Don’t let media freak out your girls when it comes to periods

by Kaitlyn Locke

​ “I got my period.”

It’s one of those statements that stops middle-school girls in their tracks. When whispered to a bestie or group of friends, it’s often followed with a flurry of questions: “What does it feel like?” “Does it hurt?” “Are you using a tampon?” “Is it scary?” “Aren’t tampons scary?”

​During middle school, when the majority of girls get their periods for the first time, there is plenty of anxiety about menstruating. Know what’s not helping? The fear-inducing way that media showcases girls getting their periods. Lauren Rosewarne, a lecturer at The University of Melbourne, analyzed 200 examples of representation of menstruation in the media and found periods were largely “treated as traumatic, embarrassing, distressing, offensive, comedic or thoroughly catastrophic” to women and girls.

​We see it regularly on TV and in movies when male and female characters judge young women for acting “crazy” or being “overly sensitive” by announcing it “must be that time of the month.” Usually this is accompanied with a judgmental eye roll or giggles. Ads in magazines pray upon girls’ huge fear of bleeding through their pants, alerting the whole school there is a “PERIOD ALERT.” Check out this ad from Playtex sure to freak out girls and grown women.

​Even “positive” feminine-product ads largely feature women in all-white clothes, smiling brightly while playing tennis in an attempt to prove that menstruation does not have to be a hindrance in a woman’s daily active life. “Demonstrations” of how well a care product can adequately absorb a period is shown when blue liquid is poured over a pad — huh? Cut back to the super-smiley lady in tennis whites and of course girls are confused. This over-the-top excitement and blue liquid do nothing more than baffle us. Granted we loved the Always’ “Like a Girl” ad campaign for feminine products (and use it regularly in our workshops to demonstrate empowering media), but the ad never talks about periods.

Try this: The best way to combat period anxiety is to ease your girl’s mind with facts: “When you get your period, the amount of blood loss is only about four tablespoons,” “You don’t have to wear a tampon, you can choose a pad,” “Yes, you can still swim, etc.” Explain that getting her period is like growing taller. It’s just something that happens as you get older — it happens to everyone at different times, but is a completely natural part of growing up. When you go through a growth spurt, you get a couple new pieces of clothing to handle the change, and move on. Soon getting her period will be routine too. If it’s her first time, ask if she’d like to celebrate over lunch; or even have a party where her mentors gather to toast her new milestone and share advice (remember to ask though, because one girl’s dream party is another girl’s worst nightmare). The part to emphasize is that getting her period means her body is developing just as it should.

Go one step further…

Give her the opportunity to strike back against negative media messaging around periods by joining our MEDIAGIRLS to say knock off the scare tactics using our #xomg campaign. Here’s how one of the girls in our program marked up another ad by giving a no-way “X” to it, which we share on social media. If companies know girls aren’t buying into these fearful messages, they’ll change them, and girls learn the power of their voices.

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