Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Big Breasts, Menopause, and Helena Bonham Carter

January 31st, 2013 by Heather Dillaway


Another sign of menopause to add to the list: big breasts. Or so Helena Bonham Carter suggests in a recent interview. She suggests that she did not have big breasts until menopause and that it is “the one benefit of menopause.” But before this comment, she said that she wished they “didn’t stick out as much.” Apparently menopause and big breasts are a mixed blessing.

I’m fascinated by celebrities mentioning menopause these days. Actresses from the UK recently seem to be much more outgoing about their menopausal statuses than actresses from the US (see my previous post about Sinead O’Connor), at least from my followings of celebrity gossip (which, admittedly, is not very thorough). The idea that they are talking about it in passing, in simple conversation, is illustrative of the fact that menopause is not as hidden as it once was.

On the other hand, in this particular case, reading between the lines, Helena Bonham Carter says very directly that larger breasts are “the one benefit” of menopause, inferring that there are many more negatives. Further, the idea that the only benefit is appearance-based is not only interesting but also problematic in its reaffirmation of gendered norms about the necessity for women to look good for others. Finally, it is also clear from her comment that having big breasts – something that is often sought after in our highly sexualized, male-dominated culture – is maybe uncomfortable for women in public and that women’s bodies are indeed on display and women know it. Sure, she could have said that she wished her breasts didn’t stick out as much because they got in the way of her physical movement through space, but I doubt it. I think she made this comment more because of her discomfort with others’ gazes upon her body.

So, what does this all say about menopause? Or about big breasts? I think Helena Bonham Carter’s comments confirm the following: First, menopausal women are definitely still thinking (for better or worse) about their appearances. Second, women are intimately aware of the size of their breasts and understand that they are for public viewing (whether they like it or not). Third, big breasts are seemingly better than small ones, at least according to our various and intersecting gender norms. Fourth, Helena Bonham Carter doesn’t think there are any other benefits to menopause (a dismal thought), and we know she’s not the only one. (But aren’t there plenty of benefits? Come on….Sinead O’Connor thinks so…) Fifth, and despite some of the above conclusions, women aren’t necessarily hiding their menopausal status anymore.

I know, I’ve taken two sentences out of Helena Bonham Carter’s mouth and inferred lots of things, but am I that off base? I don’t think so, but feel free to comment!

The Netflix of Menstruation

January 29th, 2013 by David Linton

It was probably inevitable that the success of Amazon, I-Tunes, Domino’s Pizza, and a plethora of home delivery and on-demand food services would spawn a menstrual product service industry. And here it is, the NetFlix of menstruation: Le Parcel.

Le Parcel acts as a clearing house for the home delivery of three major brands of pads, panty liners, and tampons, Playtex, Kotex, and Tampax, which the web site states are “only the best and most trusted brands,” a claim that users of other products would surely be outraged by. It is peculiar that the enterprise does not include an option of purchasing any of the growing number of eco-friendly products nor items like the disposable cup, Softcup.

The packaging idea is a clever one. Buyers can custom design a mix from 30 types of tampons, panty liners, and pads from those produced by the three companies to suit one’s pattern of needs including variations in flow, preference of fit, etc., and a delivery schedule can be set up so that the parcel arrives in time for one’s expected period. Furthermore, adhering to stereotypes of the impact of hormonal changes on attitude and dietary cravings, the parcel includes a chocolate treat of some kind and “a monthly gift” to help one feel special this special time of the month. The gift depicted in the video accompanying the web site looks like a wrist watch but that seems a bit farfetched. The service promises to “make your cycle easy and dare we say, fun!” and the buyer is assured that “each parcel is packaged with love and care.”

Unfortunately, the text accompanying the description of the system reinforces some of the most retro and even ugly negative beliefs about the menstrual cycle, including the misery of having to ask your partner to go to the store: “Gone are the dreadful days of having your significant other ‘pick up’ a box of pads at the store on the way home.” The assumption that the menstruator is stranded at home awaiting the return of her embarrassed mate is quite a throw back. Other casually mentioned descriptions of the period include:

  • “Nature’s gift stinks so we give you a better one.”
  • “PMS – Not so hard when chocolate covered.”
  • “Periods are hard.”
  • “Crap happens” – In this case the word “shit” is crossed out and replaced by “crap.”

