Fourth grade. The inaugural year for the maturation videos. Girls in one room, boys in another. You are 10 years old and have just viewed Kimberly-Clark Corporation’s sexual education magnum opus: Julie’s Story. You are freaking the shit out. You thought the greatest offense you would suffer would be hair on your privates but no, you will also BLEED OUT OF YOUR VAGINA BUT DON’T WORRY YOU CAN STILL RIDE A BICYCLE. The video is scary. What if you are like Julie and you bleed into your pants during modern dance tryouts and you have to put toilet paper in your undies and wait in the library for your loudmouthed friend Tracy and your dance teacher to arrive and talk about maturation in a public place? What if Steve is there and he tells the whole bus on the way home from school?
You watch the video in a daze, scared to look around in case anyone is watching you to see your reaction, but it’s not a problem because exactly zero girls want to make eye-contact with anything except their shoes. You glance at your pamphlet during the post-video discussion. You can barely pronounce any of the words defined in the margins like “menstruation” and “endometrium” and “hypothalamus” so you flip to the back to the glossary and the first word is “anus” so you quickly flip back a few pages to some drawings of the inside of a girl’s body, which is actually more mortifying than someone thinking you are looking up the definition of “anus”. Except you keep staring at the drawings because they don’t make sense. There’s a full-on, front-view of the uterus, which seems somewhat self-explanatory, but then there’s this side-view drawing that looks like a spelunking map for a cave with arrows drawn to different passageways and circular rooms and you’re trying to figure out where you pee and where the baby comes out. And you will spend 6 more years looking at this side-view both within the Julie’s Story pamphlet and the pamphlet that comes in the tampon box as you try to figure out exactly how to use tampons because all the illustrations are shown from a side-view of a woman’s hip and how come nobody could just show a simple drawing of the front of a woman’s body and a tampon going in with arrows? Would that be so hard? Why do all the illustrations have to appear as if a woman’s private parts are all accessible through the side of her hip? You later realize it’s no wonder guys don’t understand women’s bodies if even girls only have these ridiculous side-view illustrations to go by and the unhelpful alternative of getting out a mirror and figuring out for themselves what’s going on down there. And why isn’t there more information on tampons? Like what it feels like when you’re putting one in and how far they go in and where they are in your body and how they won’t get loose and float up in your intestines? Super confusing.
The pamphlet/modern dance teacher goes on to explain that sometimes you may skip a period if you start a new school or move or do something exciting and you are not sure if this also applies to running for student council or having a birthday. You also learn that there are different types of “sanitary pads” to wear when you have your period. Some stick in your underwear and some are worn with a belt. You wonder if this is like when you have braces and wear neck gear. Like, do you wear a belt with your jeans and a pad hooks into it? Will everyone see the hooks? Could you just use suspenders instead? Can you wear a belt you already have or is there a belt that comes in a box with the pads? You look again into your pamphlet and see all the different types of pads. Some are thin, some are medium and some are thick. You think you will never remember all the rules. Thankfully, the school nurse says that the belts are outdated and you will only have the stick-on pads to use. Then you see a big pink text box about something called T.S.S. It says you may throw up and have diarrhea or faint or can even die if you use tampons! WHAT. SOMEONE CAN DIE FROM THEIR PERIOD. THIS IS WORSE THAN YOU THOUGHT. You flip another page in the pamphlet. WHAT. SOMETIMES PEOPLE CAN SMELL YOU ON YOUR PERIOD. You are officially on a European bullet puberty train heading straight for mortification central and you want it to smash straight into a mountainside. DOUBLE WHAT. YOU MAY FORGET A PAD AT SCHOOL AND HAVE TO BUY ONE IN THE BATHROOM OR ASK TO GO TO THE NURSE TO ASK HER FOR ONE. No. No way ever. When you get this period, you are going to stay home from school. Probably forever. At least until you graduate and go to college.
But then you flip another page and see this really cool ad for New Freedom Thin Unscented Maxi Pads with Funnel-Dot Odor Protection. The ad features these two popular looking girls. One is wearing turquoise overalls, a red and white striped t-shirt, yellow socks and a red baseball cap and she’s drinking a coke and holding a bag with Mrs. Grossman’s stickers on it. Her friend is trying on jeans and applying lipstick in a mirror while a hairbrush sticks out of her back pocket. The ground around them is littered with lots of plastic bracelets and boxes of clothes and some records. Hmph. Maybe getting your period will make you more popular. You turn a few more pages. You see another ad that features seven different boxes of pads and two girls dancing in raincoats with rainboots and umbrellas. They look like they’re having a pretty good time. Maybe they’re on their periods and they like it. Maybe getting your period just makes you feel cool. You’re still not entirely convinced.
But the class is over now. When you reconvene in home room, you are under strict instruction not to discuss with the boys what you’ve learned and to definitely not share your pamphlet with the pencil drawing of that side view of the naked girl with her anus coming out of her hip. You nervously and quickly shove your pamphlet into the back recesses of your desk, happy you don’t have to be exposed to this again until the 5th grade maturation video. And then your friend Scott runs in to the room and shouts, “A GIRL’S PRIVATE IS CALLED A VIRGINIA!”