At BeYou we're all about celebrating the individuality of women and their incredible achievements. Each woman experiences periods and period shame differently. This can depend on their class, ethnicity, sexuality, age, religion etc. At BeYou we want to raise awareness about all the different ways women experience menstruation and period shame.
That's why we have collaborated with REWRITE, a writing organisation for Black Women & Women of Colour to talk about period stigma from the perspective of women of colour in the UK. REWRITE provides a wide variety of classes for women writers of colour as well as personalised professional support for their writers and a brand-new literary magazine, REWRITE READS, celebrating the amazing work of women writers of colour. We are so excited about REWRITE's incredible work for women who otherwise wouldn't receive the support they need.
Christina Fonthes, REWRITE's founder, was kind enough to share her experience of period stigma, from her perspective as a Congolese-British woman. Read on for Christina's story...
Lilac Bags by Christina Fonthes
I was a typical 90’s latchkey kid. By my tenth birthday, I knew the route to school, and I knew how to retrieve a stuck cassette from the video player without damaging the tape.
Growing up in a Congolese household, there were a few other things that I had to know, like how to chop onions when my mother prepared dinner (I chopped a lot of onions).
I knew what all the coloured bottles that lined our bathroom window were for. But there was one thing that my ten-year-old self still did not know: what those little lilac sacks on the window ledge were for. I was a curious child, but I knew better than to ask my mum what they were for, so every once in a while, I took a sack from the little box, felt its silk-like texture and inhaled the faint lavender fragrance whilst I made up scenarios of the adult things my mother did with them.
I discovered what the lilac sacks were for the day I went to school and found a sticky, red pool in my white knickers. I was horrified. I told Charmaine, my best friend, to meet me in the girl’s toilet. “It’s your period,” Charmain confirmed, in her grown-up voice. “Don’t tell your mum, you’ll get in trouble,” she added after handing me a bundle of cheap toilet tissue to stuff down my knickers.
I was perturbed the entire walk home. Instead of thinking about the new episode of Moesha, my shoulders drooped as I thought about whether or not to tell my mum. I felt hurt that Charmain hadn’t told me about her own period. On top of it all, I could feel the toilet paper scratching my skin every time I moved.
When my mother returned that night, I pointed to the stained knickers. I held my breath, waiting for the shouting, the scolding that Charmaine had warned me about, but my mother was silent. She had a look in her eyes that I did not recognise. She motioned for me to get out of bed, and we silently walked to the bathroom. She turned on the faucet and filled the bucket to the top. I took off my clothes, climbed into the bathtub, placed the blue bucket in-between my legs and squatted as my mother showed me how to clean down there.
Afterwards, my mother brought out a pack of large sanitary towels and showed me how to stick it on to my knickers. She reached for the box of lilac sacks, pulled one out and told me what to do with it.
I hated my period. At school, I spent the day in the nurses’ room because of the pain, and I was anxious about bleeding through my grey skirt like Rochelle in year 8 had. At home, I’d lie in bed, thinking about all the Moesha episodes I was missing.
The thing that I hated the most, though was the feeling of being dirty. Though my mother never explicitly said that I was dirty, in fact, she taught me self-care before I even knew what it meant, despite this, I still felt dirty. Maybe it was the wrapping of the pads in the lilac bags, or maybe the nasty words that the boys had said to Rochelle, and the fact that I felt uncomfortable telling a male teacher that I had to go to the toilet to change my pad, I can’t be sure.
I stopped using the lilac bags when I left home for uni and realised that my student money didn’t stretch that far. But it is only very recently that I have stopped caring about hiding the blood, stopped caring about who sees the blood. We have all bled; nosebleeds, finger cuts and knee scrapes, so why should blood from down there be any different?
Thank you so much to Christina and REWRITE for writing such a thought-provoking piece on period stigma. Talking about period shame and periods, in general, is so important to normalise periods and making sure no more girls feel ashamed about their cycle. You can check out the rest of REWRITE's amazing work here, as well as their Instagram and Twitter.
Christina Fonthes is a Congolese-British writer. Her work has featured in several publications around the world. She is the founder of REWRITE, a global organisation for Black Women & Women of Colour writers.