“Hey look!” says my friend, holding out her phone, “It’s Menstrual Hygiene Day today!” My heart skips a beat – it sounds cheesy, but it’s true. I finally had reason to share the little illustration of a menstrual cup I’d done, and boy was I pleased. I hadn’t had the confidence to share this illustration yet, and this was my chance.

[Image description: an illustration of menstrual cup, with a face drawn on it. The cup is smiling, and saying, “These five days won’t be so bad!”. The drawing is captioned ‘period positivity’]. Illustration by Ellen Heydenrych.
That was exactly two years ago, and let me tell you: it’s been an exciting two years. I digitized the menstrual cup sketch, colored it pink and blue, and posted it on my illustration Instagram page for Menstrual Hygiene Day. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me at the time, but in hindsight, it was.

It did pretty well – in terms of likes – and who doesn’t love the dopamine rush that accompanies a flurry of positive social media buzz, right? So the following day, I did another illustration in the same color scheme, entitled “normalize menstruation”. This illustration is objectively my most shared and liked piece. But both of these pieces achieved something I hadn’t ever imagined: they turned me into somebody people talk to about periods – like, a lot!

And I love it! My drawings about menstruation have made my Instagram page a place where people who menstruate feel free to tell me about how many pairs of underwear their period has ruined or DM me to ask which size menstrual cup to buy. I often post Q&As on my story about menstruation and menstrual cups – although I’m no expert, and I do disclaim that. But as people who menstruate, we are entitled to take up space and talk about this natural thing that happens to us. And we can talk about it whenever we want to. We don’t have to wait for this glorious annual day.

[Image description: an illustration of a pair of blood-stained underwear with flowers growing out the top, and the words ‘ normalize menstruation’ above the drawing]. Illustration by Ellen Heydenrych.
Menstrual Hygiene Day allowed me the confidence to share art that matters to me – and to my surprise the art that matters to me matters to a whole bunch of people too! It’s so liberating and exciting to use my drawings to open up dialogues I hadn’t considered before. I’ve grown and learned in this journey, as well. 

When I first started sharing posts about period positivity, my primary focus was on starting a dialogue with women. I’ve since learned that using that kind of language is exclusionary, as many people who menstruate aren’t women. They might be trans men, intersex, genderqueer, or nonbinary. Period positivity is also about shifting the way we talk about menstruation: making it more inclusive and about all people who menstruate, as opposed to simply being about women.

It’s been two years of learning and growing, and I’m so grateful that I’ve come so far. To look back at how my menstruation illustrations have evolved with each passing year is such an exciting exercise for me. It’s important to pat yourself on the back every now and then, and feel proud of the work you’ve done.

[Image description: an illustration of a sanitary towel, staines with blood, surrounded by flowers]. Illustration by Ellen Heydenrych.
Since that first Menstrual Hygiene Day, I’ve gained the confidence to illustrate and post about periods whenever I feel like it, but May 28 will always feel pretty special to me. It’s the day I began being my most authentic self online. Being my authentic self meant finally finding my voice as an artist, and that’s something I’ll never stop celebrating.

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  • Ellen Heydenrych

    Ellen Heydenrych is a multihyphenate writer-illustrator-graphic designer with a Master of Arts from Rhodes University. Ellen loves spending time honing her various crafts. She currently works as a graphic designer at a creative agency in South Africa, freelances as an illustrator in her free time, and moonlights as the Love & Health Junior Editor at The Tempest.