So… tampons suck.
How’s that for a conversation starter. But honestly… nobody LIKES them, only some of us might prefer them to pads… which also suck. Ok I’ll stop pairing the word suck with menstrual products now.
I’m going to do a comparative review of non-plastic menstrual products in a later post (here’s a great divacup review by Hine Taiao). But first I want to talk a little bit about this topic.
I also want to say – Men – this post is for you to read too. Let me outline a couply reasons why:
1. Only half the world understanding the oppression of women that is characterised by the putrification of a completely natural process, will not bring about the change that is needed. When you freak out and turn your back on a completely natural process, you’re not only CHOOSING to be less supportive of the women in your life, you’re validating a message that the subject of menstruation is taboo, unmentionable, and aberrant. That is offensive in the extreme. It is a natural process, that relates to the most divine function of bringing children into this world. If your mother did not menstruate, you would not be here. If that thought made you cringe then you DEFINITELY need to read this post (a few times).
2. If you have children, this is an incredibly important example to set for them. Your daughters need to know that you do not see them as weird or dirty for one week of every month. Your sons need to see that their primary role model treats women with respect for who they are as nature made them. I’m not saying you all need to go sit down with them and talk the whole thing through (if you think you can without mortifying them then by all means do). But you certainly can be receptive, open, use positive language that DOESN’T pose menstruation as unsanitary or aberrant, educate yourself on the realities of what women go through, and support your children in doing the same. Honestly I can’t go past THIS GUY for the perfect example of what I’m talking about. Legend.
3. If you have a partner who is feeling emotional/sick/tired/bloated because of her moon phase, then showing a little bit of understanding will go a LONG way. I don’t mean patting her belly or asking her if it’s “that time” again (unless you fancy being impaled by The Look). What I mean here is – you have demystified the subject for yourself, and over your relationship you have been mature enough about the topic of menstruation to develop a space where she can feel safe to discuss it without being looked at strangely or judged, or having it used against her. It means you are aware of the power of running a warm bath for her, or giving her the space she needs. You know (and acknowledge) that what she is experiencing (difficult or not) is a manifestation of a much larger, divine process – a process that is necessary for the continuation of humankind. Believe me – take this point on board and you will be considered a Jedi partner.
4. What I’m discussing here is the the empowerment and protection of your future generations, as well. You should want to be a part of this discussion.
So understanding that we’re lied to about what we consume is not a new thing, for me – but this journey has highlighted it. This high-consumption economy doesn’t work for men or women – but, especially for women, there is an element to this economy that tells us we aren’t pretty enough, we aren’t attractive enough, we aren’t sexy or hot or desirable enough unless we buy THAT new product, or emulate whatever current fashion is being dictated – and a lot of it goes back to the imperative that we need to look like pretty chattels. You’re only allowed hair on your head, not your body, you should only show flesh if you’re a certain size, here wear this dress, here put this chemical on your skin, here insert this inside you, hide that sweatpatch it’s unseemly – smell like this, look like this, walk like this. We all need to stop blindly trusting that voice – and women in particular need to tell it to naff off. I’m not saying to STOP wearing dresses or cosmetics. I’m saying be in control of when you want to, and how you want to wear these things rather than being the passive recipient of toxic thought and product. In being a passive recipient you are enslaving yourself to an economy that is ultimately telling you how to perceive yourself, and respond accordingly (by consuming). The difference is illustrated by the questions you ask when you look in the mirror – are they related to how happy YOU are, whether you are reflecting your own desire and happiness – or whether you are constantly judging yourself with the assumed voices and thoughts of others.
Originally, in this journey I applied the term “stealth plastic” to the packaging that looked non plastic but, after opening, you’d find some plastic inside of it (inevitably I’d do a little shaky-fist kind of “currrse yoooou” dance). Now, however – I’ve found the notion of stealth plastic to be a lot more insidious, and far-reaching. Growing my awareness about the level of toxicity that I’ve been exposed to all my life to this point has been a scary, and often angering process. It’s REALLY highlighted my notion of kaitiekitanga in relation to not only our land and resources, but of my own body, and as a woman, in particular – being a kaitieki for future generations. I’ve come to clarity about the fact that the battle for Papatūānuku begins within us – and so it should be that so often we find women at the forefront – not only for the fact that we have borne the brunt of this economy’s tactics for so long but also because, as women, we are the micro of Papatūānuku. We are Mother Earth, manifested. The relationship between what we have allowed to happen to Papa is a direct reflection of what we have allowed to happen to ourselves.
