When my two best friends came to visit me last New Year’s, they ended up sticking around for a few days afterward to do random silly things like play Guitar Hero (I was totally the best, by the way), craft scary little creatures, and make way too many batches of muddy buddies. What I never would have expected, though, was for us to end up at the store staring at packages of gigantic white underwear and deciding that, yeah, it would be totally cool to tie-dye ourselves some new period underwear.
Periods can be messy, to say the least. But they’ve always been one of those things that I figured other people had down. Like, it couldn’t be possible that people other than my own, clumsy self were waking up to blood stains on every single day of their period, or that other people had spent middle school destroying new pairs of jeans by underestimating how much blood could accumulate in a pad during class. My friends and I had never really talked about our periods beyond offering up a tampon when Aunt Flo decided to burst onto the scene during gym class.
Still, at 22, I found myself sitting on the floor of my apartment with my best friends and tying rubber bands around our underwear. We purchased only the most vivid dyes – bright pink and teal and yellow and green, and of course, red. We made several pairs each, laughing at the absurdity of our absolutely massive underwear. They were the kind that society loves to joke about the unsexiness of. Who could ever find us hot with tighty whities pulled up to our belly buttons? Especially when they were designated period underwear, to say the least.
It was a hilarious affair. Not one of us was a seasoned tie-dye expert. The pairs came out blotchy and brown, with only a few actually managing to adopt the patterns we’d attempted to create. One pair in particular, bare and white but for a yellow smiley face drawn right on the crotch, made me laugh out loud.
And as ridiculous as it was, these pairs of underwear opened up the doors for discussions about our periods. We laughed as we remarked upon how one pair with a massive red blotch right on the butt would be perfect for those mornings where you wake up and realize that somehow the blood has migrated to leave you soaked in places you didn’t think the blood could reach. We talked about tampons versus pads, and how some of us had been wondering about menstrual cups. I came to realize that I wasn’t the only one who seemed to totally suck at mastering my period. We are all messes when it came to that time of the month.
But, on the bright side, we had shiny new underwear to celebrate our bloodiest times with.
I ended up co-opting the idea and bringing it to my campus’ feminist club, where a genius club member (shout out to Claire!) said we should give people the supplies to make tie-dyed period underwear in exchange for their donations of pads and tampons. It ended up becoming a drive, with all of the proceeds and supplies going to two of our local shelters.
The workers at the shelters were ecstatic – apparently, it doesn’t occur to many people that some people who rely on shelters also have limited access to period supplies, which can lead to a whole host of issues like yeast infections and UTIs, and at the very least can definitely be detrimental to one’s humanity and self-respect.
During the drive, I ended up walking loads of people through the tie-dying process, and I found myself in the midst of more open, judgment-free discussion of periods than I’d ever heard. I learned about sea sponge tampons and illnesses that make it impossible for some to get through their periods without the help of birth control or other drugs. I learned about natural remedies for cramps, heard stories about period sex, and learned that so many of us don’t really have a handle on our periods.
More than anything, though, I learned that with openness and a willingness to listen without judgment creates a massive sense of community, and I’ll always be grateful to the people who trusted me enough to share their stories with me and, in turn, help me better understand my own body.
Cover image courtesy of Rachel Charlene Lewis.