After receiving a picture message from my mother of soiled, bloody underwear that a friend of my 15-year-old sister left behind after a sleep-over, I couldn’t help but to think, what are we teaching our young girls about hygiene and their bodies? The young lady that left her undergarments behind is being raised by her father, but that doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t have been taught that when in need of sanitary napkins, it’s okay to ask.

I remember when I first had my menstrual cycle at the age of 12. I was more than prepared because my mother had already provided me with books on the female body. In addition to those books she also thoroughly explained to me what having a menstrual cycle was all about.

I’m assuming that either nobody had that conversation with that young lady, or either she was just too embarrassed to ask for sanitary napkins or tampons. If the issue was the latter, it makes it even more interesting being that she was at a sleep over with several young girls. When I was young, my friends and I had no qualms about discussing our menstrual cycles and newly evolving bodies. I don’t know if it was because we were born in the 80s and it was just a different time or the fact that our mothers were just very open.

In American society menstrual cycles are somewhat stigmatized. A lot of adult women grew up being told never to wear white while on their period and many have heard of the infamous story of the girl with the blood stain on the back of her pants that everyone in class laughs at. Let’s not forget the popular scene from the 1976 movie Carrie, where the title character had her first period in her school’s gym shower. That was followed by her fellow female classmates throwing tampons and sanitary napkins at her. Afterward, the gym teacher tried to console Carrie by explaining menstruation to her because her mother hadn’t done so. I also cannot count how many times I’ve purchased feminine products and a cashier unnecessarily double bagged them as if one of the most natural things in the world needed to be hidden.

Statistics show that girls can have their first menstrual cycle as young as 8 years old. So when is it a good time to start talking to your daughter about menstrual cycles and her body? There’s no perfect time, but the earlier the better. Everyone’s body is different, but genetics, race, diet, body weight, and exercise all play a role in discerning when a girl can expect her first period. Girls usually can expect their first period after developing breasts, hips, waist, and pubic hair. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed but, girls tend to develop at much earlier ages these days.

So let’s not let our young girls end up like my sister’s friend, embarrassingly leaving her bloody underwear behind or like Carrie being taught about her menstrual cycle by her gym teacher. Be open and honest and educate your daughter on her body and hygiene as early as possible. The discussion of menstruation could also be an opening to talk about the use of deodorant, shaving, sexuality, and vice versa. Also, remember this isn’t just a conversation that should be given by or with mothers. Fathers should be participants as well.

It may also be beneficial to inform your daughter that when away from home, there’s no need to feel embarrassed when in need of feminine products. Providing your daughter with a few feminine products to carry in her backpack or purse may also be a good idea. That way even after having the conversation with her if she still feels uncomfortable talking to others about menstruation she can at least have some items to hold her over until she gets home or to a drug store.

If you’d like to provide your daughter with educational books like my mother did me here are some helpful books below:

  • The Girl’s Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up YOU, Kelli Dunham
  • The Period Book: Everything You Don’t Want to (But Need to Know), Karen Gravelle
  • Puberty Survival Guide for GIRLS, Dr. Eve Ashby
around the web

19 Comments

  1. I see your point and agree that we are probably doing a poor job of educating young girls about their bodies and hygiene. HOWEVER I find it more disturbing and offensive that your mother would not tell you, but SEND you a picture of the soiled garments. Perhaps your mom could have spoken to the girls father in private and offered to teach her about her body and maintaining hygiene or encouraging the dialogue between father and daughter. Both for cleanliness, but also for personal pride. What good did it do for your mother to show you the pic? That I just can’t cosign with.

  2. I have to admit that I got hung up on the first paragraph. Why would your mom send a photo? Strange. What was the point?

  3. That’s not right to put that girl on blast like that. You and your mom are not right at all! Your mom for sending the picture and you for writing the article. I’m surprised you didn’t post the picture:\

  4. wow. I take it not all schools give the whole talk and video thing about “growing up” anymore. I agree, these are conversations that need to happen. Everyone handles things differently, so the fact that your mom sent you the photo isn’t the point to me. There are groups that could be started to prepare young ladies for the changes they are going through. But we can first start at home, as a cousin, aunt, sister, etc Great post.

  5. Why on earth would your Mom send a picture like that? She (you too for that matter) missed an opportunity to help a young lady who may be in need of some direction. Instead of talking about this young lady behind her back someone should have wrapped their arms around her and had a talk. This assuming that she didn’t have an “accident”. Please tell me you never had one of those. Sorry, I really don’t have enough information to conclude this young lady is wayward but I will agree we must teach our young ladies how to carry themselves i.e. hygene, dress, and attitude.

