Menstruation Nation

Editor’s Note: We here at Beauty Coup love a good guest post. We love sharing your thoughts, musings, ideas, and experiences. In light of the recent attacks on women’s rights and agency, we’re launching a new series (and co-opting a brilliant phrase that someone else coined) called Mind Your Own Uterus, about all things lady-parts-related. 

To kick things off, we bring you Menstruation Nation by the one and only Amy Banks.

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Kotex-sanitary-napkin-1922-crop-top

 

The other day after getting home from the gym, I realized, to my horror, as I was changing out of my sweaty workout wear, that I had bled through the back of my dove-grey compression leggings. Oh snap! I did the frame-by-frame bleed-through scenario in my head: when did it happen? On the elliptical machine? When I was doing pull-ups? In spin class? Just kidding, I only did one of those things (spinning), although I did hang a little from the chin-up bar to stretch out my spine afterward. Not like I could lift my own weight or anything! Geesh! But I know in my blood-spewing heart it happened when I got up from the stationary bike. I felt the gush of my flow, finally free after having been restricted and sealed off by my firmly-planted-to-the-seat nether regions. But I didn’t think I’d soaked through. I wore an overnight pad, for christ’s sake! And *gulp* I had been surrounded by gym rats: tons of women and several men. I even bent down in front of a group of them, all of them running on treadmills, to tie my shoe. OMG.

Old-as-hell me is still embarrassed by a little period blood? Apparently so. I shrugged it off after a minute of red-faced chagrin and went about my day. But for a moment, my wizened adult self was transported back to my cousin’s porch on a dog-day of summer, back when I was but 13 and a total newb to the Menstruation Nation.

A gaggle of us kids were hanging out, bullshitting, swearing just because the words felt swollen and ready to pop, drinking sodas purloined from my aunt’s private stash, thinking up more ways to do nothing. Somebody had the idea to ride our bikes down to the frog pond and catch some tadpoles (probably because they resemble sperm). I had to run home (next door) to get my bike, so I jumped off and over the edge of the porch to beat rocks before they left me behind. Suddenly everybody was laughing – like hooting and hollering – so I turned around the see why. They were all pointing at me. The boys were doubled over with giggle fits and the girls were laughing too, probably horrified but thankful it wasn’t happening to them. My cousin Kevin, always a nice kid, jumped off the porch and led baffled me away. When he told me why they were laughing, I felt like I would drop dead right there. He added, “Jesus, didn’t your mom teach you how to take care of this kind of thing?” I ran in my house and didn’t come back out that day, or for seven more days, until the nightmare was over. You guessed it, I had gotten the girl flu and the crimson tide had come in all over the back of my shorts. I didn’t even know. What’s worse is that Kevin hit a real sore spot by bringing up my mom. No, she did not help matters at all.

I distinctly remember the first time I got my period. It was a Saturday morning in summer. I know this because it was at the breakfast table and we were eating pancakes, which we did every Saturday morning. I was wearing a white tank top with lace trim, and my favorite shorts, which were pink and blue pinstriped. I was having a hard time eating because my stomach hurt so bad. Like really, really bad. Then it suddenly felt like I had wet myself. I excused myself to go to the bathroom and that’s when I discovered I had achieved Menarche. Level Up! Of course I had taken health class so I knew it was “normal” and that I wasn’t dying; I was the last of my friends to get it, and they all survived somehow (lots of Midol, ice cream, Depeche Mode and Elliott Smith was the advice I most frequently received). But I wasn’t expecting the cramps to hurt so much (I figured out what my stomach ache was) or for the blood to be so copious and, well, bloody. I had a sampler pack of feminine products from the school nurse stashed in the bathroom cabinet along with an extra pair of undies (on the advice of friends in anticipation of the grand event), so I carefully opened the cellophane package that housed a single, gargantuan sanitary napkin and pasted it to my panties. I remember making the choice to use pads after a particularly horrifying health class film depicting the insertion of a tampon into a graphic representation of a bleeding vagina, and later that same week listening to my best friend Rachel’s sister dry-heaving and swearing and crying, as Rachel explained in hushed tones that Donna had Toxic Shock Syndrome from leaving a tampon in too long. So tampons: No.Fucking.Way.

