A period is not something that most of us have much choice in. It happens to us one confusing but poignant day in young adolescence and then we’re kind of stuck with it for around 40 years. It can be seen as a beautiful right of passage into womanhood. But let’s face it, it’s super annoying sometimes. What we do have a say in, at least in the Western world, is how we deal with our periods. These days the options are almost endless. From blood absorbing underwear to menstrual cups, all the way through to naturally occurring sea sponges from the ocean (yes, that’s a thing). How you deal with your mensuration is your choice babe. This is what TABOO strives and hopes for, for women the world over.
Just one of the ways that women can choose to handle their monthly flow is the practice of free bleeding. What on earth is that, I hear you ask?! Free bleeding is when you abstain from using sanitary products during your period and bleed freely onto your underwear, clothing and bed sheets . Some women even simply bleed down their legs. This is nothing new, with women bleeding freely for thousands of years before the mass manufacturing of pads and tampons. However the reasons behind why women and people who menstruate choose to free bleed has generated quite a bit of conversation in recent years.
Misogynistic users of the online forum 4Chan would claim that they jokingly started the movement in 2014 to see how far they could make ‘angry feminists’ go. Fake memes and twitter accounts apparently belonging to feminist activists began posting content about free bleeding. This backfired spectacularly for the 4Chan trolls when they unwittingly created a discourse around the normalization of periods. The free bleeding movement, whether fake or not, quickly became very real and got women talking about their monthly cycle. Since then notable moments in the free bleeding movement have included Kiran Gandhi running the Boston Marathon without while bleeding through her sports shorts. Poet Rupi Kaur also became notable in the movement when an image of her menstrual blood on her pants and bed sheets was repeatedly removed from Instagram that same year.
Florence* works in the women’s health industry and regularly practices free bleeding, especially on the last few days of her period when her flow is lighter. Her reasons behind why she chooses to forgo pads and tampons range from political to very personal and stem from her comfortability with the female body.
“I started to see some articles pop up online about free bleeding and it resonated with me, I thought I could do that. In my job I see women’s bodies in all different states, on their periods and not, just after child birth or leading up to it, so I’m pretty comfortable and open to the process”.
The logistics behind free bleeding when you’re a hard working professional woman are surprisingly simple for Florence. She wears darkly coloured full underwear in natural fibres. Nothing lacy, small or synthetic. That just won’t do the job! Her work uniform also helps her to free bleed. Any leakage would never be noticed due to its style and colour.
“I do a lot of washing during my period week and make a lot of trips to the bathroom to make sure I’m doing okay and not leaking in a way that might show. That’s the downside. But I think it’s no different to how I acted when I used pads. I’m used to it now”.
Florence acknowledges that free bleeding will never be for everyone but that she is lucky enough to be able to make that choice. So many women the world over are forced to free bleed in shame, as they are unable to gain safe access to sanitary products.
“Sometimes I’ll use a pad on the first day of my period. I know my body well enough now that I’ll know if I need it. It’s really taught me to listen to my body and not be ashamed of its natural processes”.
With our now Prime Minister Scott Morrison promising to ‘axe the tax’ applied to sanitary products in Australia and Scotland recently declaring that it’s students will have access to free pads and tampons, it does seem that the stigma surrounding menstruation is slowly lifting. But we need women the world over to be able to bleed safely and with comfort in the way that best suits them without the fear of shame or prejudice. Until then we’ve got a long way to go, baby.
*Not her real name
Words by Alicia Franceschini