The first time I saw a tampon, I was terrified. I was 9 and even though I knew what a period was, I didn’t know exactly how they worked, why they happened, or when I’d get my first one. My friend’s older sister was the person who showed us tampons in action for the first time. She put them in cups of water, and I remember feeling shocked at how massive they got. How was that going to fit up there?
Periods are funny things. For so long I knew I didn’t want to be the last person in my class to get mine, but I was also scared of being first. I had heard all the horror stories about bleeding all over white jeans, but it usually turns out the reality of having your period is a lot less dramatic. Usually.
However, the day of my first period was so weird that every period after that felt easy.
My auntie is a hairdresser, and she had taken me out for the day to a big hairdressing show (it’s like modelling, but with hair) in Alexandra Palace. We went to the loo, and just as I noticed that the inside of my pants weren’t as white as they were in the morning, a fight broke out between two of the girls in the bathroom. Suddenly one of them punched a mirror and it smashed everywhere, I popped my head out to see what was going on, and my Auntie jumped in the cubicle with me to keep me safe.
In case you were wondering: there’s no good time to tell your Auntie you’ve started your period when you’ve both been standing in a cramped loo, listening to girls argue about if one had kissed the other’s boyfriend.
It took 10 minutes and the two girls getting carted out by security before I was brave enough to tell her about my period, and she laughed so much at what bad timing it was that I ended up laughing too. She went out and bought me a pad from those vending machines in ladies’ loos, gave me a paracetamol, and we got the train back to my parents’ house while I asked her at every single train stop if I had leaked blood through my jeans. I hadn’t.
Bleeding every month might sometimes be painful, annoying and inconvenient, but these days, I try to look on the bright side of having my period. Like, I might have spent 30 minutes trying to get a tampon in the first time, but when I did I felt more proud of myself than I ever had in my life. Once I got over feeling super embarrassed buying my own pads at the supermarket, I started to find it funny how awkward I could make boys at the checkouts get.
And yeah, I’ve had a few spillages and accidents – everyone has – but when my friend stepped on broken glass, I was really good at getting the blood out of his socks (no soap, lots of cold water, SCRUB).
I’m not embarrassed about my period anymore, which helps, but most of my early embarrassment about my period was to do with my relationship with boys – I had so many fears, and no one was giving me any answers.
So, to be clear: no, a boy can’t mysteriously tell that you’re on your period when you sit next to him, or talk to him, or kiss him. No, you don’t smell bad. No, there’s nothing unclean or dirty about you, and no, your period doesn’t make you any ‘different’ from normal. You might feel uncomfortable or in pain, but it’s the same as having a headache or a sore foot – tell people why you don’t feel great if you want, but it’s ok to keep it to yourself too.
One of the most important lessons I learnt from starting my period was learning to respect my body and the way it works. My body and all the things it does is amazing, and the older I get, the cooler it feels. I’ve also learnt that my body belongs to me. I might not be in charge of it all the time, and I might not be able to control getting my period at an annoying time like before a camping trip or when I know I’m wearing a lot of white, but I also know that I’ll always be ok. Even the most painful of my periods have always come to an end, and most of the time I forget I’m even having one.
Anything you can do when you’re not on your period, you can do when you are – you’ll just feel a bit more proud of yourself for doing it. Oh, and no boy is worth punching a mirror for. That’s just common sense.
Image: Katie Edmunds