Articles, Blog

The cost of menstrual shame | Kayla-Leah Rich | TEDxBoise

August 16, 2019

Translator: Lisa Rodriguez
Reviewer: Hélène Vernet Me? I was disgusted, in shock really. I felt like Mother Nature was hazing me into a sorority I wanted no part of. “Welcome to womanhood! By the way, we don’t really
talk about this, so if you can just keep it
to yourself, that’d be great.” I was angry, angry at every single woman on the planet for the entire existence of this globe, who had not yet done anything to stop this before I had to have my first period. Now, perhaps in the past, this maybe wasn’t a very
comfortable topic for you. For the women, maybe you can relate. For the men, I want to remind you
that you have a sister, or maybe a daughter, or a wife. But at the very least
you all came from a mother, right? Chances are you love
someone who menstruates. (Laughter) After my first period, I just took a cue from everyone around me and just kept it to myself – all the symptoms and the questions – even though half the population was likely experiencing
the very same thing. I just “went with the flow.” (Laughter) Of course, I’d heard the occasional
sitcom references to “Her time of the month” or “PMS.” There is a more crass version
at school and on the bus of “She’s on the rag” or “Don’t be a rag.” And we’ve all heard euphemisms,
have we not? “Aunt Flo’s in town!” “The crimson tide,” “The painters are in.” (Laughter) Of course, I think
my favorite is: “Shark week.” (Laughter) I don’t really mind these euphemisms, but they did very little to educate, or to normalize
such a prevalent process for me. And for 25 years, I hid all evidence of my period
like it was a crime scene. But that changed for me
when I took my first trip to Haiti. In Haiti, I worked
in mobile medical clinics, and in four days time, we saw 320 women, and every single one had either a urinary tract infection
or a yeast infection. These very painful infections, they had waited weeks or months
to see a doctor for. And the scene is repeated
week after week in Haiti. Grappling with trying to understand
why these infections were so rampant, I learned that the women of Haiti
have little access to feminine supplies, that they would use cut-up rags or a maxi pad for several days. And this was what was contributing
to their infections. You know, it had never occurred to me before what other women were doing
for their periods. You know, we were all just so busy
keeping this to ourselves, that nobody was really talking about it. Nobody was talking about the fact there are women who don’t have
access to feminine supplies. That never occurred to me. And then, as if to add
an exclamation point to the epiphany I was having in Haiti, I had an unexpected period. I would have been fine had I packed
those ever-essential items that every woman traveller should pack. But I didn’t. And I was able to experience the panic
of not being able to find supplies, and the shame of not being able to take care
of my own body, and the humiliation
when I bled through on my clothing, and the relief, finally, when I was
in an airport where I could buy supplies. Two days, two short days, I experienced what hundreds of millions
of women on our planet experience every month, month after month, decade after decade, an average of 3,500 days
in a woman’s lifetime. I came back very different. And I immediately started
working in a non-profit that makes reusable feminine hygiene kits for women and girls
in developing countries. And because the cloth items
in the kit are colorful, they can be washed and hung to dry using the sanitizing power of the sun. It was through my work
in this organization that I learned so much about the state
of menstruation around the world. I learned that women will resourcefully resort to using items like
bits of their mattress pad, or corn husks, even a rock, to manage their flow. Some girls who don’t have anything
would sit on a cardboard mat and wait out what they call
their “week of shame.” Did you know that there are places
on this planet that place limitations
on where a woman can go and what she can do
when she’s on her period? There are some women and girls
who know the power of work and education to turn around cycles of poverty, and they get forced into exchanging sexual favors for a maxi pad. These are the facts that I learned
and I share in my community as I try to rally support for this cause. The response, without fail, is almost
identical to my own which was: “It never occurred to me what other women were doing
for their period.” And then, as if talking about
other women’s periods almost opened the floodgates, and give permission
for the women in my community to talk about their own, my favorite thing to do at sewing events
is to walk by a table of women and listen to them talk
about their first periods, the thing they just didn’t know! Embarrassing moments! There was one girl who thought
that it was a singular event, “period,” one and done. (Laughter) Life would be different
if that was the case. Several women shared
about how they learned quite painfully that when they try tampons for the first time, the applicator was actually meant
to be removed and thrown away. Yeah… It was through these communications
that I learned that the ability to openly
talk about menstruation, and have access to supplies, isn’t just something
that was happening over there, in Uganda, Guatemala or Haiti, but here, in our country, our state, our city. Right outside these doors,
there are women in our community who struggle to find access
to feminine supplies. Our homeless population are particularly
susceptible to infections and having to go without. But our refugee centers,
the food banks, our crisis centers, they all need feminine supplies. Even some local middle schools! The nurse will pass out supplies faster than her own pocket book
can keep up with. Food stamps doesn’t pay for tampons. And as a community we gather support