The notions that menstruation “stinks” and the period’s arrival is “shit” or “crap” speak for themselves. Not only does Le Parcel deliver the menstrual goods, it delivers a package full of nasty attitudes as well.

Saying Goodbye to Menstruation — and to the pill — and more Weekend Links

January 26th, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

Period +

January 23rd, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

In keeping with the theme of Chris’ Monday post about antidotes to feminist fatigue, I offer vlogger (that’s short for video blogger to those of you who live most of your lives off-line) Laci Green’s newest video, which is about being Period Positive.

Ms. Green also recently posted a take-down of so-called “empowering” femcare ads at her Tumblr site, noting that “when you take a closer look, these images hold the same negative attitudes about menstruation that we see throughout history. These ads subtly, but effectively, communicate that menstruation is embarrassing, gross, and needs to be made “invisible”, that it is a defect you need to “smack down” or defeat, that periods are inconvenient and uncomfortable for men” [emphasis in original].

So take heart, weary feminists, especially re:Cycling readers and other period-positive ladies! You’re not a lone voice crying out in the wilderness.

An Antidote for Feminist Fatigue?

January 21st, 2013 by Chris Bobel

I am demoralized.

The gang rapes in Delhi India and Steubenville Ohio and EVERYHERE, ALL THE TIME, have me feeling hopeless and fatigued.

Soon, I will face 30 undergraduates in my introductory Women’s Studies class, and I will, again, attempt to contextualize rape and link it to the pernicious and enduring realities of hegemonic masculinities, misogyny, and social constructions bodies as commodities.

And I will hear victim blaming, neocolonialist attacks on the global south, the forced binary of good vs. evil, and other apologia for why, how, when and where rape “happens” as if it is an unstoppable force that some of us (the chaste, the modestly dressed, the sober, etc) can avoid.

And I will go home and cry in my pillow.

So I am looking for inspiration to go on, to keep talking and, the harder part, listening, and not give in, not resign myself to ‘this is the way of the world. Don’t fight it, just accept it and move on.’

This 5 minute PSA created by Jason Stefaniak and Siobhan O’Loughlin helps. A lot. It is a clarion call to embodied autonomy, and I am so grateful to the creators and the funders who made it possible.

You can read the full text here, but here’s the first few powerful lines:

This is my body.
I do what I want with it.
This is my body.
I make my own choices.
This is my body.
I use it as a canvas, tattoo it, decorate it, and pierce it.
I take medicine if I want to and only undergo medical procedures I choose.
I eat what I want, exercise for my health, and wear what I like.
I fall in love with whomever, fuck/sleep with whomever and marry whomever I choose.
I decide when and how to become a mother.
This is my body, not yours

These decisions have nothing to do with you. If I’m not hurting you or stopping you from pursuing your inherent right to happiness, it’s none of your business. This is my body, not yours.

Stefaniak released “This is My Body” on July 23rd, so it is hardly ‘news’, but that fact hardly diminishes the URGENCY of the message. Can you imagine a world in which we lived by such a simple credo that reminds us of these truths:  My body is NOT your blank screen on which to project your anxieties or your fantasies (or both). My body is NOT your property, NOT your business opportunity, NOT your playground, NOT your battlefield.

Watch and affirm our work–which simply must be our COLLECTIVE work— to RESPECT the INTERGRITY of everyBODY, everyONE.

Vaginal Microbes, Yoga for Menstruation, the Barbie, and More Weekend Links

January 19th, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

Photo by ManoRegejimas // Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0

Death to the Menstruators!…by Dragon!

