Feminism

The Importance Of Body Image In Sex Education

This August, my sister and I were lucky enough to spend a few days at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. When making a list of all the shows we had seen, I realised that we had both sought out shows exploring body image and body confidence. It was only after leaving the Edinburgh bubble that I realised the importance of including body image in the conversation on sexuality because these two things usually go hand in hand.

All the women in these shows talked about their body confidence, or in some instances, their lack of body confidence, and how it had stopped them feeling desirable. In one show, a woman discussed being teased and belittled by a group of men on a night out because of her size, and on another occasion, she described how a man had asked her boyfriend why he was with her.

This type of harassment is both specific to plus size women and a continuation of the harassment women receive on a daily basis; from catcalls to men asking us to smile on cue. In our society, women’s bodies are seen to be offered up to the public for judgement and affirmation. Many of the shows I saw in Edinburgh this summer combatted this idea by encouraging women to reclaim their bodies for themselves. 

In one particularly brilliant show, Hotter by Sweaty Theatre, Mary Higgins and Ell Potter use personal experiences, interviews and verbatim theatre to explore body image, sex and sexuality. In a Guardian interview, their show is described as an “interrogation of the female body, its fluids, desires and changes”. In a voice-over, women say what makes them feel sexy, what makes them feel heat, what an orgasm feels like and what their favourite song to dance to is.

As I was watching the show, I felt accepted, laughing in acknowledgement of awkward anecdotes, and taking joy in the stories being shared, however halfway through I felt a deep sadness and I couldn’t understand it. It was only when I was thinking about what to write for this’s year’s sex education week that this sadness made sense, and I knew what I wanted to talk about. I felt sad that for the first time, at the tender age of twenty-six, because I wanted to apologize to my body and look after it in the same way I try to look after my mind.

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I was taken back to being fifteen, sat in a geography classroom having the allotted hour-long sex education lesson before lunchtime. I thought how different my sexual experiences would be if this show had been part of my sex education, how I would have treated my body over the past ten years if I had made the connection between my own relationship with my body and my sexuality sooner.

As with most sex education, girls’ and boys’ bodies are represented as biological machines, going through the motions that we call puberty. I learned about body hair, periods, the sperm and the egg, and for split second, contraception. I was not taught how to respect the other person’s body and their boundaries, let alone my own. We were all asked to write down all the words we knew for penis, vagina and breasts but not what we thought of our own body parts. I was taught what sex was but not how my body would respond to arousal and how I could feel desirable or what I might find desirable in another person. As I got older, I never thought about the sex education I had received unless it was to realise how lacking it was; I wasn’t able to use it as a road map.

In my teenage years, I felt as if I had been left out in the wild looking for signposts. Books and films were used as a way to see where my desires lay. However, I was still acting as if this desire was something my mind was creating; the thought of my body being a factor embarrassed me, I didn’t want to pay attention to it. I also knew that all the questions I had about my body were making me feel isolated and confused. It was only when I discovered feminism in the form of Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman a few years later, that my body started to make sense to me.

A unique selling point of the show Hotter was that Mary and Ell were best friends who had been a couple. Throughout the show, the audience caught glimpses of this intimate relationship as a result of its many iterations. One of the most moving moments in the show was when Mary and Ell read out letters they had written to themselves, thanking their bodies and promising to love them as best they can. At a point in Ell’s letter, she addressed Mary directly, thanking her for loving and desiring her body, making Ell love her body more in the process; ‘you always loved my tummy, in a way I never could’.

At the end of the show, both women admitted that they were trying to appreciate their bodies more. They wished they could get to the end of the hour and tell the audience they loved every inch of themselves, but like all the women in the room, they knew this was a big ask. Instead, they ended the show with a promise, to treat their bodies better, asking the audience to do the same and inviting us on stage for a final dance.

As for many women, my relationship with my body has been not been easy, I spent early teenage years ignoring it and my late teens/early twenties learning about it and starting to take pride in it. After watching Hotter, I thought about what I might say to my body in my letter and again I went back to being fifteen and feeling confused about the body I was growing into.

