The extent to which women's health is stigmatized is appalling.
Do you remember the pad and tampon commercials we grew up with? The ones where they poured blue water onto the pad (and then someone danced in a field)? We all know that what actually goes onto the pad isn't blue—but of course, we could never dare show that. You know, (in hushed tones) m-e-n-s-t-r-u-a-l b-l-o-o-d.
Or, what about the messaging that comes with douching and vaginal cleansing products that lead us to believe that vaginas are dirty and gross? (Spoiler alert: They're not.)
Listen, I get it. Not everyone feels comfortable seeing blood in a commercial. And people can certainly make their own choices about how they tend to their vaginas. But little by little, girls and women and people with vaginas start to get the message our bodies are wrong. We begin to believe there is something inherently off-putting about our bodies in their natural form, and we need to do everything in our power to hide it, feel shame or fight it.
And that needs to end. Because beyond the emotional ramifications of this shame-inducing cultural phenomenon, there is a very real physical consequence as well: period poverty.
Did you know that one of five girls in the United States has missed school because she couldn't afford menstrual products or didn't have access to bathrooms and handwashing stations to support her through her period? Like many issues, period poverty has been made worse by the pandemic.
There are, of course, economic implications surrounding this, but the stigma is a huge part, as well.
Imagine being a young person who (while learning to adjust to their changing body) cannot afford menstrual products—and due to the stigma we have created, doesn't feel like they can reach out for help. Who is too embarrassed to ask their teacher, a school nurse or a guidance counselor for assistance. Who chooses, instead, to stay home.
But today we woke up to the news that perhaps, there is some hope after all. Scotland has made history by becoming the first country to provide free tampons and pads. And it is a massive step towards the destigmatization of periods.
The Period Products Acts ensures that pads and tampons will be provided at schools, colleges and universities, as well as in libraries, recreational centers, restaurants, bars and more.
Monica Lennon, spokesperson for the Scottish Labor Department told the Guardian that "this will make a massive difference to the lives of women and girls and everyone who menstruates… in giving everyone the chance of period dignity."
It sends a very clear message from the government that not only are periods normal, but the people that have them are important—and that is invaluable.
So today, we celebrate with Scotland. Tomorrow, we keep fighting.
To make free period products available around the world.
To destigmatize all of the normal things that women's bodies do: bleed, miscarry, rest and more.
Your body isn't gross. It is exactly as it should be—and that is more powerful than you know.