Let’s call periods, periods – Keryn Matthew

Why is it always the most embarrassing moments that stand out in our memory? I can still remember being 15 years old, fumbling in my bag to find my purse only to yank it out and simultaneously send a ­tampon flying across the checkout – immediate silence ensuing from the teenage boy working on the till as we both stared at the brightly coloured wrapper in horror.

Miss Scotland, Keryn Matthew, talks at the 'Let's Call Periods, Periods' campaign
Miss Scotland, Keryn Matthew, talks at the 'Let's Call Periods, Periods' campaign

As the current Miss Scotland, I’m lucky enough to have a platform where I can use my voice to raise awareness of important issues. When I first heard of the new Let’s Call Periods, Periods campaign – an initiative by the Scottish Government that aims to end the stigma surrounding periods – I was transported back to that fateful moment at the checkout and knew I had to get involved.

Periods are something that are experienced by more than half of the population and yet we still feel a sense of internalised shame whenever they come up in conversation. We choose to cloud them in euphemisms like ‘time of the month’ and ‘Aunt Flo’ rather than just calling them what they are… periods.

When my friends and I were ­growing up, periods were a new, unfamiliar concept and there was no way we could have ever brought ­ourselves to utter the dreaded ‘P word’ to each other. Instead, we made the only ­sensible choice and opted instead to use our own personal euphemism, ‘cats’ as an alternative.

Twelve years of periods later, none of us are any wiser as to why we chose to use our feline friends as a metaphor but as teenagers apprehensively entering this new stage of our lives, this was about as much period chat as we could handle

Cat humour aside, period stigma is a big and serious issue. In the ­simplest form, it’s what leads to us feeling too embarrassed to talk about our ­periods. However, in more extreme cases period stigma can lead to people missing school, university, college or work, using products that aren’t fit for purpose or even letting medical issues go unchecked.

Recent research by ActionAid has shown that more than one in three women in the UK have experienced period shaming through bullying, isolation or ‘time of the month’ jokes and nearly half of UK women said they felt embarrassed the first time they got their period.

The same study also found that more than half of respondents admitted to hiding period products when carrying them to the toilet so as not to embarrass others, and 43 per cent said they did this because they thought people would embarrass them or make jokes.

But why is this the case – especially in an age when no topic appears to be off limits? Why are periods still taboo when they’re a monthly reality for ­billions of us all over the world?

I recently attended the Let’s Call Periods, Periods campaign launch in Edinburgh where young people, social media influencers and stakeholders all came together to have a big chat about periods. The conversations made it clear that while things might have moved on from my schooldays, there are still strides to be made.

Many said that they felt like they couldn’t speak about periods in front of their dads or male carers, something that struck a chord with my own experiences. I can remember countless times waiting until my dad had left the room to moan about my stomach cramps and I’m ­definitely not alone. In fact, 47 per cent of ­women confess to feeling uncomfortable talking about periods with their dads.

Others in the room admitted to hiding period products when going to the toilet out of embarrassment, something I remember vividly – having hidden tampons up my sleeve throughout most of high school.

With all of that said, after ten ­minutes chatting, the awkward glances had noticeably disappeared and people were beginning to open up about their own experiences – all of a sudden there was no such thing as an overshare. It just goes to show that when we do open up, seemingly taboo topics quickly become much easier to speak about.

Since then, I’ve made a conscious decision to be more forthcoming when I talk about periods. I no longer squirm when my mum mentions periods in front of my dad, I text my boyfriend and ask him to pick up ­tampons from the shop and I’ve finally ditched the euphemisms for good. I’m calling periods, periods and hopefully everyone else will start to do the same.

The Scottish Government’s Let’s Call Periods, Periods campaign aims to break down the stigma surrounding periods by encouraging people to just call them what they are… periods. By starting an open conversation around periods, the campaign seeks to make everyone feel more comfortable talking about them. Join the conversation online by using #TalkPeriods.

Keryn Matthew, Miss Scotland.