around those that are struggling and try to provide some basic needs
like food, water, and shelter. But feminine supplies
are the silent necessity, a need that’s not being met
because nobody’s talking about it. The interesting thing is: I was talking
to volunteers by the thousands about the needs
around the world and locally, and I realized that I wasn’t really
talking about menstruation. You see, I have four boys. And we turned our house
into a maxi pad manufacturing plant for girls around the world. But I realized that I was still
hiding my own supplies. I would smuggle them in
from purchase to bathroom, you know, not wanting to embarrass. And when I realized the incongruence,
I decided that I needed to change. So I tried an experiment. I got a box of tampons, and inside I placed some money
and a note that said, “Congratulations for being brave
enough to open this box! All the money is yours.” (Laughter) I took my box and put it in the middle
of my kitchen islands, and waited. Nobody touched it for three weeks. (Laughter) Finally, when I went out of town, Dad, who was in on the deal
pressured the boys. “- Open the box.
– Pff! … Uh-uh.” My 12-year-old didn’t really know
like “what is this about?” And when his older brothers
let him in on it, he left the room. He wasn’t going to have anything
to do with that. Finally after much pressure,
my 9-year-old, with his quick ninja-like reflexes, opened the box and then ran
into the other room before the contents could have
any effect over him. (Laughter) My 15-year-old peeped in the box and then pocketed
the money for his efforts. This experiment wasn’t just for my boys, it was for me. I wasn’t doing myself or them any favors by hiding the very biological process
that helped create their lives. So now, I no longer hide
my products, my symptoms, my period. There is a cost to the shame and silence in which we surround menstruation. It is individual, it is local and it is global. The costs range from the energy and effort it took for me to hide for 25 years, to the girl in Middletown, America,
who lives with Dad and is too embarrassed
to ask him to buy her some supplies, so she goes to her school nurse instead; or the girl in Uganda,
who on first signs of her period, thinks that she is dying, because nobody told her
what was going to happen with her body; to the girls all throughout Africa, who drop out of school at drastically different
rates than the boys, as soon as they hit puberty
because they don’t have supplies. These costs extend to Nepal, to the women who are sent
outside their community to sit in a menstrual hut
and wait out their week until they are clean
and can rejoin community again. These are the costs. Celeste Mergens said, “This planet is never going to reach
its fullest potential, if half of its population
is being held back by their very own biological nature.” There’s a cost to the shame and silence. In the past, maybe you thought the silence around menstruation
was just discretion. After all, we don’t openly discuss everything that goes on
in the bathroom, right? But there’s a difference between silence, shame, and discretion. For example, we can buy toilet paper
without any embarrassment, and we openly display it in the bathroom. But people are really humiliated
to buy feminine supplies, especially if it’s a male checker, and we tuck those away
so nobody gets to see those. Discretion looks like me not openly
discussing my period at the dinner table. And shame looks like tampon manufacturers
that make rustle-free packaging! So the woman in the stall next to me
doesn’t know that I’m bleeding? We’ve been taught to be ashamed
about menstruation even among other women. There is a global effort taking place
to end the stigma behind the period. It takes on many different forms. It looks like a woman from England who ran a marathon while freely bleeding
without any products, or an American artist, who designs pictures
using her captured menstrual blood. I think they’re beautiful. Now to some, these things
might seem like extremes, but I want to remind you
that on the other end of that pendulum is the woman who walks through her village
freely bleeding without products, not out of choice, but out of necessity. And that woman in Nepal, who dies alone
in her menstrual hut, from exposure. Regardless of what has been passed to us, we have an obligation to the women
and girls around the world and for the generations that follow us, to set a new tone around menstruation, to change it from shame and silence, to acceptance and education. And how we do that is how any good idea
worth spreading starts. It’s with a conversation. Congratulations! Some of you just had your first one! (Laughter) And for all of you, I’m encouraging you to go out
and have more. Maybe try your own tampon experiment. Or it could look something like this:
maybe you can go today and ask somebody, “Did you know there are women
on this planet that don’t have supplies?” You can ask questions like: “What would you want me to know
about menstruation?” “What was your first period like?” We can start here
and maybe expand to questions like: “What toxins are in our tampons exactly?” “Should there be a luxury tax
on feminine supplies?” And we can ask, “Who needs feminine supplies
and who should provide those?” And will you, no matter
what your efforts look like, locally and globally, will you ask
the women and girls that they serve, if they have the supplies that they need? We need to start talking
about menstruation and asking questions about the period. Now, if you were to ask me, I would tell you, I no longer think that women everywhere
should put an end to the period. But I do believe that brave men and women have the ability to put an end
to the shame and the silence. This whole planet was peopled by periods. (Laughter) And there is no shame in that. (Applause) (Cheers)


