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