So after performing these ablutions and looking for several minutes at myself in the mirror (searching my face for tell-tale signs of obvious womanhood) I burst forth from my bathroom cocoon, a beautiful, bleeding butterfly. I fluttered back into the kitchen, plopped myself at the table and announced to my mom, step-dad, and baby sister that I had officially begun to menstruate. My mom didn’t even look up from the morning paper, but said, “Well go put on a rag and stop bitching about it. It’s not something to tell people or be proud of.” Nobody else said a word and that was that. It was a deflating puncture wound that kept me feeling downtrodden, negative and pissed off at my mother for a long time. Other friends’ mothers had marked the occasion with a cake or a trip to the store to pick out their own favored personal hygiene products. My mother dismissed my experience fully, told me to shut up about it, and used an ugly slang term to describe what would be a lifelong monthly expenditure, an item even more important than clothing or movie tickets or haircuts or junk food. An item I needed, a necessity, part of my womanhood, personhood, my genetic right. It really was a crushing blow to a piece of my journey that felt special, and that I thought would unite us in sisterhood. To make matters worse: my period had ruined my favorite shorts, and though I scrubbed and scrubbed them in the sink, I never got the stain out (I didn’t know to use cold water and set the stain by using hot).

And now that I think about it, my mother never did supply me with my own feminine products. I just used hers, whatever I could find in the bathroom or bum off of friends. When I got babysitting jobs, I used the money I made to buy my own, which I kept hidden away shamefully like a pack of cigarettes stolen from your grampa or a porno mag, lest anyone see it and think you’re a shithead or a weirdo creeper perv. And following my mother’s example, I always bought generic, shitty pads that never quite got the job done and didn’t stick well and were too short to boot. I think she felt spending money on something you’re going to bleed on and throw out was a burden she wasn’t willing to make heavier by spending more on a fancy version. Here’s a secret: nothing is ever going to make your period enjoyable, but if you spend the extra buck on the fancy pads that soak up more blood, cover more panty area and come in their own pre-wrapped single packs, your life will be a little easier at that time of the month, and you will ruin less underclothes. It has taken me all this lifetime to find myself worth spending the extra dollar on the fancy foam ones. But guess what? I’m worth it, and so are you.

That lesson came to me through an enlightened friend, who has the most impressive stash of feminine hygiene products known to womankind. I was invited to her house once for a party, and when I excused myself to use the bathroom and flicked on the light in the loo, it was as though I was transported to a magical land of righteous girl power. On her massive vanity were candy jars and dishes – a whole confectionary shop’s worth! – full to the brim with maxi pads, tampons, vagina wipes and pantyliners in a gleeful rainbow of colors. I marveled at the display – I’d never seen anything quite like it – and was actually sad I didn’t have my period so I couldn’t sample any of the delights. Had she gone mad? She knew she was having guests (male and female) over – why would this attractive, fun, educated and poised single lady leave the accoutrement of the curse out in plain view for everyone to see? I realized she possessed something I had none of: total confidence in her womanhood and all aspects of it. And here I was, a 40-ish mess of a shame-bleeder.

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with my period. The beginning was not so great. Lots of times since have not been, either. My periods were so random and so harsh in high school that the family doctor put me on the pill. This made me “regular” and the cramps weren’t quite as atrocious. It also put a time limit on the bleeding, which sometimes before had lasted two to three weeks. Later I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, which came with its own fun set of menstrual mishaps. Then I had babies, and the weirdness abated some. I became regular without the pill. I cramp less harshly. I flow for a normal amount of time. And at this late date, I can see an end of my monthlies in sight. But I’m not quite ready for that, even if I do occasionally still embarrass myself with a slash of crimson pride on my workout wear.