  • Reply Oluwaseyi Aromokeye June 19, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    Loved this

  • Reply InandaroundTO June 20, 2017 at 2:34 am

    I grew up in a household with a mother and one of three girls close in age. With 4 people menstuating in one home, it was more amusing that our mother would get embarrassed. My father never gets embarrassed, he's ex military and told us medics used a tampon for his gunshot wound once. I think if it had been left up to my mother, I'd probably be embarrassed, but Dad was never uncomfortable asking if we needed supplies. As an adult, he's said with three teenage daughters, he considered periods a good sign that none of us were pregnant. 😀

  • Reply Zetta Simpson June 20, 2017 at 4:49 am

    I hid my period for over a year before I told my mom. My sister taught me how to use a tampon so I could go swimming. This needs to be talked about so shame can be no longer associated with periods. She said it perfectly. End the shame. Period.

  • Reply Laurie Luke June 20, 2017 at 4:54 am

    This never occurred to me either. Once we know then it's our resposibility to do something…..

  • Reply Dana Hamilton June 20, 2017 at 5:30 am

    The period was always hush hush growing up in my house with 4 girls and 2 boys. There should be no shame when it comes to this natural monthly occurance. And i can't imagine living in a 3rd world country and not have the bare minimum to deal with menstruating. The things we as women in this country take for granted. Don't allow the shame to stop the discussion. Love Kayla and her directness on a hush hush topic! She did any amazing job on opening our eyes to on this topic!

  • Reply Leslie Atkinson June 20, 2017 at 5:31 am

    Thanks for starting the conversation and making a ripple effect in slaying shame and bringing awareness to global shame and silence around menstruation.

  • Reply Kelvis the Crow June 20, 2017 at 5:58 am

    So eye opening. This strikes a chord with me and sends my heart out to these women.

  • Reply Kelsey Graybill June 20, 2017 at 7:41 am

    A powerful message

  • Reply Magz Sara June 20, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    We need to throw a 'first period' party. Something for every girl to get excited about and look forward to. The greeting card manufacturers can run with this one and somewhere down the line there'll be complaints that it's been too commercialised.. I look forward to that day!

