Called “unmentionable” and “the last taboo,” the period has been stigmatised in countless creative ways around the world, from the belief that women should not be sushi chefs because of menstruation (Japan) to the false ideas that menstruating people will kill flowers (Romania) or make babies sick (Bolivia) or get eaten by bears while camping (United States).
We love to highlight people who are making a difference to women’s lives. Audrey Anderson is Chief Operating Officer at Be Girl, a charity working to fight period poverty and make our periods less of a taboo. Here, she writes for GLAMOUR about their decision to put models in period underwear on the runway.
The fight against period poverty and menstrual inequity now has supporters all over the globe. Activists like Amika George are leading grassroots advocacy movements that are taking off in unprecedented ways.
However, there is still a long way to go. By themselves, taboos may seem rather innocent (I never wanted to be a sushi chef anyway), but they represent a dangerous trend of justifying prejudiced behaviour against menstruating people. People may joke about PMS affecting women’s ability to lead, but in 2019 we have yet to see a female President of the United States. One thing is clear: ending period stigma is a necessary step in our quest for gender equity.
But, how do we make a stigma-free world the reality?
The social enterprise Be Girl was founded in response to the struggle that millions of girls around the world face each month to afford disposable pads. Be Girl designed a line of period underwear and partnered with nonprofits to make them available to girls in over 30 countries. But it soon became clear that period products were only a small part of the challenge. Girls still experienced deeply rooted stigma that limited their mobility, affected their ability to participate in class or school activities, and prevented them from talking about their health.
Eradicating such stigma is a complex undertaking, far more complicated than getting products in the hands of girls. What’s more, it’s impossible to successfully fight existing harmful norms without creating new norms to fill the void.
For centuries, all we have known is a world where periods are stigmatized. To make real headway in our quest to conquer the taboo, we have to visualize a world where period stigma doesn’t exist. Something has to take the place of the tampons hidden up the sleeve, the euphemisms, the PMS jokes.
And so the Period Runway was born. Last year, Be Girl launched as a brand in the country of Mozambique in East Africa. While some girls who lived in rural or very low-income areas had received Be Girl’s products for free, other girls living in the capital who purchased disposable pads every month didn’t have any sustainable period product options, so Be Girl entered the market to offer its period underwear at affordable prices.
But talking about periods is tough in Mozambique, no different from anywhere else. When Mozambique’s Fashion Week rolled around in December, it created a platform to show the world what a new norm could look like: one where periods are normalized and even celebrated. From an open call on Facebook garnering over 350 applicants, eight models were selected to join the professionals on the runway wearing Be Girl’s line of period underwear.
For decades, the runway has been deemed the pinnacle of glamour. The runway exists to shape the future in terms of fashion, culture, and beauty, as seen in the very theme of Mozambique Fashion Week with its tagline “The Future is Africa.”
There is no denying the fact that the runway has power.
Because of this power, the runway has influence, from how people dress to what they consider chic to who they aspire to look like. What makes the act of putting periods on the runway revolutionary is how it leverages this power that the runway has to change society. A Period Runway gives a preview of a world free of stigma, where period panties are as normal as sunglasses or handbags.
Unraveling stigma created over generations is a slow process to be sure. But this Menstrual Hygiene Day, we can celebrate a glimpse of a future where the period taboo has gone out of style.