After all, menstruation is a cleansing of the body and to me, the spirit. Every month we women get a do-over. The build-up of a month’s worth of potentially life-hosting primordial lady sludge evacuates itself in a ritual our bodies know how to perform without our having to even think about it. We women are magical creatures, full of life-giving nourishment and the ability to grow human beings, in sync with the cycles of the moon, the tides, the sun. We chart our flows to the rhythms of our lives. We plan calendar dates around them, vacations, goals, reproduction. I look at my period as a time of renewal and a reminder of a choice I made to not have a child this month. Sound complicated? It is as much as it is not. It is nature, a miracle of a function, my bleeding birthright.

As for my mother’s reaction to her eldest daughter beginning her cycle, it remains a complex mystery. Though as the mother of a now-adult daughter myself, I feel I may have gained some insight. When my daughter, my lovely, first-born baby girl, began her cycle it was a time to celebrate her, but also a time of grieving for me. It was realizing she would never be the fist-pounding, gurgling blonde curly-headed and drooling crayon artist that could never get enough of me again. It was a realization that she would, indeed, be leaving my household someday and beginning her own journey that wasn’t part of mine. It was the dawning of her passage into womanhood and the birth of my old age. But what it wasn’t was a dark secret. Unlike my mother and her mother before her, I didn’t sweep her experience away with the angry flick of a newspaper. I embraced it. I let her pick out and experiment with as many feminine products as she could possibly want. I probably embarrassed her with my gleefulness and celebratory machinations. I stopped short of sending engraved announcements, and I may have made it more about me than her, on accident of course. But I wanted her to celebrate being a grown-ass woman and to never feel shame about it. Today she is a Trump-protesting, artistic, feminist, bad mamma jamma who advocates menstrual cups and talks freely about topics like bloating and blood stain removal. I love her so. And honoring her cycle made me realize that it was time to celebrate my own, too.

Now when I menstruate, I carouse in my own special way. I buy the expensive pads. I inhale the special chocolate if I want to. I don’t feel embarrassed when I buy feminine hygiene products, even if it’s from a man. And I find that my healthy attitude makes menstruation if not fun, kind of special. I’ll be sad when it’s over, and I hope to enter the next phase of womanhood in a positive and upbeat way. I promise not to kick and scream. I’m actually kind of looking forward to it.

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Take Action ~ Rouse Rabble ~ Lend a Hand
Want to help girls and women who may not have access to feminine hygiene products? Happy Period has got you covered. Menarche!

Three Things I’m Done With: Fear, Hiding, and Donald Trump

Guest Post by the beautiful and ferocious Cara Greene Epstein
www.thedragonflymovie.com

Okay, so I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s this guy out there who has made it his business, both literally and figuratively, to engage in and promote body shaming. This shaming is primarily aimed at young women, though if you read the volumes of his quotes on this subject, you will see that no one is safe. Apparently, this is the one area in which he does not discriminate.

Body shaming is a very personal issue for me, one that I’ve grappled with pretty much every day, all day long, for almost as long as I can remember. So much of my sense of self-worth is tied up in how I think others will see, perceive, and feel about my body. I ain’t proud of that, but there it is. Truth.

Shame feeds on the shadows. On whispers and doubts and looks and assumptions. On a million tiny little fears with beady eyes and long fingernails that hide in all of the nooks and crannies of a day. Or an hour. Or a moment.

This shame, any shame, depends on two things to live: fear and hiding.

So those are two things that I’m done with.

195 lbs. That’s how much I weigh. I know because I just went to the bathroom and pulled out the scale (from where it was hiding, of course) and stood on it. 195. That’s my number.

I’ve been within 10 lbs. of this number for the last four years and I’ve been ashamed of it, of what it means, the whole time. But here’s the thing — here’s the thing that guy is helping me realize — I don’t think it means what I thought it meant.

See, that guy believes that this number makes me less than. Makes me difficult. Makes me incapable. Makes me a disaster. And I kind of believed those things, too.