  • Reply Tiffany Eller June 20, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    Amazing! I love Kayla-Leah's passion and courage to slay the shame!

  • Reply Laura Sond June 20, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    Thank you for helping women celebrate their bodies and bringing much-needed awareness to supporting girls and women here and in other countries with feminine supplies. #daysforgirls #shameslayer #planetpeopledbyperiods

  • Reply JennyQ June 20, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    MUCH NEEDED CONVERSATION!!!!! Great job!!! Sharing with everyone!!

  • Reply Jenifer Cox June 20, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    Such a great message and so needed!  With all the talk of equal rights, why do we hid one of the most fundamental things that makes us female?

  • Reply Karen Waite June 20, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    Love that this is continuing the conversation about ending the shame and secrecy around menstruation. Way to go!

  • Reply Ciera Bench June 20, 2017 at 6:59 pm

    I love the comment about rustle-free wrappers- gasp! What if another girl knows I'm on my period?! Yet, I remember unwrapping those ever-hidden items as quietly as I could when I was in high school. Great talk!

  • Reply Megan Bryant June 20, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    Well done!

  • Reply G Mark Phillips June 21, 2017 at 12:40 am

    One of the most eye-opening talks I've ever heard. Thank you for sharing this message with the world Kayla.

  • Reply Daniel Vogt June 21, 2017 at 3:28 am

    This is educational and should be shared and shared and shared

  • Reply JANA HOLMAN June 21, 2017 at 7:25 pm

    All women need to listen to this!!! What we don't know about we women !!! Kayla-Leah does a fantastic way of sharing this message !!!

  • Reply DfG Chapter Chat Ambassador June 22, 2017 at 5:15 am

    I love and appreciate the specific examples you gave near the end, of how to start conversations about menstruation. Many people might've walked away from this talk with good intentions but at a loss of how to initiate change. Not now. 🙂

  • Reply Ken Nixon June 25, 2017 at 2:59 pm

    Really powerful message Kayla-Leah. I am humbled by the tenacity with which you do your part to communicate this hidden, powerful problem that needs to be addressed.

  • Reply Janet Ravenscraft June 27, 2017 at 12:46 am

    To all the mothers and daughters of the world . . no more silence or shame! We were created to reproduce and periods are required for 50% of the world. This is my friend Kayla-Leah Rich's TedXBoise Talk. She brings the the subject into the light with humor and honesty. Share and stop the silence!!

  • Reply Artbug June 27, 2017 at 5:48 am

    I could take this speaker so much more seriously if she would stop the crocodile tears. Seriously, what did she think people around the world did? We already know how needed feminine supplies are needed at homeless shelters. The shame women feel about periods is different to each person – I can understand why a teen might be shy about it, but once you're in your 20's, you should start loosing that shame. I have no shame buying tampons.

  • Reply Tru Neilson June 30, 2017 at 11:23 am

    I just bought my teen girls a menstrual cup from Ruby Cup, they give a matching cup to a girl in a 3rd world country. They also teach the girls to use them and set up.a place to microwave the cup to clean it.

  • Reply hj kn July 2, 2017 at 1:04 pm

    We have all white uniforms in nursing school… so hard to focus on education when 100% of your time is spent freaking out in silence that you might be bleeding through.. and I'm almost 40… not a new teen bleeding…

  • Reply Jennifer Moulden July 3, 2017 at 12:55 pm

    Wonderful solution you came up with, the reusable pads hung to dry–sustainable and affordable and helps women feel good about themselves and hopefully, their cycle.

  • Reply Megan Bryant July 24, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    This talk is so well done. I'm pretty open in conversations in my world, but it's amazing to consider how much work there is to be done in our communities and far beyond. This is very inspiring to up my game and do more beyond my immediate circle.

  • Reply Amy Peterson July 28, 2017 at 6:24 pm

    An amazing project! Connection among women around the globe! Way to go Kayla!