If I could add anything to the sex ed curriculum, it would be to ask teenage girls to write a letter to themselves.  I would ask them to write about what they love about their bodies, who they desire and what desire feels like for them. If girls are in control of what they think about their bodies from a young age, maybe they can find the joy in their bodies and sexuality sooner, therefore having a better chance of happy and safe sexual experiences. We need to teach girls how to drive their own body before they allow another person to take the wheels.

Words by Lara Scott for September Sex Education Week 2019 on Anthem Online.
Image by Izzy Romilly via The Guardian/Ell Potter and Mary Higgins.

‘Beige Walls And Navy Sofas’: A Camden Fringe Review

Beige Walls And Navy Sofas played at Camden People’s Theatre 2nd – 3rd Aug as part of The Camden Fringe 2019. We previously reviewed this show when it debuted at Catford Fringe’s scratch night back in 2018, which you can read here.

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Last night I attended the performance at the Camden People’s Theatre as part of this year’s Camden Fringe. CPT is an intimate and welcoming venue that prides itself on giving a platform to shows that push boundaries and explore much-needed topics and voices; Beige Walls And Navy Sofas does just that.

As soon as Courtney McMahon enters stage everyone is intrigued. Although it is a solo performance, it is engaging from the offset and quickly feels like a privilege to be invited into this autobiographical tale. Beige Walls And Navy Sofas takes us on a journey through Courtney’s childhood as her mother becomes a foster carer, and the adjustments to suddenly having some brand new siblings to call family.

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Having lived with approximately 50 siblings in her lifetime, Courtney’s retelling of her experiences and the open and honest dialogue she creates, weaving a picture of the good alongside the challenging aspects of fostering, is a crucial one. It is one that’s told with humour, love, and a whole mix of emotions in between.

The snapshots of Courtney’s life are pieced together in an endearing, arresting way, and the 60-minute journey flies by so quickly that you don’t want it to end. I could have definitely watched more of this story, but at the same time, the show that Ghosted Ink have created is a fantastic way to start the conversation and raise awareness of experiences of fostering. Especially, from the siblings’ point of view, which is not something often represented at all. 

I was drawn to see this show because of my own experience of my family becoming foster carers when I was younger and thought it was brilliant that someone had made a performance piece about something that before now, I didn’t think anybody else could ever really “get.” Coping not just with living with new brothers and sisters, but also inevitably saying goodbye to them was something that I really struggled to articulate growing up, and still do. Yet here, watching Beige Walls And Navy Sofas, someone was standing in front of me doing just that.

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What the show did brilliantly was raise the point of loss. Loss is something that is overlooked in our perceptions of the care system in all different ways, and this show gives a platform to that. It also made me realise though, that even when those connected to foster care will have very similar experiences in some ways, we can never expect to know someone’s own unique pathways of loss.

Even though Beige Walls And Navy Sofas does not shy away from tackling these complex topics, it is still punctuated with many moments of light relief and genuine laughs.

The minimal props and set dressing supporting the world of the performance fit delightfully well, and capture some early 2000s nostalgia in working-class London perfectly. We easily transport ourselves to the family living room for TV dinners, Christmas, and fights over Bratz Dolls without question. Watching Courtney’s character cycling around on a pink kids bicycle, or talking to a Yorkshire pudding that’s meant to be her Nan’s dog is both amusing and entirely fitting. The way that more serious tones are balanced with comic moments is well placed and sincere, meaning that we enjoy every minute.

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I think that if you don’t know much about fostering then this show would be a really eye-opening experience from a lesser-voiced perspective. That said, even if you would just like to see a great play that makes you laugh, think, pull Christmas crackers and sing to George Michael (yes, really) then this production is a must-see.

Perhaps the most poignant part for me was toward the end of the show, when Courtney reveals a chart marking the growth of herself and all her siblings through the years, adorned with photographs and memories of all the brothers and sisters that have passed through her and her Mum’s house, and sat on those Navy Sofas with cups of tea, watching Saturday Night Takeaway. It really brings home that beyond all else, this is a show about experiencing family, but that acknowledges family in all its different shapes and sizes and confronts what it’s like to deal with those shapes and sizes changing.