And then I thought about all the things I’ve done over the last four years. And you know what? That guy and I were wrong. 195 doesn’t look like a disaster at all.

Here are some of the things that 195 does look like:

195 looks like running a half marathon and winning a medal the size of your head.

195 looks like writing, co-directing, producing and starring in a feature film, and then winning an award for it.

195 looks like having two healthy, awesome babies and helping them become healthy, awesome kids.

195 looks like teaching your art to classrooms full of students and challenging them to use said art to better connect with themselves, each other, and the world around them.

195 looks like celebrating 14 years of marriage to your best friend and the greatest guy on the planet.

195 looks like stepping up and taking on the challenge of a full-time job while you continue to pursue your passions.

195 looks like rocking the red carpet at your own movie premiere.

195 looks like pursuing a second graduate degree.

195 looks like dancing at Wrigley Field to a band you’ve been following since you were 17.

195 looks like volunteering at your kids’ schools and helping out people who are important to you.

195 looks like passing your physicals with flying colors.

195 looks like super fun vacations and celebrations with those you love.

195 looks like stepping out of the shadows and into the light.

And…

195 looks like any other number. Cause when you really take it out and look at it, that’s all it is, just a number.

So let’s all live our lives in the light and celebrate how awesome we truly are.

And please, let’s not elect that guy in November.

Cara at her movie premiere, flanked by two kickass women who are also much more than just their number.

My Body Post-Baby: Still My (Amazing) Body

Whenever a famous woman has a baby, you can count on at least two things:

1. The name of said baby will be a source of great fascination for far too many people, and
2. When said famous woman rejoins her publicly famous life and starts to be photographed again, all of the headlines will be some version of how she got her “Body Back After Baby”

Though there are countless examples of this, let’s just look at one recent case study for the sake of brevity: Blake Lively. She had a baby about two months ago (a girl named James, if you need the answer to #1 satisfied), and then showed up at New York Fashion Week. When Serena Van der Woodsen steps out on the town, her clothes are always a hot topic. This time of course, it was all about how she filled out her clothes because OH MY GOD SHE HAD A BABY.

Here are some of my favorite headlines, winners of the Utterly Ridiculous Headline Contest that I just held; I was the only judge:

Blake Lively Debuts Amazing Post-Baby Body At New York Fashion Week!

Hahaha… Debuts her body. Um, pretty sure she debuted her body sometime in the 80s and it’s been here ever since.

Blake Lively Makes First Post-Baby Public Appearance, Glows With Happiness at New York Fashion Week

“Glows With Happiness” aka “has a really great makeup artist”

Blake Lively Makes a Triumphant Post-Baby Return to Fashion Week

Triumphant. She is triumphantly dressed and standing in front of photographers. I’m all for congratulating the woman, but let’s not congratulate her for putting on a dress and going to a fashion show. Let’s congratulate her for Having A Baby, because that sh*t is HARD.

Then of course there are the blatant WE’RE ALL LOOKING AT YOUR BODY headlines:

NYFW 2015: Blake Lively Shows Off Flat Tummy

Blake Lively Flaunts Flat Tummy At NYFW 1 Month After Baby’s Birth

Blake Lively somehow looks like this after having a baby

Well, let me tell you how, Toronto Sun… It’s called Spanx. And having a personal trainer. And a nutritionist. And being a 27-year-old whose body was super fit to begin with, before all the baby magic happened.

Then there’s this little gem:

Ryan Reynolds may be the Green Lantern, but Blake Lively might have some super powers of her own.

She does! The super power of being a woman and growing, birthing, and nurturing a brand new human! Oh… you meant her flat stomach. Whomp.

I admit that I’m extra uppity about all of this because coming up on four months ago, I had a baby. I will also confess that throughout pregnancy and since giving birth, I’ve been concerned about things like gaining weight and getting back in shape. I like being fit and active, and in news that will surprise no one, it’s challenging to prioritize those things when you have a beautiful, captivating newborn to snuggle and feed and love and care for.