  • Reply mariana lopez September 6, 2017 at 11:56 am

    When I was an anthropology student, I remember the Archaeology teacher (university, professor, Uruguay, South America, 1999) saying that, for marine research, having female investigators on the team was uncomfortable because they mestruate. That statement really made me sick, for it came from a higlhy cultivated person.

  • Reply Pretty Prudent September 7, 2017 at 4:55 pm

    Humans are surely the only species of primate that is so disgusted with their bodies.

  • Reply Rach W September 9, 2017 at 6:15 am

    Wow! I've been waiting so long to hear a speech like this. Truly incredible.

  • Reply fion law October 22, 2017 at 11:52 am

    She made me cried

  • Reply YShood I November 27, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    During their life education discussions last week, the boys at my daughter's school were removed from the classroom before the conversation about periods took place… So infuriating & disappointing! We were once considered a progressive country here in Australia. Now, we are taxed on tampons & the like, as they are classified as 'luxury items' >=(

  • Reply Alphabetical Deepti December 16, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    5 people who disliked are stone hearted. -_- they need a doctor

  • Reply Ballet Dancer March 13, 2018 at 12:13 am

    I live in America and I thought I was dying too.

  • Reply Dasha Davydova March 15, 2018 at 1:40 am

    it saddens me that most other ted talks have thousand of likes and views, but all of the ones about periods never have more than a thousand likes, sometimes barely 100. Its just sad…

  • Reply chiara leoni March 22, 2018 at 1:08 pm


  • Reply ankra12 March 27, 2018 at 1:23 am

    I hated everything too. I hated my period immensly.

  • Reply Maggie Caron April 18, 2018 at 12:35 pm

    All boys should be talked about periods, because if they have a daughter there is no gaurentee that mom will always be around.

  • Reply J Jayne July 4, 2018 at 7:24 am

    Thank you for your work! 🙌 you are appreciated!

  • Reply lifeonmarrs roxystar September 25, 2018 at 6:51 pm

    this hit so hard i cant even explain it. i am a 25 year old stay at home mother for my 3 years old son his father and i still live together but are no longer together. This man allows me to sleep in his home on a donated mattress in the middle of the living room. he does not financially support me in any other way, so food or hygiene products, and yes even pads are hard to come by for me. i struggle every month to find some way to control and manage my period or even to wash myself. it seems weird to people that though i am not homeless i still don't live with normal basic hygienic needs met. this ted talk had me in tears i am with my son all day while getting a degree at night i cannot wait to get one and a job to create a better life for my son and i. my son i vow will not grow up like his father he will have every respect in the world for women and menstruation and have the understanding and knowledge of how hard these simple items are such a necessity. thank you for this it has re-inspired hope in me that one day it will be better for me and i will be able to make a difference for other woman struggling without supplies.

  • Reply SoraGarrett October 9, 2018 at 2:26 am

    wow Kayla, you really rocked this … every word flowed from you like a beautiful unstopped menstrual flow. thank you. so much gratitude for the service you're doing for our world

  • Reply Britt Slater October 31, 2018 at 9:23 am

    A period is a monthly gift. It took me 32 years to understand this. Thankyou for this lovely talk!!

  • Reply Just Me November 28, 2018 at 4:13 am

    Fantastic—thank you so much!

  • Reply Jose Thalikallumkal December 25, 2018 at 7:34 am


  • Reply Kaydi Angel January 17, 2019 at 8:29 am

    I LOVE this talk. ♡ I love my period.

  • Reply Yamini Sharma March 28, 2019 at 7:42 pm

    In India mensuration is taboo

  • Reply Amara Mark May 30, 2019 at 6:35 am

    Okay I'm from Uganda and the boys at my school act like our skins are contagious if they by some unfortunate event find out about your period

  • Reply Katie and Timmy July 30, 2019 at 12:00 am

    Why are sanetery items a "luxury item" a man made up that law for sure.

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