Congratulations to Courtney and the Ghosted Ink crew on a moving and much-needed show. I’m excited to see this play continue to grow and am very much looking forward to seeing what the collective do next.

Five Stars for Beige Walls And Navy Sofas.

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Keep up to date with all things Ghosted Ink here:

Facebook: Ghosted Ink: Arts Collective
Twitter: @GhostedInk_Arts
Instagram: @ghostedink

You can visit https://www.fcwu.org.uk/ for information about the Foster Carers IWGB Union.

Credits:
Writer/Performer – Courtney McMahon
Director – Niamh Parker-Whitehead
Technical Manager & Designer – Lilly Woodford-Lewis
Stage Manager – Molly O’Niell
Assistant Stage Manager – Isabelle Leach
Set Design – Niamh Parker-Whitehead & Constance Price
Producer – Ghosted Ink: Arts Collective
Field Recordings – Sam Kemp & Catherine Hawthorn
Special thanks to Elizabeth Parker, Cerys Barker & Arnold Senoga

Words by Lauren Barnard for Anthem Online.
Images from Ghosted Ink.

The Lionesses

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I have been thrilled at how the World Cup has been received here in the UK. Record after record was broken, people were talking about it at work and at home and it felt like there was a real buzz in the air. Could this be it? Could this be the time we win? 

Unfortunately it was not to be, and after Tuesday’s heartbreak (and truly I have spent time mourning that loss), I think it is important to reflect on the impact that the Lionesses have made this past month. I wrote before about the Change The Game initiative launched by the BBC at the beginning of May and how excited I was by this prospect. But my expectations have already been exceeded and it’s only the beginning. 11.7 million people tuned in to watch the Semi-Final, just over 50% of the audience share and the most watched programme this year so far, what a result! 

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I have been far more emotionally invested in this World Cup than I thought I would be, but I think that’s because it has been a real watershed moment for women’s sport. When I was growing up (which wasn’t too long ago – I’m not that old), the only time you could see women’s sport on the TV was Wimbledon or the Olympics. Now, across the country there are little girls turning up to football training sessions wanting to be the next Lucy Bronze, Ellen White or Nikita Parris and that just shows that representation does matter. 

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My friends at work and I have been talking about it. Gearing up for every game. Talking about the one that was on the night before. I even got a wall chart (cool right?). I hope that enthusiasm continues not just over the summer but for years to come (anyone fancy going to watch the Euros in 2021 with me?!). The moment that really solidified what an impact this team have had on women’s sport came on Wednesday when I heard an interview on Radio 5 Live. A 17 year old boy called Abe had phoned in when they were talking about Tuesday night’s match, and he said that at the beginning of the World Cup he and his mates laughed at and mocked women’s football. But on Tuesday they were all down at the pub cheering them on, getting annoyed at VAR when the decision went against us and cheering VAR when it went our way. At the beginning of June, he knew nothing about the team, now he knows all their names and the teams they play for and he’s looking to watch the Women’s Super League come winter. Now isn’t that an achievement! They may not win the World Cup but they have changed people’s hearts and minds like you wouldn’t imagine and that’s arguably bigger than any trophy. Although I would still like to see them bring that bronze back!!

Catch the third place play off live on BBC One at 4pm!!

Radio 5 Live: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0006sq4 

Photo credit: @Lionesses (Twitter)

Change The Game

As I was scrolling through Twitter one evening, a post from hockey legend Kate Richardson-Walsh caught my eye, in particular, the accompanying hashtag #ChangeTheGame. It turned out that it was a new initiative launched that evening by the BBC to promote and broadcast women’s sport, and I’ll be honest, I cried a little bit.

I watched the video with it’s reimagining of Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’, and I was transported back to all those summers when I was glued to the television watching the Olympics, seeing Kelly Holmes get her double gold in Athens and screaming with glee when GB got their hockey gold at the Rio Olympics and all the PE lessons and sports clubs I got to be part of. It felt like women’s sport was finally being recognised for the powerhouse that it is.

