Seeing Red


I learned about Rupi Kaur's Instagram debacle the same way we learn about all things absurd today, my Facebook feed. All of a sudden, scrolling down past a cascade of latte pics and midweek whining, I see a photo that catches my eye. It's a girl in bed, laying on her side, her back to the camera, her pants and the mattress have a red menstrual blood stain on them. I'm surprised at the same time, very comforted.

The girl in the photo is Rupi Kaur. She is a poet, photographer and someone who you can't help but instantly admire when you come across her on a Wednesday afternoon tooling around the internet. The photo in question is a part of a series shot by Rupi and her sister, Prabh Kaur. It's a simple, yet well produced essay narrating many of the common vignettes those who menstruate go through month after month. In her own words, it was done to "to demystify the period."

What makes this picture so significant (and the reason it came up on my feed) is that the picture was marked as inappropriate by Instagram's community guidelines and thus, removed. But why? Take a moment (or rather, please just take my word) that if you search #bloody, you'll see some shit- gruesome, disturbing shit. (If you went ahead and did it, take a moment for some self care, search #puppy and come back to us) The fact that these photos are considered up to snuff by Instagram's community guidelines and Rupi's is not is a clear indicator that something else is at hand. The photo is hers, she's fully clothed. There really isn't a reason at all other than, "this other stuff is fine but periods are gross."

Seeing this image brought back memories of my youth as I imagine it did for many women. I never knew the feeling of anxiety until I had a period to manage. I slept on my back as a kid and when I got my period, I realized that sleeping on my side helped to prevent middle of the night leaks and would spare me some extra minutes of sleep. I don't even have a period anymore due to my IUD and I still sleep on my side...(just in case?) I notice now that the only nights I'm able to sleep on my back in my preferred position is when I'm so exhausted that my mind forgets to tell my body to roll to the side. I never felt as different from my guy friends as I did the day they separated boys from girls in school and taught the us about menstruation and the boys about..(fuck if I know)..high paying careers in tech and finance? I don't know what they learned, but wouldn't it have been so much better if they had gained the same information that day as I did?

I was fortunate to have parents that raised me to be proud of being a woman. I had a dad that wanted daughters and said so all the time. But I don't feel like I necessarily escaped feeling ashamed that I was a typical functioning female. There was the time in 7th grade when I asked a substitute teacher if I could go to the restroom. I made a stop at my locker for period gear (artfully tucked into my Abercrombie and Fitch sweatshirt sleeve) and just as I was closing my locker, the sub came around the corner, pointedly asked what I was doing, and promptly administered my first and only detention for "cutting class and lying." I was too ashamed to simply hold up the tampon or say, "I'm on my period." Why? Because at the time, I felt it was better to sit on a sinking ship with my pride (and cramps) than to disclose that I had needs beyond simply going to the restroom due to my period. 

Seeing Rupi's picture made me feel bad for the 7th grade me, feeling so prideful yet scared. I think about how fortunately bold I feel about this topic now and muse about what I would do now if I were in the same situation. Perhaps its normal to relive moments in which we were made to feel small or unheard and to fantasize about reclaiming them. It doesn't make any of it right. Maybe I'm even writing this now because I still feel bothered I didn't stand up for myself then.

We tell girls to be ashamed and secretive about it; we tell boys to disassociate from it entirely because it's bad, volatile, and dirty and most of all has nothing to do with them. We send this message that while on their periods, women are to be avoided, that they are unworthy of pleasure and that we must callously overlook the fact that this part of the process that makes the human race possible in the first place. It's our failing that when a woman wakes up in the middle of the night, having leaked through her pad, pajamas and onto her sheets, she feels shame in her own bed (which should be the safest place for her). If someone dares to document this experience, examining why these feelings of disgust are so ingrained, the last thing we need is a set of bullshit "community" guidelines; confirming everything we've been coached to feel about periods, our bodies and how society expects them to behave.

I'm stoked to see Rupi's work. It doesn't hurt that she's also a massively talented poet who can craft a beautiful yet stirring takedown of Instagram's misogynist policy. Her strong candor regarding the topic of menstruation had me fist pumping as I read through the supportive comments on her Facebook page. It's a voice we're rarely lucky enough to hear, especially as young women navigating our changing bodies when we need it the most. Do I hope to see a trend of women hashtagging their period leaked sheets in protest? Nah, probably not. The conversation is more important than the subject matter anyways. Although I will say I'm pleased this is something that has begun to be celebrated. Not dirty, shameful and private but something that totally just...happens sometimes. Or every 21-35 days to be exact. 

Oh, and some good news? Instagram has heard the throngs of support for Rupi's work and advocacy and allowed the photo. So, in other words, it's a red letter day for the good guys. 

Check out more of Rupi Kaur's work here and feel free to support her by buying her new poetry book, Milk and Honey here. (we did!)

Contact this post's author at sarahjayne@unboundbox.com


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