Written by Step Above Stigma's Vice President of Community Outreach, Monique Botros.
It’s an all too simple contrast of white to red, but just a glance is enough to create a powerful moment of discomfort, maybe you sat up, or maybe you checked the author of this post and questioned their audacity. All legitimate responses— and at no fault of your own. That is, society has taught you that menstruation is too taboo to be talked about, let alone be looked at. Because even as half of the population menstruates, and the whole population owes their existence to its intricacies, it’s mention is enough to break every decree of social etiquette.
Now when we think of menstruation, we often think of the characteristic bout of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)—that is the time preceding your period. Bloating, headaches, and muscle pain are all popularized symptoms of a women experiencing “that time of the month.” But the process of PMS and menstruation is much more intricate than a bad day— it’s these hormonal imbalances that often keep the female/AFAB body in check.
And while everyone expects to be bloated, sick, or tired, what is rarely discussed is what severity is considered “normal”? The issue is that the standard of what is “normal” becomes all too difficult for the female to define— how can you know what normal is if you’ve never talked about it, if there’s no standard of normalcy to compare it to? It’s estimated that 1 in 1000 women have a menstrual bleeding disorder but don’t know (1). These are women that are experiencing bouts of extended menstruation, impeding their ability to experience life, but they’re doing so isolated, convincing themselves that “this is life.”
Other physical symptoms— from the undiscussed discomfort of periods, and sleeping difficulties, can be a transformative moment for self-esteem and confidence (2).
The mental retaliation of PMS is rather popularized, from moodiness, to symptoms of depression and anxiety—they’ve long been a form of comical reprieve. A woman isn’t upset— she’s “hormonal” or “PMSing.” What many fail to realize is that PMS is a medically recognized condition— and it affects up to 40% of women/AFAB. The comedic outlook often pushed surrounding PMSing devalues their emotions and discounts women as being “crazy.”
A further estimated 1 in 20 menstruating women, suffer from more than just PMS, but rather bouts of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a severe, disabling extension of PMS (2). Women with PMDD generally have emotional and behavioural symptoms, from sadness, anxiety, haplessness, to extreme moodiness, and irritability (2). Suicide is one of the ten leading causes of death among reproductive age women/AFAB, and it’s estimated that 30% of women with PMDD will attempt suicide in their lifetime or experience suicidal thoughts and self-harm (3).
There is no denial that there is a direct link between a female’s reproductive health and risk for mental illness— and yet, the extreme stigma surrounding discussion means that women’s reproductive support services and mental health are extremely lacking (3). And thus, even with the continual revolution of women’s rights— the debilitating social suffocation that accompanies the topic of menstruation is harming female/AFAB wellness every day. The white to red contrast shouldn’t be taboo, it should be revered as one of biology’s greatest feats.
1. https://letstalkperiod.ca/ 2. https://www.talkspace.com/blog/periods-pmdd-mental-health/?utm_content=%5B%5Bat106140_a161307_m12_p12460_cCA%5D%5D&siteID=a1LgFw09t88-bU7d8lpmSEjt8.XHyrn1aQ&ranMID=41986&ranEAID=a1LgFw09t88&ranSiteID=a1LgFw09t88-bU7d8lpmSEjt8.XHyrn1aQ&LSNSUBSITE=Omitted_a1LgFw09t88&utm_source=adgoal.net&utm_campaign=Affiliate_Linkshare&utm_keyword=10&utr_adgroup=2126220&utr_adid=1&utm_medium=affiliate 3. https://iapmd.org/facts-and-figures