I have always loved sport, whether that was practising my bowling for rounders by drawing a target on the side of our house (much to my mum’s annoyance), playing badminton with my friends every Monday all through our GCSEs, the hockey I still play now or the dodgeball in the sports hall when it was the end of term or raining just a bit too much. I have always found it to be a joyous thing, whether you’re learning a new dance routine in the middle of a field dressed all in pink and singing ‘Baby Shark’, or coming together after someone has been injured to cheer them up and check they’re alright. There is always something good that comes out of it – unless of course you’re the one now sitting on the bench with an ice pack.

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As with anything that promotes women’s sport, there were the usual comments about how it “isn’t as good as the men’s”, how “it’s only because the BBC can’t afford to show the good sports” or that “everything will suck except for Wimbledon”, but do you know what, who cares about those comments? The fact that thousands of women and girls and men and boys will get the opportunity to watch some fantastic sport proves that we’re winning the argument.

A terrifying percentage of girls stop participating in sport once they reach puberty which can have huge impacts on their mental and physical wellbeing as well as narrowing their options in life. Even if they catch one game, one match this summer and hopefully beyond that, it might just encourage them to keep going, to find a new sport they love where they can make friends and feel empowered.

I understand that sport isn’t for everyone, in fact, some people actively avoid it like the plague but it can be such a powerful thing, whether you’re running by yourself, playing in a team or watching on TV. We saw the hype that developed last year with the Men’s Football World Cup; how it managed to bring everyone together, and excitement and anticipation hummed through the air, especially at a time when everything feels so fractured in our society. We have the opportunity to recreate that this summer with the Women’s Football World Cup, which began on the 7th June, or the Netball World Cup, the Ashes, or the World Para Athletics Championships. Hopefully, there will be something for you to enjoy and maybe even get involved with.

Useful Links if you’re looking to get involved:

https://parasport.org.uk/

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/get-inspired/25416779

 

Words and image by Eleanor Manley for Anthem Online.

Feminism 101

Here’s the situation, for anyone who is unclear: if you don’t believe a person should be discriminated against because of the way they were born, and later how they wish to align on the spectrum of gender, then you are a feminist. I’m very sorry, the doctors did the best they could. If you think it kind of sucks that women are frequently treated as incapable of certain skills or jobs because they are women, then you are a feminist. If you think it sucks that men aren’t ‘allowed’ to like pink and talk about their feelings and hate sport, then damn, you’re a feminist.

I appreciate this seems basic, and feminism can become incredibly complex, and has developed so much in quite a short space of time, but ultimately the idea behind feminism is that people should not be discriminated against because of their sex and that people should have equal social, political and economic rights. So that’s where it’s simple. If you agree, then that’s that. Don’t say you believe men and women should be equal but that you’re not a feminist. Stop it. Just stop, it’s pants. Feminism is not extreme. It’s really quite sensible.

I think a lot of the confusion and urge to not identify as a feminist might come from the fact that discussions around it are always so academic and inaccessible for the average person. It’s partly why I started Anthem and I think it’s such a shame that we’re not taking more time to help people when we are able to. So I’ve written up a bit of a glossary for you to refer to when the conversations you want to be a part of aren’t making sense.

Feminism: A movement aiming to achieve equality between the sexes

Misogyny: Hatred toward/prejudice against women 

Misandry: Hatred toward/prejudice against men

Misogynoir: Misogyny directed at black women in particular

Cisgender: If your gender matches the sex you were born at birth then you’re cisgender, or cis for short. I was born a female (sex) and identify as a female (gender). I’m cis.

Intersectional feminism: A movement that builds other issues such as racism, classism, transphobia, homophobia or ableism into it’s path to achieving the equality of the sexes. Intersectional feminism accepts that some struggle more than others on the way to equality, and are disadvantaged by our existing society for more reasons than just being a woman (i.e. it is harder to be a black, disabled woman or a trans woman than it is to be a cis white woman in our current society).

