Getting dressed in the locker room after P.E. class during junior high, I remember overhearing the other girls gossiping about getting their periods. “It smells like tuna fish.” “My boobs feel bigger now.” “Tampons felt weird to put in at first, but now I’m used to it.” This unknown world of womanhood sounded overwhelming, and yet I wanted desperately to be part of the cool girls’ period club.
Being a late bloomer, I longed to get my period and be like all the other girls experiencing the uncontrollable changes happening to their bodies. I didn’t realize at the time that getting a period was going to be anything but cool. In my future, the big red would bring hot flashes, pit stains, and the embarrassment of getting an unforeseen red stain the day I chose to wear light denim—nothing to get excited about.
There are a lot of reasons why PMS and periods are not cool, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that nearly every woman in the world has dealt with this at some point in their lives. It’s part of the reproductive cycle that every woman goes through, but during the one to two weeks before your period when PMS strikes, it can feel like nature’s punishment. Your hormones start to fume, your mind spins easily into negative thoughts, and you might feel like crying during or after a tough day. It’s not just mood swings—there’s bloating and zits, even at almost 30 years old, every month. It feels like a switch turns and everything is a bit darker. When my period finally arrives, I feel calmer and uplifted, like an emotional storm has passed.
There are a lot of misconceptions about PMS. Men I’ve dated tend to think moodiness just means you are on your period, but it’s actually the PMS roller coaster. Given many men’s ignorance around menstruation, PMS should actually stand for “putting up with men’s shit.” Telling a woman she’s PMSing rarely has anything to do with periods—it’s a blanket term for calling a woman crazy or bitchy. The reality is that women aren’t just being “hysterical” for a week. Many women experience multiple emotional and physical symptoms during that time of the month. PMS even has a more symptomatic version known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which can last longer and affect mental health more. Most people do not know about PMDD, but it affects some women so severely that they are unable to keep up with their daily life. Whether PMS or PMDD, these ailments should not be shut behind the closed door of “women’s problems.” Though they directly affect women, periods are part of all people’s lives. The culture of not talking about it in an open and transparent way needs to be changed.
Despite physical symptoms and societal misunderstanding, what is actually cool about PMS and menstruating is that it enables women to fiercely bond into the cult of womanhood. The girl talk from my junior high locker room spans a lifetime, as it moves to every women’s bathroom and the workplace. Asking a stranger or colleague for a tampon if you unexpectedly get your period is a moment of female solidarity. We can talk about how we feel more voluptuous or how we have a craving for both pizza and sushi. We can also complain about the pounding feeling of churning ovaries and desire to curl up and binge watch all your favorite 90s rom-coms. But it’s all part of the ups and downs that allow women to have the coolest and most powerful ability of all: to create life.