It was a hot day in June. My colleague and I had been sifting compost in tandem for the greater part of it, and I was ready to stop. To my relief, she suggested quitting first, explaining that she was extra tired due to her period. I nodded in understanding, glad that this wheelbarrow would be our last for the day. She added casually that her cycle had actually been much better now that she had switched from tampons to pads — reusable pads.
I did a double take. I had never liked the idea of pads in general, but here was a friend who I respected, who shared the same passions for reducing waste and embracing all things reusable. Up until then, however, the word “reusable” in my life had only come before “shopping bag” and “sandwich bag” — those were bandwagons I could jump on. But reusable pads? I knew that I would have to try them. I listened with a mixture of interest and dread as she told me about the benefits and where she had found them, and by the end of the day I had ordered three of them (light, medium, overnight) from Etsy, reassuring myself that this was only a trial run, and that if I hated them, I could return to my beloved Kotex tampons.
As much as I had been dreading the trial run, I was shocked at how much I took to them. They were comfortable, and after two days I noticed that I didn’t notice them at all, no more than I did underwear. And while the snap wings secured them in place during wear, they also allowed me to fold the pads into a neat little parcel until they could be cleaned. Cleaning took no time at all, as I simply rinsed or soaked the pad, then tossed it in the washing machine with the rest of the laundry. *We always add vinegar as a fabric softener when washing clothes, but this can also double to kill bacteria, if this is a concern.
I soon began telling all of my closest girlfriends (and some friendly women strangers) about my new practice. But I didn’t receive much enthusiasm.
Gross! Do you really reuse them? Yuck! Are they like diapers? (No, they are like pads, but with snap or button wings.) And my personal favorite – Ewwww! My husband, who would rather do the dishes than discuss my menstrual cycle over coffee, even grew confused at the reactions I was getting. After telling one friend in particular (a life-long user of disposable pads) of my switch, she wrinkled her face and gave me the most striking answer of all.
“There are some things that we were made to evolve from,” she said, her face still in a grimace. She thought for a second before adding, “I just can’t handle blood.”
I was dumbfounded, until I sensed what was actually under her squeamishness: Shame.
How Marketing Affects Our Feelings
I have thought back to that particular conversation often, trying to piece together what could have lead this strong woman who had birthed children to shy away from the very process that helped to enable her to get pregnant in the first place.
One of the answers lies in the way feminine products are marketed. Women have historically been told that they are “unclean” while menstruating. What better way to reinforce this idea than through the image of an embarrassed woman on her period in commercial and magazine ads? Disposable feminine products are often advertised with words such as “fresh” and “clean,” because it will resonate with women who already feel psychologically and physically “dirty” on their period. Ever wonder why feminine products are white? It sure seems an odd color for something that is going to be stained red in a short time. The color white is often associated with purity and cleanliness, just the tool needed to encourage a brand new pad or tampon once one has become soiled. Furthermore, many tampons are available in mini-versions that fit unnoticed in your hand or pocket, so that there is no need to carry a purse to the restroom, thus reinforcing that menstruating is embarrassing and should be kept discreet.
It comes as no surprise then, that somewhere along the way, in our journey for women’s suffrage, work outside the home, equal pay, and the ability to choose our form of birth control, we forgot to stop being ashamed of our periods.
To be fair, I do not announce with a bullhorn each time I go to the bathroom to change my pad, and I acknowledge that we have certainly come a long way from putting money in a designated box and running out with our feminine parcel. I also have no qualms admitting that I like to clean my pads as quickly as possible. But I ask this:
Have we truly “evolved” if the hygienic practice we have adopted leaves us with more waste than we began with and in turn hurts the rest of creation? And how can we truly take part in this feminist generation when our faces crumple up in disgust at the thought of dealing with our period for a second longer than it takes to flush a tampon down the toilet?
The Faςade of Convenience
Possibly the biggest reason why women purchase disposable feminine products is because they appear to be less work. Disposable products in general usually come in single-use, individually-wrapped packages, and over the years society has become hardwired to believe that this packaging naturally leads to convenience. But this mindset also leads to more landfill waste. Pair this with the chemicals that enter our waterways due to disposable feminine products, and the extra minute spent cleaning a reusable option seems no longer an inconvenience, but a necessity.
The Benefits of Reusable Feminine Products Broken Down
Less Cost = More Savings
When I committed to reusable pads 1.5 years ago, I spent $60 on a good supply of cotton pads to comfortably use, wash, and dry in between wearings during one period. This amount is not much higher from what I used to spend on tampons each year, and about the average of what most women spend on tampons or disposable pads each year. Considering that reusable products can last for several years, switching from disposable to reusable can save a woman hundreds of dollars in her lifetime. Plus, in purchasing reusable pads, women are supporting small businesses and helping other women.
Less or No Chemicals = Better Health
You would think that something that is placed inside or against the most sensitive parts of our bodies would be free of harmful toxins, right? Think again. Tampons boast harmful ingredients such as “trace amounts” of dioxin (a known carcinogen residual from the bleaching process which has been linked to endometriosis), rayon, and polypropylene — just to name a few — all in very close proximity to sensitive membranes. Add pesticides and insecticides to that list for the non-organic cotton used. Many women who have made the switch to reusable products (including my friend who first introduced me to reusable pads) experience less cramping during their periods, and a lighter and sometimes shorter flow, which may be attributed to the lack of chemicals in their reusable feminine products. Many brands of disposable pads also contain skin irritants such as latex, chlorine, and other leftover residual bleaching agents, which cause uncomfortable itching and rashes in some women.
Less Waste = Cleaner Environment
The average American woman will contribute between 250 to 300 pounds of garbage in her lifetime — just in feminine product waste. If that doesn’t seem like a very high number, just multiply that number by 85 million — the current number of women in North America at the age of menstruation. Compound this with future daughters and granddaughters, and suddenly that number doesn’t seem so miniscule.
Interested in making the switch to reusable pads, but would like to do a trial run before making a commitment? Two lucky readers will have just that opportunity – for free! To one of my readers residing in the USA, Mamma Lotus from Etsy shop Lotus Pads is sending two of her super soft fleece/cotton print pads made from natural, upcycled materials: the regular absorbency “Talula” and the light-day “Rose.” One of my readers currently residing in South Korea will receive a starter set of very soft non-dyed, unbleached cotton reusable pads, including two panty liners, one light-day pad, and one regular organic cotton pad, from Korean-based Etsy shop LOHAN. Entering the giveaway is free and simple, read below to find out how.
Entering Stateside: For those currently residing in the States, simply visit Lotus Pads and then leave a comment at the bottom of this post telling me which of her items is your favorite, and which country you reside. Also, “Like” the Lotus Pads Facebook page for a second entry! Just leave a separate comment below telling me that you “liked” the page. The giveaway will close 11:59 pm CT on Friday, March 22.
Entering in South Korea: For those currently living in South Korea, just visit LOHAN‘s online shop and then leave a comment at the bottom of this post telling me which of the items is your favorite and which country you reside. The giveaway will close 2 pm on Saturday, March 23.
The winners will be chosen at random and alerted in a post the following day. Good luck!