When I got my first period at the age of twelve, my first thought was, “Shit…there is something wrong with me!” No one warned me about it, let alone told me how normal it actually is. There were no cries of joy or trumpets welcoming me to womanhood. Oh no. Instead, I just had images from TV shows, movies, and the media flash before my eyes about the embarrassment of bringing pads to school, having people find out, or worse…PMS. It was always that topic dads alluded to in TV shows making comments about staying away from their wives and buying them chocolate. I was confused as to what it was, but knew I wanted no part of that.
PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, includes consistent emotional swings women may have when on their period or pain they may feel, such as cramping and bloating. Some women suffer from truly painful PMS symptoms and have periods that can become more than just a monthly gift. However, I find that PMS has become such a cultural crutch for others to blame or shame any behavior women exhibit outside of being pleasant during their monthly flow- or a joke when they aren’t. Think of anytime you have gotten frustrated with a male friend and their response to your irritation is, “Well someone must be on their period.” No sir, I just think you are an idiot. Society has painted PMS as a cultural lady monster, taking over women once a month, making them “bitchy”. Which is wrong. Oh, so wrong. But this idea of periods and the expectations of moodiness that follow it being perceived as a “problem” may have just gotten even worse.
The DSM, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, is used for psychological assessment and creates a standard criteria to classify mental disorders under. This past year, the DSM added to its latest edition “premenstrual dysphoric disorder”, or PMDD, to it’s list of depressive disorders. PMDD is essentially a more intense version of PMS, with emphasis on very painful side effects. However, some doctors question whether PMDD is truly real or a “culture- bound syndrome”. Dr. Paula Caplan explains, “Women are supposed to be cheerleaders. When a woman is anything but that, she and her family are quick to think something is wrong.”
While PMDD was included in previous editions as a side note, this year its addition to depressive disorders allows women to be diagnosed with the “disease”. Women are not broken because of side effects from their monthly cycle. This negative attitude toward menstruation acts to reinforce female stereotypes including women as hysterical and emotionally unstable. The menstrual cycle is discussed in a manner that causes women to feel insecure and acts to pathologize the female body. Even the naming of “syndrome” and “disorder” medicalize women into broken things that need to be fixed.
But instead of letting culture look at periods at almost a biohazard, we have the power to transform that image. Imagineherstory brought up in her post last week that we are taught to view our periods are disgusting. We as women need to not be ashamed of our periods, but embrace it! Studies have shown that symptoms of PMS worsen with negative mentalities toward periods. By thinking about your period negatively, it can make it even more painful. Periods are not “a curse” but a natural part of being a woman. Be open about your body and join conversations with other women, like Be Prepared Period does monthly on twitter. These forums can allow women to learn more about their bodies and realize they aren’t alone. Don’t resent what your body can do- we are the ones who get to further the human race! (Which in my opinion is pretty rad.)
Other ways to avoid pathologizing the female body is not cave to period shaming and instead educate others. One of my male roommates has no sisters and had no idea of how anything worked when it came to periods (although within the first three months of living with me, he learned quickly…) and some men in my family won’t even buy their wives tampons! Instead of hiding that pad from your boyfriend at all costs or whispering about your period as soon as a man walks in the room, be open about your body. If we are embarrassed about tampons, how do you expect men respond?
I wish I could go back to my twelve year old self and say, “It’s okay- be proud of being a woman!” Middle school might have been a smidge less awkward then. Medical industries pathologizing the female body should not keep you from loving your body. By promoting positive body image and not shaming our natural cycle, we can inspire younger generations to embrace all aspects of being a woman. And maybe they will all end up as cool as this summer camper.