January 17th, 2013 by Breanne Fahs

During my more rugged travel experiences, I have often found myself confronted with the formidable task of facing the limitations and boundaries of my physical self. While in India, for example, I often had to contemplate the dilemmas of drinking water (and therefore needing to pee in places where “clean restrooms” did not exist) or becoming dehydrated. (This problem kills malnourished children in developing countries while it merely poses an embarrassing inconvenience for those with generally good health.) On another trip, I had become ill and had vomited violently for two days, leaving my body empty of calories and unable to climb up a sizeable hill to see a grand historical fort. Halfway up that hill, my normally spunky and determined self had a revelation about my newly reimagined relationship between food and energy.

photo taken by Breanne Fahs

On a trip to Indonesia, I had the opportunity to visit Komodo Island, home to the infamous Komodo dragons. My six-year-old nephew informed me (gleefully) that these creatures are extremely dangerous and kill people and animals by biting them, allowing multitudes of mouth bacteria to infect the body, and watching them slowly die. The dragons can then follow around the dying animal and consume their corpses them once their prey is left defenseless and paralyzed with bacterial infection. Before arriving on the island, our guide told us similar stories about the dangers of the Komodo dragon: There is no “anti-venom” equivalent for Komodo dragons and, as such, people die every year by accidentally trekking alone or mistaking Komodo for another Indonesian island. The death of unsuspecting tourists happened often enough that park rangers must now escort guests on the island as a mandatory safety measure. Precautions of every sort must be taken.

Just prior to arrival, excited for the chance to see Komodo dragons in their natural habitat, I received a notice in my room saying that menstruating women could not step foot on the island of Komodo and that only non-menstruating women could enter the island. The notice also informed visitors that people with wounds could not visit the island (though it did not specify the type and size of wound it was referring to), and visitors could not wear any red coloring on their clothing or backpacks. Komodo dragons have a particular combination of aggression, keen smell, bad eyesight, and bloodlust.

As a critical feminist, I initially refused to believe the reality of the caution against menstruating women, imagining that it must be yet another method of excluding women from “men’s” activities like trekking, hiking, and exploring the island. Did these cautions simply represent a repackaging of the “menstrual hut” idea? Would menstruating women actually inspire attacks? Did menstrual blood have a particular “scent” that differentiated it from other kinds of blood? What about women who lived on Komodo Island? How could resident Komodo women protect themselves? Was the ban yet another sexist maneuver to control women and their bodies? Inquiring about this “menstrual ban”, I learned that the dragons can smell blood for up to five miles, and, lacking the ability to discern their “dying” prey from menstruating women, could mistake menstruating women for dying animals and kill them. A series of attacks on menstruating women have been documented on the island, leading the rangers to warn menstruating women that they must not come near Komodo dragons under any circumstance.

My next thoughts focused on the actual disclosure of women’s menstrual status. Typically, few strangers in the U.S. feel entitled to ask women about menstrual status. Would the park rangers actually ask women about their menstrual status? Could a menstruating woman who lied about her status put the group at risk? When I started inquiring about this further, I found that discussions about Komodo Island presented one of the only contexts I can remember when menstrual status could be discussed across genders, ages, races, and cultures, as the notice of warning inspired the group to discuss menstruation openly in ways I had never personally witnessed before. Over dinner the night before our arrival in Komodo, the group I was traveling with discussed menstruation critically, frankly, and in unusual detail. Even though the discourse included (somewhat traditional) notions of “protecting women”, it also provoked the group to consider some of the questions I had asked about the cultural and gendered aspects of menstrual disclosure. Getting “comfortable” with the topic was not an option for women young enough to menstruate, as they had to openly disclose their status regardless of whether they would prefer to keep it secret. Never before had any of us confronted the idea of “security personnel” who would confirm whether we were currently menstruating (a subject that provoked more serious consideration of TSA intrusions on people’s personal lives as well).

Photo by Scott Ellis // Creative Commons NC-SA 2.0

Once on the island, walking among the trees and dusty landscape behind our ranger who carried only a large stick with a forked end, my childlike glee at the Indiana Jones-like qualities of the adventure superseded my fear of Komodo dragon attack. When we finally found the dragons, lazing about in clusters near a spot in the late afternoon shade, I felt a twinge of gratitude that my body had decided not to bleed that day. In my “normal” life, battling the stereotypes and secrecy that surround menstruation, confronting the shame and silence women face about their menstrual cycles, this newfound idea of menstruation as a kind of animal communication felt like a welcome diversion. Menstruation as danger, as physical threat, as something that could put oneself or one’s travel mates in jeopardy seemed unusually exotic, bizarre, and informative. Even more interestingly, the ability to discuss menstruation so openly with such a unique mix of people, under such strange circumstances, provided the opportunity to attach menstrual status to adventure and to remind myself that the narratives we as Americans have about menstruation do not yet reach around the globe.

