Biologically speaking, it’s never good news to discover blood exiting one’s body — and few girls would argue that getting their first period was a serendipitous splash o’ sunshine. In fact, reactions tend to range from embarrassed to freaked out to horrified.
But some moms are attempting to give the un-fun female phenomenon, um, a rosy glow by throwing their daughters “period parties.” Chronicled everywhere from the Washington Post to Parents magazine recently, the celebrations include crimson-hued treats like red velvet cake and occasionally, according to the BBC, a pin-the-tampon-on-the-vagina game. Comedian Bert Kreischer insists that his daughter’s Los Angeles friends all named their menstrual cycles at period parties; his progeny named hers “Jason” since it arrived on Friday the 13th.
I asked my friends if they’d ever thrown or attended such a fête. You know, like a bat mitzvah or quinceañera … but bodily fluid specific.
“God, no!” sputtered one.
“I would say that these are the most idiotic, unnecessary events ever thought up by bougie white people,” said another. “But gender-reveal parties are also a thing, so…”
Okay, then, how about something less Pinterest-boardy and more woo-woo? Santa Barbara residents Janet Lucy and Terri Allison have a whole chapter on “celebrating menstruation” in their 2012 book Moon Mother, Moon Daughter. They explain how the moon’s cycle mirrors that of menarche, and describe a ritual with an altar of flowers, baby pictures, baby shoes, red candles, and burning sage. A “spiral-wombed goddess figurine” is passed around the gathering of women as each takes a turn sharing memories of her own “first moon,” and the girl-turned-woman is invited to ritualistically step over a red ribbon to join the adults on its other side.
“That’s an extra-special way to begin alienating your teen girl, if you haven’t already,” says the mother of a teenage daughter. “It’s her personal business, not the world’s.”
Besides the creepy Handmaid’s Tale vibe of honoring girls for their newfound ability to conceive, and the obvious fact that we don’t throw wet-dream galas for pubescent boys, period parties just seem 13 flavors of awkward. Girls are hitting puberty earlier and earlier, but these years remain the pinnacle of self-consciousness; no 9-year-old wants to be congratulated for being of child-bearing age.
That said … Aunt Flo can be a tough bitch to manage. And having your childhood end suddenly, randomly, and with a mess you now have to control for 40ish years — well, it’s traumatic. Add the fact that our Knuckle-Dragger-in-Chief still dismisses an assertive woman journalist as a hormonal harpy with “blood coming out of her … wherever,” and it’s easy to imagine young girls feeling shame, confusion, and even panic about the party-worthy perks of ladyhood.
So maybe “party” is the wrong word. What if, instead of ordering uterus-shaped balloons and ensuring that our dessert’s hue is a thoroughly gaggy garnet, we fashioned first-period shindigs as a sort of … insider’s info session? There’s lots to learn, after all, from flow management to cramps management to mood management — and the can’t-be-overstated YOU CAN NOW BECOME PREGNANT piece.
“A lot less head-in-the-sand and more this-is-what-we-all-go-through support would have been greatly appreciated,” says a friend who was utterly in the dark when her own period arrived.
I know moms who welcomed their daughters to the club with a tasteful item of jewelry or a day of side-by-side pedicures and womanly chitchat.
“Honoring growing up is important,” says a young woman I know, and the best way to acknowledge a first period lies “somewhere between a bonfire worshipping the moon goddess and a facts-of-life book placed on a pillow with no follow-up discussion.”
But the best feedback came from a 12-year-old girl. “I wouldn’t have a full-on party, because I don’t want everyone knowing,” she told me. “And I like my mom’s friends, but … the idea of them all sitting down and talking about their period is a bit cringey!”
I feel ya, kid. I’m one of your mom’s friends, and even I don’t want to hear that. I’ll say this, though: With diva cups, menstrual discs, and all the fancy new absorbent underwear, being on the rag is going to be easier for your generation than it was for ours.
But it’ll never be a party.
Starshine Roshell is the author of Lather, Rage, Repeat.