section on this biology forum.

Most surprising of all my findings? There are still women both practicing this bizarre custom, and passing the ‘information’ on. With comments such as ‘My mum tells me not to wash my hair during my period’ ‘my aunt says it gives you a black circle’ ‘it effects your health’ coming up top in google search, as recently as 2015.

So, we need to talk about period myths – because it’s 2016 and there are still women out there whose lack of real information is astonishing. When my Nan mentioned the myth I assumed it was a thing of the past; that no women in her right mind, in the 21st century would ever buy into such superstitious crap.

The fact that I was so very wrong, and women are still practicing such ritualised behaviour in connection with our monthly cycles, proves we’re not as advanced as we think. Period tax, period leave and open discussions about periods are fantastic ways to raise awareness, but it looks as though a back to basics approach is what we really need. By educating young women on the facts and fictions of the crimson wave we can hopefully start busting the myths for good. So talk about your periods, share your experiences and lets get everything out in the open.

Feel free to share your bizarre experiences of period myths below!

Hannah Barnes / Author & Editor

I keep myself busy with my small business; The Loft Gifts, the period poverty charity I run; The Crimson Wave, writing here and for vaious platforms and a growing menagerie of household pets.


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