“Period Parties”: A Celebration of Menstruation
By Lina Savage
2 · 10 · 2019
“Do you have a tampon?” whispered my new friend on my very first day of middle school. I looked up at her with a confused look on my face. Her bra straps exposed and her filled-out body standing in stark contrast to my own boyish prepubescent one, it was clear she had beat me to the race in entering “womanhood.” I looked down at my own flat chest, realizing that I resembled the boys in my class. I was far from reaching any stage of puberty that would allow me to look like a woman, and was confident I’d never need to use a tampon.
“I just used my last one,” I whispered back, pretending I too had entered this rite of passage as a woman.
I lived with the embarrassment of being a “late bloomer” for years, feeling shameful and apprehensive that I would stay period-less forever. To me, getting your period resembled maturity, strength, and an ultimate transition into femininity.
Thankfully, almost three years later, when my period finally did come, I told only my mom, who promised to never expose the fact that until this point, I was pre-pubescent.
While my own experience with puberty is far from novel, the conversations and mentalities surrounding this life stage is certainly evolving. Now, contrary to my years of secrecy, young girls are welcomed into their years of excessive mood swings, agonizing cramps, and outbursts of acne through celebrations tagged “period parties.” Moms decorate their houses with red balloons and streamers, serve red velvet cakes and strawberry punch, all attempting to denote the stigma regarding menstruation. The trend became known last summer when Shelly Lee, from Florida, broadcasted the period party she threw for her daughter on Twitter. After her own post went viral, people began sharing their own take on the “period party” across social media channels.
At these parties, girls are encouraged to ask questions to debunk previous misconceptions about menstruation. Also, because many girls feel apprehensive about getting their period, these celebrations attempt to shine a light on the matter and make it something to be proud of rather than to fear. Resembling bat mitzvahs, christenings, and quinceaneras, this coming of age party is spreading among American teenage girls.
And it’s not just a social media trend. In her book “Perfect is Boring,” Tyra Banks writes about the party her mom planned for her when she began menstruating at 15. And comedian Bert Keischer brought the ”period party” idea to cable TV when he talked about the one he held for his daughter when talking to Conan O’ Brien.
This period ceremony, however, is nothing new. Several cultures around the world have historically welcomed young teens into adulthood through various forms of preparation and celebrations.
One young Xicana woman named Whisper, tells me that in Chihuahua, Mexico, girls usually start this process after they get their first period, around the ages of 11 to 14. In Whisper’s case, however, there were many girls of different ages in her community, some of whom waited years after they got their first period to start the process. Whisper attended Xilonen classes every Saturday for several months, where she was provided a support group of other women who taught a variety of concepts, one of the main topics being menstruation.
“The main purposes of Xilonen classes were for mothers to grow closer to their daughters, for periods to be seen as natural, and to spread awareness among men,” she says. She reveals how fathers are encouraged to attend because it’s important for them to understand how to assist their daughters with cramps. Whisper tells me that the classes enabled her to feel proud of her period. “It’s natural and you shouldn’t find it as disgusting,” she says.
After several months of these weekly classes, each girl has a ceremony at an altar where they are greeted with drums and wear a personalized traje – an elaborate, decorative outfit. They also bring their own sauhmadors, which are ceremonial objects resembling a grail or goblet, that are meant to represent a woman’s uterus. Inside, they light a fire using charcoal in order to represent the “fire of life” living within, and the smoke arises to purify everyone’s energy in the room.
“We created a safe space for girls in that room to not feel ashamed of what was going on,” she says. “When things aren't in mainstream media or talked about by [white people] then it’s not giving credit to other cultures. “ Whisper wants to assure people understand that other cultures have been making menstruation something to be proud of, rather than ashamed of, for years. “I want people to know that these period parties are nothing new,” she said.
Contrary to Whisper’s celebratory rite of passage, many girls have had near opposite experiences. Several cultures still view menstruation as something to hide, reinforcing the stereotypes that women should remain clean, reserved, and delicate. In trying so hard to conform to fit this perception of perfection, we suppress our own biology.
Similar to the secrecy of my own experience, Izzie Enriquez, a first-year college student who grew up in a California town called Encinitas, remembers her first period being so confidential that it became comedic. Izzie recounts her personal anecdotes from middle school to me. “We told our friend to look into a backpack where we hid a tampon,” she says. “Everyone laughed, I guess because the thought of boys knowing we had periods was gross at the time.”
She later elaborated on how her friends talked about their periods in public. “We would have to text each other if anyone needed a tampon. No one would say it out loud.”
For many girls, the natural phenomena of menstruation has almost felt taboo. Regardless if teens have gotten their period or not, we all feel a need to conceal this enigma. Why is it that we hide the things we can’t even control?
Maybe if I had a support group similar to Whisper’s experience, I would not have been quiet for years, teaching myself how to insert a tampon through the internet because I was too embarrassed to admit my naivety. Maybe if these various forms of period parties were more recognized, the girl who asked me if I had a tampon wouldn’t have whispered. Maybe she would have asked confidently, and maybe I would have responded honestly. Making your period something to celebrate, rather than something to hide, could revolutionize the way society looks at menstruation. Instead of being a topic viewed as gross or shameful, we should learn to be proud and embrace our cycles of the moon. Even further, we should aim to combat any shameful comments from those that don’t menstruate, and educate them too on the matter so that girls no longer have to speak of menstruation in secrecy.