White feminism: This isn’t used to label all white feminists (confusingly), but to address a kind of feminism that only focuses on cis white feminist issues and tends to ignore issues faced by other races. In some cases, it has refused to accept that non-white women face greater struggles than white feminists. It’s sort of the opposite of intersectional feminism and has increasingly been used as a negative label in online discussions (for good reason).

#MeToo: Quite simply, a movement against sexual harassment and assault in all forms. Popularised by celebrities such as Rose McGowan and Natalie Portman, #MeToo began around this time last year and was started by Tarana Burke as a social media movement to show just how widespread the issues were in the world. In light of big Hollywood sexual harassment and assault cases, anybody could and can use #MeToo to express their own experiences and help others feel confident to share their stories. 

Time’s Up: Started on the back of #MeToo, the Time’s Up movement was founded at the beginning of 2018 to fight sexual harassment and assault. Time’s Up saw celebrities wearing all black to the Golden Globes and, as a movement, focuses largely on issues within studio and talent agencies as well as offering legal support to lower-income women who have faced sexual harassment or assault in the workplace. 

Gendered: If something is gendered, it relates to one specific gender. For example, gendered marketing means products might be marketed specifically to women or men (for absolutely no reason; go look up some traditionally feminine or masculine fragrance adverts and you’ll see what we mean). You can also have gendered occupations, which tend to be more female than male, such as waitress, barmaid, tea lady, lunch lady etc etc. 

Glass ceiling: A metaphor relating to the unseen barrier preventing certain groups of people climbing career ladders. Although most frequently referred to in discussions about women, it is also a barrier for people of different ethnicities, sexualities or with disabilities. It’s pretty bad for everyone (unless you are a cis white male).

Gender pay gap: The average difference between the money or wage paid to men and women, with women generally earning less than men (for the reason that they are women, which is sex-based discrimination and thus a LOAD OF RUBBISH).

Gendered stereotypes: Thinking back to stuff being gendered, gendered stereotypes suggest that people should be a certain way because of their gender. It’s where we think of things as typically masculine or feminine. For example, assuming girls like pink and boys like blue are stereotypes based on gender. These stereotypes can become harmful when they limit what men and women are able to do.

Toxic masculinity: An example of harmful gender stereotypes relating specifically to men and male behaviours. Most often it refers to the idea that men have to be these very masculine, dominant, alpha male type beings that can’t show emotion. It’s very damaging and has had a serious impact on male mental health. 

Feminazi: A derogatory slur used to refer to radical feminists, popular among conservatives and idiots who can’t be bothered to learn about feminism.

Hopefully, this helps you. You do not need to be able to use these words to have or to join a discussion about feminism but it will help just to understand what they mean and what people are talking about.

Unfortunately, feminism remains a difficult-to-access movement for many and it often gets caught up in moving forward, and not stopping to help people up on the way. Feminism is for everybody, and understanding a couple of words from the above list is huge. You can be a great support if you can stop people and say ‘hang on, that’s not right and here’s why’ because the more people that join in, the less of a problem sexism and other forms of discrimination become. 

Feminism and the politics surrounding discrimination continue to be a hot topic that the news love to sensationalise, so it is incredibly useful to know what these things mean. It’s not just about being able to support one cause, but also about learning to think for yourself. It is absolutely vital to be able to formulate your own opinions and ideas so that you can stand up for yourself and others, particularly in today’s slightly odd world.

 

Words by Briony Brake for Anthem Online.

Wellbeing and Winter

For a lot of us, it can be difficult to feel on top form during the colder months. Even if you are a winter fanatic, love all things Christmassy and get excited about what comes with the new year, it can still be difficult to manage wellness on cold and gloomy days. So, in anticipation of the winter blues/January blues/Monday blues/basically any unwanted blueness, I’ve worked up a checklist of things to help prioritise our wellbeing this winter.*

((*Note: This article isn’t medical advice. If you’re looking for more specific mental health material – check out the links at the end!))

