“Shit! Where are they?” I muttered to myself as I nervously rifled through my friend’s bathroom cabinet.
He was living with two women at the time, and I assumed they stored their feminine products under the sink. When I found a box of tampons wedged between a bottle of mouthwash and a bag of razors, my heart sank and I was filled with a sense of dread. I’ve never successfully inserted a tampon and I felt like I was less of a woman because of it.
I sat on the toilet and spent a few minutes studying the tampon’s pretty packaging before attempting to insert it. The pain caused me to tense up and I could feel tears welling in my eyes as I grew more and more frustrated.
Why couldn’t I be like other women and insert it with zero trouble? What was wrong with me? I tossed the mangled tampon into the trash after about twenty minutes and drove home to retrieve a sanitary napkin. I concocted some awful excuse about leaving something at home.
Why couldn’t I have just told them the truth? I was an adult woman who never wore a tampon in her life, and I was ashamed of myself for it.
Whether you’re breastfeeding your child or managing your monthly bleeding, society tends to shame and police women’s bodies and their natural functions. Though there’s nothing inherently offensive about the sight of a bare breast or menstrual blood, I still adhere to the culture of silence surrounding periods, and it’s time I change my compliant ways. I’m tired of trying not to inconvenience others with my period, but the shame is something I’ve internalized over the years.
I’ve always had a complicated relationship with my body and sense of womanhood.
I’m the kind of person who habitually apologizes for my body, my words, and my existence. I frequently apologize to my partner for bleeding on our bed sheets or on the bathroom floor after I’ve stepped out of the shower. He’s never once expressed revulsion at the sight of my blood, but I still apologize anyway. I’ve been taught to apologize and to make myself as small as possible.
When my period is at its heaviest, I shy away from people because I’m insecure about the way my body smells. I’m convinced that I smell like a can of tuna that’s been sitting out in the blazing sun for three days. A former friend of mine, known for his mean streak among our circle of friends, once told me to close my legs because we were driving past the ocean with the windows down and he associated the fishy smell with my feminine odor. His humiliating remark was uncalled for, but I was too scared to speak up. It was a cruel joke, and his comment further reinforced the kind of shame women regularly experience.
Whenever I stick a fresh pad to my underwear, I can’t help but examine its wide shape. It’s so clunky and diaper-like. I usually wear winged pads because I’ll bleed through if I don’t. Though the feeling of a robust pad between my legs is comforting, given how much I bleed, I don’t always feel sexy. Depending on the brand, sometimes it’s infantilizing because it feels like I’m wearing a diaper. I want nothing more than to embrace my womanhood, and take pride in my monthly blood.
Tampons have such a sleek, sexy design. They’ve always seemed like the cooler, more mature option to me. When I failed to insert a tampon, I felt like I wasn’t like other women and that I wasn’t worthy enough to be a member of their community. I used to believe women who regularly wore tampons had their lives all sorted out. I later learned I was making false assumptions about people, and their lives.
I used to have strange ideas about the pain too. I assumed tampons were supposed to hurt, and that there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t bear the pain. I believed the pain was part of being a woman, and to withstand pain in silence was a mark of true womanhood. It was an absurd notion, but it adhered to the idea that women are supposed to be silent and obedient.
Instead of thinking of tampons and pads as different options for women, I believed tampons were the better or more desired choice. There’s nothing wrong or shameful with wearing pads, tampons, diva cups, and so on. Every person is different, and it really does boil down to personal choice. I don’t wear tampons because they’re uncomfortable, and that’s OK. I’m not any less of a woman because of it. I’m learning to accept what’s best for my body, and I’m learning to listen to it too.
I don’t always see my body as strong or beautiful, which is something I’m trying to actively change.
I’ve written about body positivity before, but most of the time I celebrate other women’s bodies and not my own. I have a petite form, likely a contributing factor as to why I’m unable to comfortably insert a tampon, but I’m healthy and powerful.
I used to think womanhood was so black and white, but it’s really not. Womanhood is different for everyone, and all experiences are perfectly valid.