“Joel, can you do me a weird favor and take my picture?”
“All of you? Even your underwear?”
“Do you want me to crop anything out?”
As I was laying on our couch – leggings piled on the floor next to me, a hot water bottle balancing on my belly and wearing the free eye mask my parents snagged from an overseas flight – I had a crazy, partially pain-induced idea:
This is what raw, authentic, divine femininity looks like.
No filters. No talk of magical moon times. No cutesy tampons or diva cups. No stylish, eco-friendly period panties. No frolicking in a field of wild flowers to the tune of “I’ve got a pocket full of sunshine.”
Just a girl with some period-stained underwear and a decent amount of Advil praying like hell that the cramps will ease up long enough to get some sleep.
I’m not entirely sure when or exactly how it happened, but somewhere along the way the wellness industry started forcing us to glorify and censor our bodies.
Periods are now mystical moon times. Debilitating cramps, PMS, and backne have become sacred healings. Birthing should happen with the assistance of three doulas, a midwife, a shaman, and on the shores of a crystal clear lake in Scandinavia. If you aren’t crowning on a yoga ball, in a bathtub, or surrounded by a grid of selenite and amethyst…congrats, you just introduced your unborn fetus to a world of negativity and bad vibes. You need to breastfeed for at least a year, preferably two or three or four or five. We’re supposed to shove rose quartz eggs up our yonis and experience divine orgasms. Breasts are at their most beautiful when they’re covered in tropical leaves, vaginas are at their happiest covered in a natural sweater, and yoga poses look best naked.
And why? Because it makes men feel more comfortable, that’s why.
Even in the wellness industry – a profession that is supposed to encompass the ideals of acceptance, love, and counter culture – patriarchy still reigns supreme. We can come up with as many goddess-oriented titles and cutesy nicknames as we want, but the truth – the honest, uncomfortable truth – is that your sacred moon time is really just your Grandma’s Aunt Flow dressed in a caftan with a green juice.
Let’s call it like it is: bleeding out of your goddam uterus. Being divinely feminine is peeing first thing in the morning and breathing through the shock of seeing a pool of bright red water staring back at you. It’s getting clots stuck under your fingernails from masturbating to ease cramps. It’s owning oversized underwear with random brown or red stains. It’s washing your sheets after mid-period sex. It’s blood-covered lips and fingers and condoms and dicks and vaginas. It’s plugging in a heating pad and filling up a hot water bottle. It’s hiding a tampon in your sleeve so Creepy Steve doesn’t say anything on your way to the office bathroom. It’s asking a stranger for a pad. It’s bleeding through white jeans and swimsuits. It’s messy and complicated and beautiful and painful and sad and a relief and a loss all at once.
Did I just make you uncomfortable? Good.
Let’s be clear – we all have a choice about what we do with our bodies and how we celebrate them. And if any of the things I’ve mentioned genuinely represent your love of your body, I’m totally here for it.
But for most of us working in this industry, this narrative, yet again, represents an identity that was forced upon us to beautify an otherwise messy and socially-disrupting process.
What if we replaced the sunset beaches with the period aisle of Walgreens? What if we said fuck it to the neon blue dye and showed menstruation for the brown, streaky, clotted mess that it actually is? What if we shared the massive zits on our faces instead of whatever cool VSCO filter fades them out? What if we admitted that shoving rocks and stones up our bodies is really a one-way ticket to one hell of a yeast infection? What if we showed birthing mommas of all shapes, sizes, races, and backgrounds wherever and however they want to birth? What if we shared babies eating formula right alongside babies sucking on the boob? What if we showed trans folk experiencing birth and periods and femininity? What if there were more queer folks represented as divinely feminine and beautiful on your social media channels? What if we showed women of all ages – menstruating or not – as divinely feminine? What if you didn’t need a uterus or ovaries or any body part to experience that identity? What if we stopped criticizing one another for whatever products we choose each month – whether it be pads, period underwear, cups, caps, free flow, tampons, or a goddam beaver pelt – and let it all be okay?
What if we stopped trying to mold ourselves into the ideal archetype of being a woman or feminine or both or neither?
We’ve taken a few steps forwards with trending hashtags like #realbirth, accounts like The Empowered Birth Project, and documentaries like “Period. End of Sentence.” bringing home an Oscar. But we’re still navigating an online (and physical) world that arbitrarily censors the female nipple, condemns pubic hair in the media, actively seeks to end abortion and reproductive freedoms, and deep-down wishes that the female body could be just a little less messy.
So where do we go from here? Well, posts like this are a decent start. We stop fetishizing our bodies. We stop sugar-coating the things our bodies do and stop teaching our daughters to be ashamed of those bodies. We reclaim that identity. We post pictures of postpartum and the fourth trimester. We share snaps of our period-stained underwear. We talk openly about what it’s like not to orgasm all the damn time. We share stories about the amazing and terrifying things our bodies are capable of doing. We talk about wanting children and not wanting children. We write articles about our abortions and infertility and miscarriages and PCOS and endometriosis and loss.
We invite in vulnerability in an attempt to make this ego-centric, masculine world of ours a little more uncomfortable because through that discomfort, comes raw truth.