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Mindful menstruation: because period-care is the new self-care

What’s your most unforgettable period memory? Maybe it was the shock you experienced when you unexpectedly got it for the very first time. Or when a tampon got stuck. Or when you wore white pants on the worst day ever to wear white pants.

Mine is the exact pattern of the cracks on the wall of the nurse’s office at my school. It was a place I’d lie for hours, month after month like clockwork, in agonizing pain. I’d stare at the mint green-painted bricks while I curled up into a ball on the cot—gripping my stomach, cursing the day I first became a woman.

When I returned to class and got asked why I was out for so long (again), I should have said, “Oh, I just suffer from a severe menstrual cycle that causes cramping, nausea, dizziness and sharp pains. It’s actually quite common.”

But I didn’t. Because girls weren’t talking about periods like that—and girls *still* really aren’t talking about periods like that. But we’re getting better at it.

For a long time, periods have been taboo—something to be ashamed about. Girls have been taught to keep their flow a big secret (raise your hand if you’ve ever slipped off to the bathroom at school after stashing a tampon up your sleeve...or passed a pad to a friend with all the stealth of a covert spy operation).

But now, the crimson tide is turning: Girls are talking openly and honestly about period empowerment (check out hashtags like #menstruationmatters and #periodpositivity on Instagram). They’re demanding products that meet their standards (clean and organic, ofc) and match their style (pretty and pastel, please). They’re advocating for menstrual equity (access for all to hygiene products and information about reproductive health) and to abolish period poverty (a recent study revealed that 1 in 5 U.S. girls have either left school early or missed school entirely because they didn’t have access to period supplies).

For a long time, I hated my period. I saw it as the end of everything: the end of my social life, my comfort, my general happiness. It took me entirely too long to realize that if I embraced my body, pampered my period and owned my ovulation, I could use my menstruation as an opportunity to indulge. When I stopped fighting it and actually befriended my cycle, it suddenly became so much smoother. And that’s why we’re here now: to show you the power, peace and positivity that’s waiting within your period.

The Stain Of Stigma
First things first: While more menstruators than ever are finding power in their periods, don’t be ashamed if you’re, well, still ashamed. It’s completely understandable to get embarrassed about bleeding.

In a study conducted by Blume, a feminine wellness brand that promotes self-care, 63 percent of the 1,000 women surveyed said they felt embarrassed when they got their first periods—and 60 percent said their self-esteem plummeted around puberty.

The good news? Today there are more menstrual activism groups and period empowerment influencers—yes, it’s a thing—than ever before. And together with new period product startups and brave girls all across the country getting real, the sense of period shame is *finally* starting to subside.

Brand Together
Spy the shelves at your favorite stores (hi, Free People and Urban Outfitters) and it’s clear that a new wave of indie wellness brands—many owned and operated primarily by women—has risen to the challenge of setting a new standard for feminine essentials.

What matters most? Transparent labels and organic offerings, for starters. The ingredients in feminine hygiene products aren’t currently regulated by the
FDA, and some experts warn that certain chemicals used to manufacture tampons, like glyphosate and dioxin, could be carcinogenic (aka cancer-causing)—and therefore shouldn’t come into repeated contact with a highly permeable spot of the body like the vagina.

Something else to consider? Sustainability. The desire for eco-friendly alternatives has led to the popularity of options like menstrual cups (which are inserted into the vagina to catch blood, then washed and reused), washable napkins (like your normal pad, except you cleanse and use again) and even period panties (special undergarments designed to catch and hold about two tampons’ worth of blood comfortably). Another plus? They’re cost-effective: Reusable alternatives eliminate the recurring expense of pads and tampons.

And let’s not ignore the cute factor. The latest period products aren’t just pretty—they’re the ultimate Instagram fodder (think: adorbs packaging destined for #unboxing, sometimes accompanied by a cheeky set of stickers). Suddenly, those embarrassing necessities girls were once so ashamed to be seen with are becoming a trendy status symbol appealing enough to be displayed on a vanity— and even featured in a feed—instead of shamefully stashed in a drawer or buried at the bottom of a bag.

Glow With The Flow
Unless you’ve been living in the digital dark for the past few years, you’ve no doubt heard of mindfulness: the self-care strategy based on slowing down, being present and looking inward. You can practice it through meditation…or by putting on a face mask. (Or lots of other ways.)

The concept of menstrual mindfulness uses those same principles as a more positive approach to your period: Instead of thinking, “Oh no, here comes Aunt Flo to ruin the next four days of my life,” it’s about switching your perspective. Your menstrual cycle can become an opportunity loaded with feel-good benefits: It’s a time to tune into your body, give yourself a break, slow down a bit—and, most importantly, treat yourself.

Ready to transform your basic bleeding into a luxe celebration of self? Follow these five steps for a more mindful menstruation...

1. Understand your cycle. Start tracking your period on an app like Clue, where you can record your bod’s blood output and log how you’re feeling. Soon, you’ll be able to look at the calendar to see how your flow affects your emotions—super handy when you just #cantstopcrying and don’t know why. Plus, you’ll be able to better plan ahead for the days when you might need a little more R&R (aka Netflix and nothing else).

2. Seek out products that are better for your body. Before you stock up for your next cycle, research the products you’ll be spending tons of intimate time with. Do you know what’s in them? (Be sure to check for fragrance, which often can be irritating.) Is there an option you haven’t investigated yet? (While tampons are extremely popular, menstrual cups and period panties are cult favorites.)

3. Draw a bath. Taking frequent soaks while menstruating isn’t based on the need to keep clean—it’s more about mirroring your body’s own act of cleansing. Supercharge your shedding process with a warm Epsom salt bath, which also can help fight cramps and aches.

4. Nourish with nature. Look to Mama Earth for a bit of guidance during your cycle—whether it’s by feeding your bod with hearty veggies and fresh fruit (chock-full of the vitamins and nutrients you need most right now!), spending quiet time outside in the calmness of the woods or soaking up the sun for 15 minutes when you’re feeling extra zapped (just don’t forget the SPF).

5. Listen to your bod. You’ve done a lot already—and now it’s time to tune in. What are you craving? Is it sleep, chocolate, your comfiest sweatshirt? Give your body what it’s asking for. Feeling stiff? Try some gentle stretching. Overly emo? Grant yourself permission to feel those feelings, and understand that they’re likely amplified by hormones. You—and your body—deserve to rest and reset.

What's your go-to self-care solution when you're on your period? 

We want to hear from you! Send us your weirdest body questions here (seriously, we'll answer anything!) and it just might get featured.

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by Kelsey Haywood Lucas | 5/22/2019
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