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Diet and Nutrients

No, I’m not going to tell you to chuck out all the Christmas choccies! This isn’t about having an immaculate diet; what I suggest here is just keeping a mental note of when you last said ‘Hi’ to some fruit and veg. As we head into December and beyond, it can be tricky to keep on top of doing a healthy food shop – especially when there are so many tempting treats. Indulgence is fun, especially in the festive period, but do make sure to balance it out.

Our digestive system and brain are linked by the vagus nerve, and long story short (and all science averted because I don’t really get it), what we eat contributes to how we think and feel. As good old Saint Nick gets ready to do the rounds, by all means, head to the Quality Street! The praline triangles aren’t going to steal themselves. But remember to get in those greens and some vitamin C too. Similarly, because we lack so much sunlight during this time of year, if you’re someone who gets particularly down in the darker months, it could be worth picking up some vitamin D as well!

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Exercise

NO GYM REQUIRED. Fear not- this isn’t a you-must-start-a-spinning-class-and-go-to-boxercise-every-day article. Just get out and about. It doesn’t have to be a lot and it doesn’t have to be the same thing each time. In fact – the more variety the better. If you’re someone who likes exercise or sport then fab! Doing what you enjoy is a great way to get out of the house. It can be gross to go into *nature* when it’s cold and wet and windy, but when the weather is relatively calm, jump at the chance to go out and explore. Anything from a quick stroll to a little micro adventure to a local park.

Remember the Vitamin D we talked about earlier – making the most of the daylight hours is key when it is of limited availability. If you have a hobby that you can adapt to doing outside then use it as an excuse for a change of scenery. For example, photography or other artistic pursuits are a great way to explore outside and get some exercise in at the same time.

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The Power of Plants

There’s a lot of research to show that plants can have a positive effect on us. Having some greenery or flowers around the place can be a mood booster. Equally, having to care for a plant reminds us to care for ourselves. When we’re watering or feeding the plants, and making sure they get enough sunlight, it’s a casual reminder to make sure we pay attention to our own needs. Caring for something else and having that small responsibility with plants can also make us feel good and remind us that we are accomplishing things even if they’re small. (Also, they look really cute!!) 

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Another thing about FOOD

If you’re someone (like me) who finds it a drag to prepare food when your wellbeing isn’t amazing, here are some ideas. Find foods that minimise prep time and are good for you. For instance, yoghurts require zero effort and can be eaten whenever. Also, consider fresh veg and fruit that is in season and doesn’t need a lot of intervention. (And when you do feel like making stuff, stews are great, because they use all the in-season veg, you just leave the pot to do its thing, and you can freeze portions for ages.) Lastly, meal replacement powders (not weight-loss ones – just complete nutrient ones) could also be a solution for some people – I find them handy when my work schedule is a bit crazy or if I don’t have the energy for a big food shop.

In the new year, when everyone’s insisting they’ll start going to the gym, hating going back to work, and remembering how cold February is, this can all be handy to remember. Having quick fix food around that is not just junk food makes it much easier to look after yourself.

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Reach out!

We shouldn’t leave it until we’re actually feeling unwell or not taking care of ourselves to reach out to others. Make sure you check in with your loved ones over the winter period. This can be especially important if you live away from the rest of your family or are a university student away for the holidays. Reach out to close friends and make an effort to get together, or at least call for a catch-up.

Socialising can be difficult to organise over the Christmas period when people can be quite busy and public transport ceases to function, but come the new year when everyone’s aligning themselves with the ‘normal,’ it’s really important to make sure you’re maintaining those connections with people.

Depending on individual needs, doing what you love either solo or sharing it with friends can give you some well-needed space to relax – which does wonders for wellbeing.

Remember not to put your wellbeing on hold just because normality gets a bit suspended during Christmas and New Year, and opportunities to get out and about can seem to dwindle during winter as a whole. When considering your self-care regime, factor both your physical and mental wellness into it!

