Your Great Great Grandmother’s Period (And beyond)

Your Great Great Grandmother’s Period (And beyond)
By: Haley Guerin

        Have you ever experienced that moment when you peel back a fresh pad when you need a little replacement and thought about how thankful you are for it? There is still a great deal of innovation needed in the period care space, however it is important to celebrate the little wins menstruators have gained over past centuries as period care technology has changed, empowering womxn with better options for their health. Grab your favorite tea and let’s jump into some menstrual history!

        When looking at the history of periods, it is important to note that men have traditionally been in power positions and they were the ones who essentially wrote history due to their heightened position in society. With this in mind, the information you may read about periods from past centuries may be misleading, so always consider your source. For example, an Ancient Roman philosopher named Pliny wrote that menstrual blood could destroy crops and, if consumed, would allow a womxn to be fertile for life. Thanks for that great info, Pliny. 

        Speaking of ancient times, Ancient Egyptians were believed to have made tampons out of papyrus which is essentially a material that resembles thick paper and had many uses from a surface on which to write papers to material for making boats. The Ancient Egyptians thought menstrual blood could even cure sagging skin. However, Ancient Egyptians were not the only ancient civilization with methods of dealing with menstruation. Ancient Greek womxn were thought to have created their own version of the tampon by wrapping lint around a stick of wood. Sounds luxurious, no? Other Ancient Greek womxn opted for a more flexible option by using sea sponges as tampons. This is still practiced today. However, do not be fooled by your childhood mermaid fantasies––using sea sponges as tampons is highly discouraged by gynecologists due to the bacteria and debris they carry. Do not try this one out at home!

        Moving forward a bit in time, womxn started using rags to absorb their period blood, leading to the phrase “on the rag” to describe being on your period. Should we bring it back? All jokes aside, this medieval time period was challenging for womxn because of the heavy influence of the church at the time which held that menstrual blood was a source of shame and it was dirty. In fact, it was believed that if one drank menstrual blood, it would cause leprosy! There was also a common belief at this time that frogs and toads could cure painful diseases or experiences––including period cramps. A heavy flow and cramping were dealt with by boiling a toad and placing the ashes around the vagina. Gag!

         Let’s hop to the 19th century. The 1800s saw a great deal of innovation in the menstrual space starting with the coining of the term “period” to describe menstruation in 1822. The first technology similar to the modern day pad was invented as well: the sanitary apron. It was basically a rubber apron that had a strip running between the legs. However, as you can imagine, they were pretty stinky and uncomfortable. In 1896, the first commercially available, disposable pad was released in the United States. It was called “Lister’s Towels”. Bound to be a huge success, right? Well, not really. The product basically flopped harder than willpower in the face of chocolate because womxn were not buying them. Menstruation was still highly taboo, so womxn were afraid to buy these products for fear of being looked down upon. 

          Moving right along, the roaring twenties were not just a saucy time for flappers, but for menstruators too. French WW1 nurses created a pad out of acrylic cotton which was used in the war to absorb bleeding from battle wounds. Kotex then heard about this idea and created a commercial pad that was made of cellulose. Even the Lister’s Towels made a resurgence after getting some new branding. With all of these innovations in the pad space, sales finally started taking off. However, these pads were not treated as the necessary items as we understand them to be today. Instead, most of these sales were attributed to wealthy womxn––not the general menstruator population. 

        Tampons also joined the period marketplace in the 1920s, but they were not a hit. Pad sales overpowered tampon sales because at the time, tampons did not have an applicator and they had an annoying tendency to leak. In fact, it wasn’t until 1931 that the modern tampon was invented––yes, this one has an applicator and is made of cotton. Also in the 1930s, the menstrual cup was also invented. However, like every period device, it was not popular when first released to the market. In fact, it would not be until the 21st century that menstrual cups would gain popularity. 

         In the late 1900s, there were no new period products invented. Instead, the period products invented earlier in the century were experiencing a bit of a glow up to make them more efficient and accessible. In 1969, the adhesive strip was introduced to pads. In 1985, the word “period” was spoken out loud for the first time in a commercial. This was huge in helping to destigmatize periods and create a safe space for womxn to talk about them. However, they were still highly regarded as taboo at the time. 

        Our time machine ends here. Period innovation has certainly come a long way since wrapping lint around wooden sticks. However, there is still so much work to be done in the period space, especially when considering the social aspect of periods as we work to destigmatize them. At Viv for your V, we are playing our part in revolutionizing the menstrual space by creating period products that are the most sustainable option on the market, are affordable, and show your body tons of love with natural ingredients. Viv is making her mark on history with the belief that periods should empower, not shame, womxn. How will you play your part in changing the historical narrative on menstruation? 


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