Getting Over The Pill

January 15th, 2013 by Kati Bicknell

Here’s a notion: Birth control pills are not the only way manage your reproductive health.

The pill came out more than 50 years ago, and at the time, it was a symbol of liberation and freedom for women. Suddenly, they no longer had to worry about unplanned pregnancy. It was great. But now that 50-year-old technology is starting to lose much of the appeal it once had.

Adapted from a photo by Jess Hamilton // Creative Commons A-NC-SA 2.0

Today many women get on the pill as teenagers to “regulate” irregular cycles, and they get off the pill in their late 20s or early 30s when they want to get pregnant. The unfortunate reality is many women find it’s not as easy as they thought it would be to get pregnant. Ten or fifteen years of being on oral contraceptives doesn’t “fix” an irregular cycle; it just kind of pushes the pause button on your reproductive system.

When you come off the pill in your late 20s or early 30s because you finally want kids, your body has to pick up where it left off when you were a teenager. Often women at this stage of their lives find it takes longer than expected to conceive and wind up on the assisted reproductive technology track — reproductive endocrinologists, expensive and annoying tests, procedures, hormone injections ,and all that jazz. And, heartbreakingly, after several years and thousands of dollars, that doesn’t always work.

The side effects of the pill are a real pain in the ass for many women, too. Weight gain, depression, loss of libido, and “not feeling like myself” (AKA “I seem to have gone insane”) are some of the more common complaints cited. In fact, a CDC report on contraceptive use states that 10.3 million women have stopped taking the pill due to side effects, or fear of side effects.

All women need a way to have children when they want them, and to not have children when they don’t. And they need to feel good about the whole thing — not freaked out, bloated and crazy. Imagine how the world would be different if this was a reality.

This reality is possible thanks to the wonderful simplicity of the Fertility Awareness Method — the technology behind Kindara. Instead of women’s reproductive reality being like this:  “Oh my god,  I don’t want to get pregnant” during her twenties, followed by “Oh my god,  I want to get pregnant NOW!” in her thirties, the Symptothermal Method makes it one question: “When do I want to get pregnant?”

Charting your cycle using the Fertility Awareness Method can help you achieve your reproductive goals without pills, side effects, or stress, whether you want to have kids in the next few years, in 10 years, or never. By charting your cycle, you will see if and when you are ovulating, and you will know when you are fertile, which is the trick to knowing when you can or cannot pregnant. Charting your cycle could help clarify issues that need to be remedied before you can get pregnant too. You can even confirm pregnancy with your chart. Exciting!

If women were taught the basics of Fertility Awareness as soon as they entered their reproductive years and knew that they could avoid or plan for pregnancy by charting their primary fertility signs (temperature and cervical fluid), they would save a lot of time, money, and stress.

What a different world we would all be living in if each woman shifted her thinking from “I need this pill so I don’t have unplanned pregnancies, and I need my doctor to prescribe this pill” to “I know just what is going on with my cycle at all times. I am calm, confident, and empowered. I manage my own fertility thank you very much, and I don’t need pills to do it.”

Now I’m not saying that oral contraceptives have no place in the world. They are a wonderful invention. Thanks to the pill, women today can take it as fact that pregnancy can be prevented easily and effectively. But because this is now a forgone conclusion, we are free to look for even better options — options like the Fertility Awareness Method that can prevent pregnancy easily, effectively, autonomously and without side effects.

Originally published at Kindara.com on December 15th, 2012

Period Film Festival, Pubertina, HPV Myths, and More Weekend Links

January 12th, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

I am a pro-choice menstrual cycle advocate

January 9th, 2013 by Laura Wershler

As 2013 begins, I give thanks to each and every one of my colleagues at the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research and all my blogging buddies at re:Cycling. Without them I’d feel left out in the cold.  