 

I hope this gets the ball rolling with some ideas you can utilise for maintaining wellbeing this winter. Below are some further sources of wellbeing advice, and also more distinct mental health resources:

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/wellbeing/#.W_24Yq2cbPA
https://www.wellbeingnands.co.uk
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/improve-mental-wellbeing/
https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/blog/what-wellbeing-how-can-we-measure-it-and-how-can-we-support-people-improve-it
https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/things-to-do-this-weekend-to-boost-your-mental-wellbeing_uk_5bd2d714e4b0a8f17ef6413f?utm_hp_ref=uk-wellbeing
 

Words by Lauren Barnard for Anthem Online.
Images from Be Brain Fit, Mental Health Zen, Garden Collage, The Best Brain Possible and Practice Business.

Why I’ve Stopped Using Tampons and Pads

I’ve recently been making a few lifestyle changes in order to reduce my carbon footprint (and also feel a bit better about myself). You know, becoming vegetarian, cutting down on dairy, buying reusable cups and bottles, switching to cruelty-free. That kind of thing. My latest endeavour has led me down the path of the menstrual cup. I hadn’t heard of it either until a few months ago.

Turns out they’ve been around since 1937 when actress Leona Chalmers invented a silicone cup designed as a long-lasting, environmentally friendly and cost-effective alternative to tampons. You basically have to origami it up into your vagina where it stays in place via suction and catches the blood flow before it leaves your body. You can keep them in all day, and when you do take it out you just empty it and reinsert it for the next 8-12 hours. Sounded great! So I thought I’d give you an insight into my experience learning to use one…

The one I have actually been using is a Mooncup from Boots – but there are other brands available all with slightly different shapes and materials. However, across brands they range in two sizes based on whether or not you’ve had a baby and your age. Mooncup came with a little cotton bag or carry case to keep your cup in – no more worrying about carrying around supplies or running to the bathroom with a tampon stuffed into the waistband of your skirt (you know we’ve all done it).

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So after two weeks of actually looking forward to my period arriving, I was eager to try out the cup. I cut the stem on the bottom to size (better to start longer than shorter as I found mine sits quite high inside me and a longer stem makes it easier to grab onto when you need to remove it). First attempt and I managed to get it in after a few goes. If it’s in properly you can’t feel it. It works by creating a vacuum seal so it stays in place, so in theory, you can’t leak. Trouble is, even if the seal isn’t formed properly, you still can’t feel it. Naively I assumed it was in properly and left for work. First toilet trip of the day and I’ll spare you the detail (but I hadn’t put it in correctly).

Taking it out for the first few times also proved an absolute nightmare. During my first trial with the cup, I was convinced I’d lost it – even though that is literally and physically impossible. Images of turning up at A&E telling them I had a retained menstrual cup flashed in front of my eyes, and I was already mentally preparing the phone call with a trusted friend to come round with forceps and a flashlight to fish it out. I fully panicked. After consulting the girls on the group chat (we’ve spoken about much worse on there) I ended up lying down in the bath, telling my body to relax whilst also using my abdominals to squeeze it down until I managed to extract the cup. Traumatically messy to say the least.

Although that’s the worst experience I had with it and it only happened once so don’t let that put you off! Once I had worked out how to get it in properly I felt safe using it for sports, swimming, throughout the day at work and overnight. The beauty of being able to keep it in for so long means that despite the cramps (which I think lessened using the Mooncup) you almost forget you’re on your period.

One thing I have learnt is that you have to be VERY comfortable with your own body in order to feel it being put in place and to get the hang of it. It takes a few months to get used to but for me its great. I don’t have to worry about carrying stuff around with me, I only have to think about it twice a day when I empty it, I SWEAR my cramps have become less intense (or maybe that’s just psychological) and I feel like I’ve cut down on landfill waste as it’s a much more cost-effective and sustainable option.

It’s pretty easy to clean as well; I bought some sterilisation tablets and you can just soak it in water or boil it in a saucepan for 5 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, there are still days when I struggle with it, and ending up with blood all over your hands is pretty much inevitable – but then I always change it at home in the bathroom so it’s easy to deal with that. If you can get past the first few months it’s a pretty cool product.

For more information see:
https://www.mooncup.co.uk/
https://www.intimina.com/en/lily_cups
http://divacup.com/

 

Words: Sophy Edmunds
Image: Mooncup/Boots via Stella.ie