What I could not have told you with fervor and conviction before this whole experience, is that my body is Amazing. It’s f*cking Amazing. It isn’t amazing because I have a flat stomach. (I do not now, nor have I ever had a flat stomach.) It’s amazing because I grew another person inside of me, and then brought that person into the world with a staggering amount of effort and pain, and throughout all of it, my body was my body. I don’t need to “get my body back”, because it’s still here. It’s always been here. And it is magical.

My body isn’t the same as it was at 23, and it isn’t the same as it was a year ago. My body is capable, and mystifying, and a seriously impressive piece of bioengineering. My first and forever hope for my body is that it will continue to serve me well, for as long as I am lucky enough to live in it.

For anyone out there – especially anyone who has given birth – who feels bad about their own body when looking at pictures of Flat Tummy New Mom Blake Lively (or any of her New Mom Celebrity peers), please remember that it’s her Job to look like that. She has Employees who help her do that job, and she has Economic Resources that most of us can barely fathom. She is also, undoubtedly, wearing Spanx.

Your body is amazing. Your body is a seriously impressive piece of bioengineering. Take a moment to thank your body for everything it gives you every day, then stretch or run or jump or dance just because you can. Your body is amazing.

bebe body
before / during / after

Friday Feminist Funtimes – #MightyKacy

The bulk of Friday Feminist Funtimes came a little early this week, with a look at some of the highlights in our pop culture revolution.

So today we’ll keep it short and sweet. As one of the announcers said, “There is no limit to what this woman can do.” #MightyKacy

La Vie est Belle and Cancer Sucks

As often happens in your thirties, a lot of my favorite people live in different parts of the country and I don’t get to see them very often. Two such far-flung loved ones were on my mind this weekend as I sat down to watch a new show on ABC Family called Chasing Life.

One of those far away friends lives in California and makes his living as an actor. He was featured on the show, and admittedly my initial impetus for watching was simply to support him as his star continues to rise. The other far away friend lives in Tennessee, and her life has been completely upended by repeat sparring matches with cancer.

For starters, I need to thank M for being the reason I sat down to watch this show in the first place. Second, I need to long-distance-hug G. Because of her, I connected to this show in wholly unexpected ways.

Chasing Life is about a young woman who is blindsided by a diagnosis of leukemia at age twenty-four. The pilot episode introduces us to her and her career as an ambitious, newbie reporter, her newfound love interest, her BFF and her matriarchal family, and just barely, her cancer.

I’ve never watched a show on ABC Family before. The promos I’ve seen for that network often look somewhat cheesy, and I admittedly can be resistant when it comes to schmaltz. But I have zero regrets about the 45 minutes I spent with Chasing Life, and here’s why:

The Bechdel Test: Chasing Life passed right out of the gate with flying colors. The opening scenes were between the protagonist, April, and several men in her sphere (boss, uncle, interview subject – Go, M!), but within the first 12 minutes she’s unapologetically owning the brand of Feminist (which gave me more of a thrill than it probably should’ve in the 21st Century), and shortly thereafter, we’re introduced to her sister, mother, and grandmother, and they all – guess what! – have more to talk about than men. So not only has Chasing Life already won me over with its lady-centric awesomeness, but it’s clever and funny, too.

The world is not white (!): This is TV, so of course everyone has to be gorgeous, but I’m happy to say that everyone is not gorgeous and white. The show was adapted from a Mexican TV series, Terminales, so April and her family have a vague, not-totally-white vibe about them. Moreover, April’s coworker is Indian, her boss is black, her bestie is black (and… Australian? …British? had trouble pinning down the accent), and these characters are all presented without hubbub or commentary. It’s more along the lines of ‘there are people in this story who happen to be people of color’, or as I like to call it, life.

Chasing-Life-620x413

The Carver Family – Chasing Life

Schmaltz is not king: Sure, there was a decent amount of schmaltz. The younger sister is Troubled and winds up Wasted at a Party because of a Guy Who Is Bad For Her. The grandma is Feisty, the mom is a bit Flighty, and the boss is Stern and Demanding. But the schmaltz was outdone by the quality of the writing, the engaging nature of the characters, and an impressively unexpected twist at the end (hint: cancer isn’t the only curveball April will have to navigate).