    • @VK Teachey: That’s wwhat I was thinking. She could have started her menstrual over night, which happens A LOT! and just left it there. You can not base her not knowing off of one incident. If she spending the night all the time and that happens everytime then its different.

      Now why would a grown woman send a nasty pic like that…I would be disgusted.

  6. I agree with everyone else, your mother was wrong and it’s disguising to send a photo like that. Why did she feel the need to further shame the girl?

  7. I agree with several of the other posters…your mom could have used this as a teaching opportunity. The girl is young and may have benefitted from the guidance. Instead, she chose to mock her by sending you the picture. That’s really sad.

  8. I don’t think taking a picture of the soiled underwear and then sending it to someone is at all appropriate. The young girl was probably embarrassed enough. Considering that this entire article was about not shaming women for having periods, the photographing and passing around of said photograph sure went a long way to counteract the point.

  9. I will never forget getting my period at 11 during a weekend stay at a family friend’s home. I had had one 3 months earlier and then nothing again until then so I had no idea it was coming. I bled right through my underwear and pjs, then through the sheet onto the mattress. I was rendered speechless by the sight and had no idea who or how to ask for help. So I just remade the guest bed, bundled my stained clothes in my overnight bag, and went down to breakfast. It wasn’t until the mom went to strip the bed after I went home that she found out. Of course, she called my mother and went on to say what a nasty, dirty girl I was. My mother was apologetic, but her shame only made mine worse.

  10. A lot of valid points were made by those who previously commented. I hope the positive messages in regards to women’s bodies were relayed. That instance could have been made into a “teachable moment” (if it wasn’t) between the child and perhaps your mother. It is not a comfortable topic to discuss, but neither is not being informed. There are messages in silence and lack of communication/education as well.

    We can all work on taking away the power of those stigmas. Menstruation is a natural occurrence that does not need to be seen as a dirty, secret thing.

  11. How can I dislike this article?!!!!!!! Every young girl has gone through this, there’s no need to put shame on her like this.

  12. Lucky you. My talk went like this: Don’t bring home any babies. Won’t even tell you how long it took me to figure out why I was feverish certain times of the month and the inexplicable ‘movement’ I felt in my side.

  13. Everyone else already went in the photo, no need to add anything there, lol.

    Anyway I’m appalled at how much shame is attributed to the female body. I too was never taught about anything. My parents were/are only concerned about their own discomfort. I tell friends who got actually “birds and the bees” talks to be grateful and not ashamed, somebody cared enough to keep you from heartache and informed. I’m annoyed at the fact that the girl who grew up with her father never taught her anything, or at least got a woman to explain things. I don’t know what it’s like to be a growing boy, but I’m not dense enough to be clueless about male puberty and that an adult man can give an account of his experience much better than I can because he lived it.

  14. Lol…I won’t comment on the photo exchange but, I definitely got your point; and it’s extremely valid. The focus of the article stemmed on that photograph; had that conversation not take taken place or you even seeing that photograph there probably wouldn’t even be an article. But, we as parents should not depend on the school system to provide all lesson, particularly…life lessons. Those issues should be learned at home and are usually discussed when you are spending time with your children. Too many parents nowadays expect their children to learn from the school system,and the television. And when they are misinformed blame the teachers and the children’s peers when it was their job to begin with. Love the article and am very happy that you have supplied books for reference. While my girls are only 6 & 8, they are aware of what a menstrual is but, more accurate information can never hurt.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more Angel. Having been in the educational system for almost 2 decades it disturbs me how much the students know about a street name for drugs, in elementary school no less, the latest artists (if I can use that term) or whatever else is going on on television, but have no knowledge of the inner workings of their very own bodies.

  15. JessicaMercedes

    I didn’t get my first period until about a year after all of my friends (I was younger than them). I took it upon myself to go to websites like Gurl.com and planned parenthood, and to read articles, etc. I was raised by a single father and didn’t really have any female figures in my life. When I got my first period I was actually proud, and went to tell my dad. To my surprise he had a whole stash of female sanitary products stashed under his bed, in preparation for that time.

    Although my dad didn’t actually teach me about my cycle, he did teach me about cleanliness and decency. Like how you should flush the toilet behind yourself (even in a public bathroom), wash your hands after using the bathroom, and wrapping up sanitary napkins before tossing them in the trash (or preferably a grocery bag that can be sealed to avoid bad odors). Just walking into a public restroom these days, it seems that these are lessons that it seems a lot of girls miss out on.

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