8 Movies and TV Shows that Helped Normalize Periods
Period. Menstruation. Time of the month. Code red. Aunt Flo.
Have you ever thought of the million or so euphemisms we have invented for periods? They seem less like a normal bodily function and more like a secret mission. Ah yes, cue the Mission Impossible soundtrack as I try to sneak my way into the restroom with this neon-colored pad before I bleed through my jeans. Will I make it on time? What if I don’t? Do I even have any extra pads on my bag? Shoot, who do I ask for pads? God forbid someone overhears this “secret” of mine.
Periods have been subject to taboo both in real life and Hollywood stories. However, they really shouldn’t be. I mean, so many people experience them EVERY MONTH. Have you ever thought about that? It’s the worst kept “secret” in history.
For such a regularly-occurring and widely-affecting experience, periods should be something normal to talk about. So here are eight movies and TV shows that helped normalize conversations on this terrible Aunt who visits too often and who many of us seem to have.
My Girl is one of those sweet movies to watch during the afternoon, but honestly, nothing beats Vada (Anna Chlumsky) thinking that she is legitimately hemorrhaging when she first gets her period. It’s not until she tells her new stepmom, Shelly (Jamie Lee Curtis), that she is able to get the support that she needs.
Growing up, My Girl was one of the only movies I watched that showed a girl experiencing menstruation for the first time like a normal thing—scary at first without context, but normal at the end. Also, can we talk about how she pushes Thomas (Macauley Culkin) down after he suggests going out for a swim? As someone who still has only figured out pads, I relate to that so hard. It’s truly the icing on the cake.
On the episode “First and Last,” Diane (Marsai Martin) gets her first period. Unlike Vada, however, Diane has an entire support system of women in her family, including her older sister, her mom, and her grandmothers. Each woman has a different way of explaining periods: some more holistic, some more useful, and some more hilarious.
What I personally love about black-ish’s portrayal of periods is that it emphasizes having a support system. Yes, periods can be awkward the first time, but women supporting other women can increase awareness about what periods are, what to do, and so much more!
In the episode “Coming of Age,” Emma (Miriam McDonald) gets her period in class and ends up with a spot on her white skirt. She borrows huge basketball shorts to cover it up, but she is still teased by her classmates about the sudden change of clothes. In response, Emma tells them she got her period.
It’s such a small thing, but honestly, telling your whole class you got your period? In middle school? It sounds like a nightmare, and it shouldn’t have to be one. The fact that Emma later goes on to petition for tampon dispensers in the school’s bathroom only reinforces how important it is for us to be OK talking about periods in school scenarios.
In the episode “Forced Family Fun,” Sue Heck (Eden Sher) gets her first period in the middle of a family trip. While camping. In the woods.
True story: I actually once had my period start the morning that I was supposed to go camping with my friends. Do you know what I did? I still went, of course! What I love about The Middle is that Sue gets her first period in literally one of the worst places to have it, but she still deals with it and moves on with her trip like a champ!
In the episode “Menzies,” Jess (Zooey Deschanel) has her period and is honestly just a hot mess.
Full disclosure: I think I have watched about two episodes of New Girl. However, while doing research for this article, I was kind of shocked at how there were certain details about this episode that I just related to. Jess carries a hot water bag, the kind that my high school used to give to girls suffering from period cramps. She has weird mood swings just like I do. And her description of cramps? It made me think, “Ah yes, finally somebody put it into words!” I have no idea if New Girl is a good show, but this episode nails some aspects of having terrible cramps.
20th Century Women
Abbie (Greta Gerwig) says that she is menstruating, and everyone at the dinner party quiets down. Dorothea (Annette Bening) reprimands her for sharing the information. Abbie, however, keeps repeating the word, emphasizing that it really isn’t that big of a deal.
I’m not saying that everyone should start getting others to say “menstruation” during dinner, but I love how 20th Century Women highlighted that there really isn’t anything forbidden about the word. Menstruation is just that—a word. We should be free to say it out loud, not just in hushed, secretive whispers.
Period. End of Sentence.
Directed by Iranian-American filmmaker Rayka Zehtabchi, Period. End of Sentence. is a documentary that follows a group of Indian women in Hapur as they learn how to make cheap, bio-degradable sanitary pads, which they sell to other women at affordable prices. The documentary got a lot of attention earlier this year after winning an Academy Award.
There is a lot to love about this one, from the women acting behind the camera as well as the focus on women’s narratives. When it comes to periods, this one is a must-watch: it emphasizes many aspects of period advocacy, such as availability of period products and ending the taboo on periods.
No Strings Attached
As I was writing this article, this movie stuck with me. In it, Adam (Ashton Kutcher) makes his girlfriend, Emma (Natalie Portman), a period mix. I kid you not, it’s a mixtape about menstruating. It includes everything from “Sunday Bloody Sunday” to “Bleeding Love.” For some reason, I found this both creative and hilarious, and I just knew it had to be included on this list.
These are eight moments in TV shows and movies where periods were treated as normal, mundane things. Can periods be considered a passage of time? Absolutely. However, they are by no means a taboo or a secret.
Normalizing the conversation on periods is crucial for many reasons, but one of them is that it helps spread useful information to others. It enables younger girls to be better prepared for when they experience their first period. It allows for more people to know about period advocacy groups, like Period Equity and Alliance for Period Supplies. It informs women about their own periods, about what is normal and what isn’t, and about when they should consider contacting their gynecologist for a potential problem. Heck, it even makes it easier to ask someone for a pad when you find out you don’t have any!
Let’s talk about periods, both in real life and on the big screen. Let’s normalize periods in whatever way we can, even if it’s something as simple as a Spotify playlist.