If you somehow landed here, I have to warn you that this might be TMI since it’s about my first menstruation (menarche).
Back in the 90’s here in the Philippines… I was 10 years old and experiencing an unusual cramping in my lower abdomen. I dismissed it as a stomachache, but when I went to the bathroom, my underwear had a brownish stain in the front. Confused, I panicked for awhile, and ignored it. And then it finally hit me.
Announcement!!! Hey, everybody! Little sis got her first period!
Much to my embarrassment, my sister had broadcasted that I got my period to my entire family. After which my grandmother immediately dragged me to the staircase, told me to sit at the bottom of the steps, and move my butt back up 3 steps while still seated. I thought it was stupid, but I did as I was told just to get it over with. I later found out the reason for this was so my period would only last 3 days. Had I known that back then, I would have just sat there and refuse to move one step further!
A ritual involving a pair of blood-stained panties
My grandmother then “advised” me that I should wipe my blood-stained panties against my face. Yes, my face! What kind of fucked up ritual was this?! She said I had to, or else I would get horrible acne! So there I was, grossed out about my own stained panties, grudgingly patted it against my cheeks. If you think I lived in a rural province, you’d be wrong. This was in the city of Manila.
Oh, a mini adult diaper? Gee, thanks?
While I was in the bathroom washing my undies, my sister handed me a disposable pad. Even then, I thought disposable pads were the most uncomfortable things ever. But that was the only option I was told about.
No showers allowed!
And then came the most horrific part about periods… My dad and grandmother forbid me to bathe for the entire duration of my period, and was told that I was to follow this every cycle. Or else, I would suffer physical and mental illnesses in the future.
You smell like…
Sponge baths didn’t make me feel clean, but I followed their preposterous advice about not showering, because I didn’t know any better. One day, a boy in my class told me loudly that I smelled like I was menstruating! My face got so red with embarrassment. I showered when I got home. The next day, I showered again despite my period hadn’t ended yet. I learned to hide my period from the elders, and change my pads more often to avoid the period smell.
Women on their periods can’t swim in the ocean
The Philippines has a lot of beautiful beaches, but menstruating women shouldn’t swim or take baths! Or else it would make a woman mentally insane. I think not showering would make us more insane!
Do you have? I have…
In our culture, hardly anyone but people like my grandma says the word “menstruation” which is known as “regla” in Filipino. Everyone just refers to menstruation as “meron ako”, which literally means “I have”. Periods were treated like Voldemort, “It-That-Must-Not-Be-Named”. Imagine hearing this from a fully grown woman, “I can’t swim, because I have.” Have what?! Finish your damned sentence!
So about that boy who told me I smelled like I was on my period.. He actually said “you smell like you have”. I am thankful in a way he said that. It shook me out of my blind obedience.
I’m a woman now… Yay?
Needless to say, my first period was not a celebration of womanhood. I didn’t understand what was going on with my body. I’m glad how things are changing, and teenagers have more resources at hand to learn about menstruation and their bodies. It’s also great how more and more women are becoming aware of options such as reusable pads and menstrual cups.
But go figure, I still hear from friends how she can’t eat this certain sour food or drink any cold beverage, because she’s on her period. Didn’t you know that those would hinder the flow?!