Are menstrual cycle advocates left out in the cold? Photo by Laura Wershler

I’ve been a menstrual cycle advocate since 1979 when, during a year of post-pill amenorrhea that totally freaked me out, I began to research the ill effects of hormonal contraception. It is not an understatement to say that reading  Barbara Seaman’s national bestseller Women and The Crisis in Sex Hormones changed my life. It started me on a path of self-discovery, and commitment to the idea that healthy, ovulatory menstruation is integral to women’s health and well-being. If you don’t know about Barbara Seaman and her work in women’s health activism, please read about her.

My menstrual cycle advocacy took what could be considered a counter-intuitive path. I aligned myself with the pro-choice sexual health community, committed to comprehensive access to sexual and reproductive health information, education and services. I’ve been as much a contraception and abortion rights advocate over the last three decades as I’ve been a menstrual cycle advocate. But I was a successful user and ardent advocate of the fertility awareness method long before I became a board director at the pro-choice Calgary Birth Control Association in 1986. I went on to serve 10 years on the board of Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada and worked for six years as executive director of Planned Parenthood Alberta, which became Sexual Health Access Alberta in 2006. I’m currently on the board of Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, the former PPFC.

I stress my pro-choice credentials because I think I’m often suspected of being anti-choice. Surely any woman who advocates for healthy, ovulatory menstruation and speaks out against the health concerns inherent in hormonal birth control methods must be anti-contraception and anti-choice. I am neither. More broadly, I’ve written and talked a lot about the value of body literacy for women’s health and well-being.

I wonder sometimes why I’ve stuck it out with the pro-choice sexual health community. While many have been open to my ideas, I have seen little effort to learn about the health benefits of ovulatory menstruation or acknowledge the need – let alone act – to better serve women who want to use non-hormonal contraception. It’s frustrating to be a lone voice, but I keep talking.

It took me over 20 years to find the community that serves and appreciates my menstrual cycle advocacy. I attended my first Society for Menstrual Cycle Research conference in 2005, and that’s how I came to belong to this diverse group of academics, medical professionals, researchers, activists and artists committed to advancing knowledge and awareness of the menstrual cycle. We come from different perspectives, we ask different questions and we focus on different aspects of women’s menstrual lives. But we all hold true to the same idea: #menstruationmatters.

Menstrual cycle advocacy can be lonely and oh so frustrating. Chris Bobel’s recent post about how difficult it can be to help others make the menstrual connection included this quote from me:

Caring about menstruation and the menstrual cycle makes me almost a freak in the pro-choice world. I get ignored or criticized a lot because people don’t want to ask or answer some of the questions I keep trying to pose about choice around non-hormonal contraceptive methods. 

Thanks to SMCR and re:Cycling, I’m not going to stop asking hard questions, or challenging the ignorance and avoidance that many in the mainstream sexual health-care community demonstrate when it comes to ovulation, the menstrual cycle and fertility awareness. I’ll keep chirping and chipping away.

Motherhood

January 7th, 2013 by Paula Derry

I recently had the opportunity to present a talk at something called Ignite Baltimore. Scheduled a few times a year, Ignite has proven to be extremely popular. I discovered that not only had the event sold out, but people arrived early for a pre-event reception in a sprawling lobby filled with animated people conversing.

The format is this: Sixteen speakers each give a five-minute talk. During each talk, twenty slides are each shown for 15 seconds, and the talk has to be built around this constraint. During my Ignite event, the topic of talks ranged from musings about what magic is, to how to revitalize Baltimore, to mine on motherhood. For me, giving a presentation was an opportunity to experiment with using a different kind of language than I use in more academic presentations, and to experiment with a mixture of words and visual imagery.

Here’s the YouTube video of my talk about what it means to be a mother. It’s also about the idea that we exist as whole, integrated people, not isolated bits of hormone, brain chemicals, stereotyped behaviors, stimulus-response connections to the environment. The imagery is unfortunately blurred, but I hope you can make out enough, and I hope that what I say is of interest.

Periodic Resolutions, Cervical Health, Toilet Hacking, and More Weekend Links

January 5th, 2013 by Elizabeth Kissling

Readers should note that statements published in re: Cycling are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.