“Papatuanuku – Earth Mother” By the very talented artist Wiremu Barriball.
We have been lulled into a space where we place faith in what others provide to us – and those others have ulterior motives. We have become the passive recipients of toxic suggestions and products upon, and within, our bodies – and that, first and foremost, needs to stop. How we perceive and respond to the issue of menstruation is perfectly reflective of this – we insert chemical laden products into the most sensitive part of our body – our whare tangata – and over our lifetime each of us women will do that roughly 16,000 – 24,000 times – all the while perceiving it as a “sanitary product”, the inference being that menstruation is an unsanitary process. Keep in mind that whatever we absorb through our skin is not broken down in the same way saliva and stomach acid breaks down what we eat, so toxins can arguably be even more dangerous – and some of these toxins are being absorbed into our bloodstream at the most vulnerable point of our being – our whare tangata, where the skin is most delicate and the absorption swift and direct.
Ok so let’s look at the physicality of what I’m saying here: The comparitive review I mentioned earlier? I had, at one point, intended to include paper applicator tampons in my review until I found out that the paper applicators get their smooth finish by the inclusion of phthalates. Phthalates are plastic chemicals that disrupt our hormone balance and have been clearly linked to breast cancer.
So that’s the applicator – what about the tampons themselves? What is actually IS IT that we are placing inside our whare tangata every month?
Largely, it’s cotton, and/or rayon. Non-organic cotton will have been sprayed with a variety of pesticides and may well also be from GMO cotton crops (50% of the world’s cotton crops are GMO). Rayon is made from cellulose, which is derived from woodpulp. To be specific – it’s cellulose xanthate, which is woodpulp derivative that is treated with caustic soda. All tampons undergo a bleaching process using chemicals such as chlorine dioxide or hydrogen peroxide. The exception to these are the organic, bleach free alternatives such as what’s on offer from Natracare. Organic, plant cellulose, bleach free, and compostable in your back yard.
So – if you’re using tampons, there you have it, a nasty little chemical compound inside your whare tangata every month. The home of all of your future generations. You alone have the power to protect it and you alone must make the choice to do so.
So now let’s have a look at pads. Most pads contain crude oil plastic, odour neutralizers, phthalates (yes that nasty hormone disruptor that’s linked to abnormal cell growth and cancer), and other plastic chemicals. In fact your standard pad contains the equivalent of about four plastic bags. Consider that if we are using an average of 16,800 pads per lifetime that’s a LOT of plastic going to landfill or for incineration (The National Women’s Health Network estimates some 12billion pads going to US landfills every year – that’s the equivalent of 48billion plastic bags).
Not good huh. Again, the exception to plastic content in pads here would be the organic options such as that offered by Natracare.
OR you could always make your own:
Needless to say I won’t EVER be using standard tampons or pads again.
So let me be clear in what I’m saying – we would ALL benefit from severely reducing the amount of plastic in our lives. It has become patently clear to me, however, that as women, we are under particular pressure to consume products laden with toxic, plastic-based (and often carcinogenic) chemicals. Many women spend a lot of time giving out to others without due consideration of care of self. My time in Māori health has taught me that Māori women IN PARTICULAR are prone to falling ill to lifestyle illnesses that are directly related to caring for everyone else, all the time, and not being vigilant enough in their self care and self protection. Philosophically and spiritually, this practice leaves us in a weakened state – physically – the results are that we overburden ourselves, consume convenience products, do not safeguard ourselves against toxins, and the results are that we are constantly over-represented in illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.
In understanding that our language has the following meanings:
Whenua = Land/Placenta
Whānau = Family/Birth
Whare Tangata = House of Humankind/Womb
here, then is what I’m talking about, in a visual form:
What I am suggesting here is that we all must have multiple spheres of protection – each of which require OUR OWN protection from toxic suggestion, toxic behaviour, toxic perception and toxic products.
These spheres begin in our inner sanctum – protecting the whenua within, the place of birth, the House of Humankind. Within that space stands Hineteiwaiwa.