Women at the helm: Lastly, I learned from M that there are lady writers at the helm of this show, and I learned from the interwebs that these lady writers, Susanna Fogel and Joni Lefkowitz, are also Executive Producers. If you’ve been with us even a short time, you know that Beauty Coup is the champion of quality programming created by women. So to sum up, Chasing Life is winning on many fronts.

Where it hit me in my heart muscle is of course in how much it made me think about G. I don’t know what lies ahead for fictional April and her fictional leukemia, but for several years now I’ve watched the all too real journey of G vs. breast cancer.

If you know someone with cancer, then I don’t need to say any more. If you don’t, take a moment to be thoroughly grateful for that blessing. Then spend some time with G over at her blog, My Left Tit. Witnessing the actual experiences of an actual person dealing with actual cancer is as sobering as it gets. It is also a fire-fueling, rabble-rousing, eye-opener. Even while they live, cancer can rob people of their lives. If Chasing Life gives even a glimpse of that, it will be doing a service to those living with cancer by illuminating the truth of their realities.

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Chasing Life airs on ABC Family starting June 10th. You can watch the pilot episode early by downloading the ABC Family app.

 

 

Swimsuit Revolution

There’s this woman, Brittany Gibbons, Editor in Chief of the Curvy Girl Guide, and she is braver than me. The first reason she gets a shout out during RLB Shout Out Week is for her online magazine and their manifesto. Make that a womanifesto. I want to organize a group photo of every woman I love (there would be a lot of flights involved), and pair it alongside those words. They make me really, really happy.

She also has a very entertaining blog that I just had to tear myself away from, lest I get sucked into the vortex of amusing blog posts that distract me from ever finishing the post I am attempting to write in honor of her posts.

Brittany Gibbons – Lovely, Clever, and Daring

Reason numero dos that Ms. Gibbons is such a bad ass? She’s started a revolution. By wearing her bathing suit in public. And I do not mean on a beach. I mean in Times Square, y’all. On Television! And then On Stage! At a TED talk. Which is now on the Internet. Meaning the Entire World now has access of footage to her in her bathing suit.

Last fall I was in Hawaii, and I went kayaking in the ocean, and it was quite an adventure, and I felt pretty effing brave. Once safely ashore, the two women I was with wanted a commemorative photo. You know what I did before we took it? I threw on my sundress. Because they were both smaller than me, and I didn’t want posterity to record me looking… well, bigger than them.

So it’s pretty clear what I have to do. Luckily I’m going to happy hour first.

Here it is. For Brittany. For all the women inspired by her. As S once said: For Science.
An image of me, in a bathing suit, facing the mirror, adjusting my ponytail. Taken tonight, by my husband, with my iPhone. No sucking in. No skinny pose. No push-up bra. No mirror face (you know you have one, too). No instagramming, no enhancing, just me. Smudged mirror and all.

Gwen Rocks On

As this is my birthday week and birthdays are all about celebration, I declare this Shout Out Week on RLB. Each day will bring a new Shout Out, celebrating all sorts of things – courage, beauty, tenacity, gumption – if it makes you feel good and tips its glass to life, we shall celebrate it here!

To begin, I’d like to give RLB readers an update on one Miss Gwen Edwards, who recently appeared in an RLB interview. She has had another surgery (which you can read about on her blog), and prior to going under the knife yet again, she invited me to be a part of her experience by continuing to document what cancer is doing to her body. Gwen is very grateful to everyone who is following her story. She is navigating the trials and tribulations of this journey with the utmost grace, and as an example of that, she has granted me permission to post one of the images I captured.

Here we celebrate Gwen, giving cancer a run for its effing money, in all of her real, bare bones, unaltered beauty.

This is for you, Gwen. Consider this post another testament to the love, faith, and support you have alongside you. You are beautiful.