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I remember the shame I felt on my first period, says Nidhi Pathak, and I hope that no girl is made to feel this shame now that the conversation is out in the open with the Oscar win.
My Netflix app had been teasing me with the documentary ‘Period. End of Sentence’ for a while, but I watched it only after it grabbed the Oscars.
“Wouldn’t it be a shame if I don’t watch this award winning film that has been sitting idle on my phone for so long?” I said to myself.
But shame was something that I was about to recall only after watching this masterpiece which was created as a part of The Pad Project initiated by the students of Oakwood School in Los Angeles and their teacher, Melissa Berton. .
This short 26-minute plain documentary was sufficient to make me revisit the uncomfortable (read traumatic) moments of pain, fear, guilt and yes shame.
I still remember how terrified I was noticing that red stain for the first time, and my world suddenly changed! I was only 12, and it took me a fair amount of time to accept that this monthly affair was going to stay with me forever (menopause was a distant concept).
I used cloth napkins for a brief period of time until I explicitly told my mother that I the discomfort, and the sight of unsoaked red blood on every visit to the loo was too much.
Could sanitary pads be the answer? Perhaps no. The napkins did make it a bit easy, but there were several things left unexplained…
The list was long.
Some questions such as ‘stomach cramps’ were answered. Some, such as ‘staying away from boys’ were not answered. And explanations to questions such as ‘not entering the temple premises’ left me even more confused and fearful.
“Would God really punish me if I touch the idol?” I was petrified to the extent that I did not even look at the puja room during my cycle.
But this was not all – there was much more to happen. As my body started changing, I sank deeper into the marshland of self-doubt and embarrassment. I still can’t forget how upset my sports teacher was when I decided to pull back from the upcoming inter-school competition. One of the best athletes in the school suddenly decided to rest in a cage…
It took me several years to gain back the lost confidence and free myself from unnecessary guilt. Ironically, several elderly women took pride in explaining how things were much easier for my generation, for they and their ancestors were almost held captive in cold, dirty rooms during ‘those days’. Dreadful, isn’t it?
I was not alone in this dreadful journey though. It was horrifying to learn about several such experiences from girls all over. My life was still better.
Rather than analysing what went wrong, I would like to focus on what could have been done right.
‘Period’ is such a small word, but has given sleepless nights to many of us. Now that I am a mother to a lovely girl, I sure don’t want her to go through the same. Maybe she wouldn’t have a tough time dealing with it, considering she’s been brought up in a progressive urban society. However, there would be many other girls who could still be suffering in silence in a self-sabotaging mode.
Isn’t it time to prepare a better society by helping our girls accept menstruation as just a healthy biological development and not a nightmare?
~ Talk, don’t hide
I see this even today. Educated, working urban women, who claim to be ‘modern and progressive’…lower their voice, are uncomfortable and often cut-short the conversation when someone talks about periods. Why?
If we behave this way, so would our daughters and any other girl in the society. We can’t tackle the issue by merely brushing it under the carpet. Fighting an age-old stigma is not easy and we’d better talk to our girls about it, openly and patiently.
Remember, if you don’t speak to her, she’ll get to know anyway… even at the cost of being misguided.
~ Know the facts
Before taking that plunge, it is better that you do your homework. No matter how positive you are, the discussion could make you uneasy. So it’s better to learn from others’ experiences. Thankfully, Google has made our lives far easier, and therefore possible questions can be prepared well in advance.
~ Gain trust
This is a sensitive topic for girls, right? So it’s possible that your girl might just not take the conversation forward. Relax! She would take her time to develop trust and therefore the process should start early on. How many times we shun our little ones’ curiosities about private body parts? The dialogue starts right there…
Nevertheless, let her know that you would be available for her whenever she needs. And be there when she actually does.
~ Help her embrace the change
We all know that it’s a natural development and there are several changes following menarche – both physical and physiological.
From body hair to mood swings, tell your girl every ‘what and why’ of it. It is crucial for her to know that it happens with everyone and there is nothing wrong with her. This change, if embraced beautifully, will lead to a confident personality in future.
~ Stress on importance of menstrual hygiene
Not to the extent of scaring away the young soul, but the girl needs to know that lack of menstrual hygiene could lead to skin rashes and even severe infections. This should not be a challenge though. There are several references and handbooks to learn about menstrual hygiene and different sanitary products.
~ Yes, males should be part of this conversation
Before you raise your eyebrows, remember we are talking of overcoming social stigmas. And just like any other social issue, men play a significant role in this area too.
While many schools are taking this up more responsibly by educating both girls and boys; the families should also be equally sensitive and open to the conversation. How would a girl feel Ok in front of other boys if she is not comfortable with the males in her house? If we want our daughters to be confident with themselves, then we should also strive to raise our sons to be sensitive and respectful of women and their bodies.
~ Seek professional help
There would be several questions and doubts in a girl’s mind, many of which we may not be able to answer due to our limited knowledge and experience. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help from trained medical experts in such cases.
I must be in college when I first got to know that some tribes and communities celebrate the first menstruation of a girl.
“Hawwww…” was the instant reaction of me and my friends – only because periods in our lives was such a hush-hush thing. Many years later, I could actually understand these age-old customs in the context of our society.
Period, a transition to womanhood ought to be a beautiful experience, where the girl feels loved, nurtured and safe. Only then she will respect herself, her body and all other women as they are.
I would like to quote Arunachalam Muruganantham,(famously known as the padman) from the documentary ‘Period. End of Sentence’ “The strongest creature created by God in the world (is) – not the lion, not the elephant, not the tiger, (but) the GIRL.”
A strong girl is a strong woman in future. A stained piece of cloth cannot and should not shatter her dreams, her fire.
The Oscar winner movie can be watched here.
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No Shame In A Stain
Note To Self: Society’s Shame Lies In Every Girl’s Bosom And Dupatta
The Guilt and Shame Of Being A Thin Woman In India
How My Mother Liberated Me From The Fear & Shame Around Periods
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