There is then the space of tinana (body) – the embodiment of wellbeing – the outer sanctum of our temple that must also be protected and cared for as the context and grounds within which your whare tangata must survive. Within that realm stands Hina.
Then there is the realm of whānau (family) – The realm which women hold to protect and provide for those around them. Within that realm stands Hine Korako.
Then there is the realm of whenua (land) – The macro of ourselves, where humankind dwells, and we hold the space of caring for the land so that it can nourish us, and our loved ones. Within this realm dwells Kahukura ki Uta.
Understand that these Ātua Wāhine sit within my own conceptual framework of the spheres of protection. Yours may well differ and that is fine – my point is that within each of these spheres there is a space for you to erect a pou and remain viligant in your protection of this sphere.
The wellbeing that is fed to your innermost center flows naturally up and out into the outer spheres and circulates back through from the whenua back into your being as well. In this way do we receive and return our wellbeing between ourselves and the taiao (environment). As you can see from the diagram – the harmony of this process is reflected in the synonymous terms for our feminine center and the other realms. Coming to grips with this is infinitely more beautiful than anything you will find on a magazine cover.
Last week I went ahead and shaved my head for cancer (thankyou if you are one of the many who donated to the cause). I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my “wth am I thinking” moments leading up to the shave. A lot of people who had shaved before spoke of how liberating it would feel. Well, to be honest – I felt proud (and a little chilly). I thought a lot about my Aunty Lena, who is battling cancer and is a MASSIVE inspiration to me. I thought about my other close family members and friends who have battled it, some who have won, some who still battle on, and of course, those that have lost. All of these thoughts flicked through my mind as the locks came off.
Here is the liberation, though – I get to define my beauty all over again, and I get to defy the long-locked, or styled ideal that rests so easily with many of us.
At the same time, the “#nomakeupselfie” campaign swept through facebook – and there were many critics of this campaign. Terms such as narcissism and superficiality were bandied about…. and really – even though I myself didn’t take a non-makeup selfie shot – I ENJOYED the campaign. Helped that I knew it had raised over $6M NZD in a couple of days for breast cancer. Still – even without that – I enjoyed the wave of natural beauty sweeping across my newsfeed. Many cancer sufferers worry a lot about their appearance, and the augmented beauty in the media only makes their experience worse – so I enjoyed the wave of profile pics that defied the imposed standards of beauty. I enjoyed the mutual support for one another, and ANY opportunity for us to remind ourselves that we can be beautiful in our most natural state should be taken… because honestly – we DO spend too much time and money on trying to achieve imposed measures of beauty, rather than deciding and defining for ourselves what beauty means.
I work closely with young women in my other job as a health researcher – and I’m so very keenly aware of the pressure women are under to look a certain way – and of course, under the same pressure to consume massive amounts in order to look that way. Cosmetics, cleansers, fragrances – again full of the same harmful phthalates that are linked to cancer and premature birth. This of course is in addition to the microplastics found in exfoliating scrubs. BIG UPS to New York and California who are legislatively banning microbeads in cosmetics. As far as scrubs and soaps go – my personal fave (gawd how I love their soaps) is Lush. As for cosmetics – I rarely wear them anyway, save a bit of eyeliner… but am keeping an eye out for organic eyeliner that doesn’t have a plastic lid.
But you know, really the last line of defence (and often the only line of defence) is ourselves, ladies. It’s for us to be discerning in the content of what we consume and the level of our consumption. And you know what else – I think we owe it to our whānau to police this area for them as well. This, of course, also applies to the many wonderful amazing fathers who are in positions of defining the environment their children are in. I came across this blog a few weeks ago and can’t applaud this woman enough for the lengths she is going to in maintaining a healthy environment for her whanau:
“After coming to terms with the fact that the autism and cancer which had impacted her family were most likely the result of environmental toxins, author Deanna Duke undertook a mission to dramatically reduce her family’s chemical exposure.”
I already know that I won’t go back to consuming plastic once this year is done, and I’m very grateful for people like Deanna Duke who is sharing her story, and providing me with inspiration on how I can detoxify my environment even more.
I am a Ngāti Porou woman. I am the kaitieki of my body, whānau and whenua.