Menarche: Representation in Media and Short Films

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

How do I cite this article ?

Singh, P (2020, September 9). Menarche: Representation in Media and Short Films. BeyondBlood.

Menarche is an extremely confusing and isolating experience and conversations around it is treated as a taboo and the overwhelming under-representation in media is both the result and facilitator of the silence around the subject and adds to the isolation and confusion around it. Despite being an important aspect of female hygiene, menstruation never makes it to conversation and spaces in Bollywood movies and/or Indian television, even when it should take up space in the narratives. The lack of representation is facilitated by the silence around menstruation even within families and friends. With growing forms of media, a new form of entertainment that has grown in recent times is ‘Short Films’, which are mostly 10-20 minutes long and are released on online platforms like Youtube. They generally have a small setup and a deal with one or two themes.

Short Films, although being produced since the 1990s, have gained a lot of support, attention and audience since the internet boom, as it gave them a platform to reach a wide audience and have become a great medium for independent and low budget creators to make an impact. In stark contrast to the mainstream feature films in India, short films, a lot of times, pick up topics that are underrepresented and considered taboos. Such short films are refreshing ways of representing marginalised issues, even though they are not always represented accurately. One of the issues that a lot of short films have tried to portray is centred around menstruation, with menarche being an important aspect of it.

Menarche, a crucial part of the menstrual cycle, refers to the first menstruation cycle experienced by people who menstruate. It begins between the age of 11-15 years, with the mean age being 13 (Raina and Balodi, 2014). The experience of menarche and menstruation are more often than not concealed in embarrassment and humiliation, and the way menstruation is perceived largely impacts the experience of menstruation. Menstruation in the society is not discussed and continuously occupies a space in the ‘private’ sphere of the home, where it can be discussed only by the female members of the family. Women are taught to recognise menstruation as a 'limitation' in a male-centric world and reinforce and sustain the devaluation of menstruation and female biological characteristics (Coutts and Berg, 1993). Due to the lack of conversation, knowledge and information around menstruation and menarche, as well as the experience of menarche for young girls leads to one of humiliation and concealment. Not having enough or correct knowledge leads to confusion regarding the changes in the physical and mental aspects of the body.

For most women, any knowledge about menstruation comes from their mothers, that too at a time when they have reached menarche (Raina and Balodi, 2014). This knowledge is often communicated in the form of anxiety, and more often than not is more concerned with how to conceal menstruation from the rest of the world, rather than adequate knowledge and information about the process. The mothers' unwillingness to educate and talk openly about menstruation leads to ignorance, unsafe menstrual hygiene practices, and internalisation of myths and taboos around menstruation (Kaul, Arora, et al, 2012). An initial and open conversation about menstruation and menarche is important to alleviate the negative feelings associated with it rather than just treating it as a transitional phase. If the conversation around their feelings, anxieties and concerns are omitted, menstruating adolescents take on negative connotations regarding the issue and can develop other issues such as anxiety (Chopra and Sharma, 2011). Another important aspect to note, when it comes to lack of representation of menstruation or menarche, is the continued experiences of humiliation from the very early stage, contributes to menstruating bodies self-medicating, and makes it difficult to get medical attention towards health issues related to menstruation.

Misconceptions and unhygienic menstrual practices are the consequences of shame and exclusion associated with it which leads young girls to abstain from social activities, distance themselves from public spheres and miss school (Chandra-Moul and Patel, 2017). This shame stems from no representation or conversations around menstruation in media or even families. A major part of this shame and humiliation comes from the consistent efforts made by females to hide and conceal menstruation from male members in the family and/or the society. This builds upon the idea that menstruation is ‘impure’, ‘dirty’ and shouldn’t be discussed openly, which in turn becomes a reason enough to restrict and control a woman’s movement in and out of the public and private spheres. In India, even though menstruation being a part of the curriculum in 8th and 10th grade, is either altogether skipped or not discussed in detail. Adolescent boys, even if they know what menstruation is, have no in-depth understanding of it and whatever information they get are from informal sources such as advertisements, overhearing a conversation or practice of certain myth and ritual by the family (for example menstruating bodies not being able to enter temples or kitchen while they are menstruating). This is what leads to common negative attitudes towards menstruation which further isolates the experiences and emotions of non-menstruating bodies (Mason, Sivakami et al, 2017).

Thus, measurement and information around menstruation and menarche become necessary in making sure that menarche is not a traumatising and humiliating experience for anyone (Radha and Chellappan, 2015). The first point of information will always be family, and thus families must be open to conversations around menstruation and can provide adequate information and emotional support to someone who is going through menarche. How one’s family reacts and communicates with a menstruating body for the first time plays an important role in determining their experience of menarche and their subsequent attitude towards menstruation. The next point of contact and information are teachers and school, which have the responsibility to provide accurate and in-depth factual knowledge to both menstruating and non-menstruating bodies. However, the result is that both these points of contact either don’t talk about menstruation or talk about it in such a way that it adds to the myths and taboos around it. Adolescent girls who experience menarche or witness their friend experiencing it, mostly don’t receive information from their teachers (Raina and Balodi, 2014). The first reaction is to teach menstruating bodies how to ‘conceal’ and ‘hide’ the fact that they are menstruating and not why they are menstruating, what it means, and what are the hygiene practices associated with it. This becomes even more important when we are talking about India, where period poverty is extremely high and menstrual hygiene is accessible to a very low population.

Media is one of the most powerful ways of disseminating information, opinions and knowledge about any issue. Popular media both reflects and perpetuates widespread notions and perceptions. Thus, it is the media which can play an important role in opening up and starting a conversation around menstruation and make it a ‘comfortable’ topic