Animation by Alice McGillicuddy and Fiona Blyth
By: Jillian Desirée Oliveras
Kiran Ghandi - name sound familiar? Maybe you know her from her drum stylings with MIA, but most folks know the name because of her running the 2015 London Marathon on the first day of her period without using any menstrual products. While the concept of free bleeding has been around since, well, forever (disposable pads became available in 1888 and the modern day tampon wasn’t around until 1929), menstruation tends to be a taboo subject for most. Ever had that coworker get grossed out when you mention being on your period and not feeling great? Yeah, me neither *eye roll*.
Free bleeding is exactly what it sounds like, going through menstruation in the most natural way possible; no pads, no tampons, no cups… no blocking or collecting the period flow. The reasons people choose to free bleed can range from comfort to environmental concerns to simply not having a choice.
Did you know that, on average, a menstruating person throws away seven pounds of menstrual products (tampons, pads, panty liners…) a year? That adds up - fast! Like Ghandi herself said, “bodies have never been burdensome to the Earth, and the products we use to care for ourselves should not be either.” Free bleeding is only one of many alternatives we have nowadays to reduce our period-related waste (other options include menstrual cups and reusable pads). A great way to begin experimenting with free bleeding is period underwear, such as Thinx, which at least provides some protection so you don’t have to worry about staining clothes and/or seats and go about your days comfortably. They even make running shorts!
In regards to comfort, many people report feeling less cramp pain when free bleeding (including Ghandi during her run) and there’s always the clear comfort of not having a foreign object inside your body inhibiting the natural menstruation process. It also eliminates the stress of having to switch out a tampon or empty out a cup after a certain amount of hours.
For some folks, however, free bleeding is simply the norm because they lack the resources for other alternatives. In many countries, menstrual products are taxed as “luxury” items, making them completely inaccessible to a huge chunk of the population. In fact, there are only eleven states in the US that DON’T tax these products (Minnesota, Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, and Ohio according to NPR and CNN).
Free bleeding provides a new point of view when it comes to menstruation, it encourages open discussion about periods and our bodies in a society where talking about bodily functions is frowned upon or seen as taboo. Free bleeding provides better knowledge of your body and, hence, yourself (while being better for the environment). Free bleeding is a protest, it’s empowerment.
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