Bruna: Now let’s talk about your thesis because I think that was partly the result of you meeting more feminist people here. How did the idea to talk about periods come to your mind?
Ale: First, I want to say that one of the things that I was really interested in experiencing the feeling of freedom as a woman. In my country, I always felt that as a girl, I needed to “behave” and everyone needed to take care of me. Here I can do whatever I want, I can be whoever I want. I can say what I think and I don’t have someone asking me when I’m gonna get married and have babies. And here I don’t feel the fear of being outside on the streets, I don’t feel like something bad is gonna happen to me. Without fear and pressure, I can explore around more and understand myself better. So during my master’s, I was studying with six females and all the time they were complaining about their periods. I didn’t do that because my period, thank God, is not that heavy. But then I started thinking that maybe this is actually not a problem! I mean, why do periods always have to be about pain, about something bad, you know? Maybe there’s something else there… Something good! And I didn’t know what I was going to find at the end of this research, but what I found out is that we are missing a lot of knowledge about our menstruation cycle and about our bodies.
Bruna: So was that the conclusion of your master’s or--
Ale: One point of my conclusion is that there are a lot of biological processes that we are not aware of, and if we were, we could use that information to perform better in our daily lives. For example, if we know what’s happening in the ovulatory phase, that we are, let’s say, more extroverted, more energetic, we could use this information to schedule important meetings, go out on dates and networking meetups, etc. It’s also important to be aware of our biology because there are a lot of people suffering from wrong diagnoses, for example with endometriosis. We are taught that feeling pain is normal, but how much pain is normal? That’s subjective so if you hear your whole life that periods are hurtful, maybe it doesn’t even cross your mind that you might be suffering from a medical condition. And if you find out about that later in life, maybe it can have some consequences like making you infertile and others. And people are afraid of going to the gynecologist and asking about these things. So it’s still taboo, we are still afraid of talking about these issues. And if this taboo is affecting our health, it’s affecting everything in our lives.
Bruna: Is there something very interesting that you found out with your research, something that you were like, “Oh my God, really? I didn’t know about that!”
Ale: Basically the core insight is that we don’t own our periods. The market owns it, they have a voice for us. But we don’t, it’s not our voice or mindset. It’s not our version of how we talk about it, or how we perceive periods. It’s the market version, and we know men are in power in social, political, and also in the marketing spheres. So marketing is usually selling us the idea of periods should be “flowery, fresh”, and not “smelly”, like you should refresh yourself because periods “smell bad”. Or when you say tampons and pads are hygienic, logically you are saying that period blood is dirty, you know? So it was really interesting to see during my research that a lot of people really wanted to express different perspectives of periods: more organic, more natural, less taboo. I mean, yes of course we appreciate that someone created these period products because every menstruator has benefited from them at some point. But if you think about some connotations attached to this “lady-like” marketing…
Bruna: It “has to” be “feminine”, right? Like using a lot of pink color, not showing blood on the ads, because it’s “disgusting“…
Ale: Yeah, and this has been in the media for so long that we are not even aware of the connotations we receive from the media. These are the misconceptions we have been listening to while growing up, and I want to just cross this past and rewrite our future. That’s why I use the cross line in some of my visuals, to make people aware of what’s in the past and how it can be from now on. For example, I crossed the sentence “behave like a lady” and I wrote “behave like yourself” in the packages. The package itself can be a strong asset to show these stereotypes and misconceptions and fight against them. Also during the research, I heard from people new and really inspiring perspectives about periods. I made mock-ups based on what they would consider being the design of their dream packaging for period products. I saw some really interesting things. For example, they would like to see quotes of powerful women, information about how their body works, etc. They also want to get knowledge about the different period products since nowadays there are different products like cups and panties, so menstruators would like to understand which product fits them better. So there’s this need for knowledge, people are open to learning, but they also want their point of view to be heard by the brands. And that’s what is happening slowly with some Berliner brands like Einhorn, and The Female Company. So basically my thesis was about these two things: exposing the taboo and showing an updated, more realistic point of view of menstruators.
Bruna: I love the fact that you say menstruators and not “women”, you know what I mean? It’s more inclusive. I myself say women almost automatically, but the truth is that men, who are trans, and also some non-binary people can also menstruate.
Ale: That’s one of the reasons we need diverse points of view about this topic. In my research, I tried to talk to different kind of people. It’s important to think about all the types of menstruators and people were very generous and opened up about this kind of “oh so shameful taboo” - sometimes more freely, but sometimes more shy as well. But when I gave people the opportunity to discuss and think deeply about menstruation, they opened up and gave me the opportunity to have different perspectives about it, which I’m very grateful for.
Bruna: Yeah, that’s actually very interesting to notice how people can get shy or a bit uncomfortable talking about this “taboo”. I remember when we were talking about your project months ago, you mentioned some women wanted to hide their period products even at home. Could you talk a bit about that?
Ale: It’s a really controversial topic because, in some of the interviews for the research, some women were like “I don’t care. I can talk openly about it - but I don’t want people to see me going to the bathroom carrying my tampons or pads. I don’t want them to see that, but I can talk openly about it” and I was like, this is so controversial. I mean, some people are very period positive and really active and loud about this topic, which is nice. But also some people don’t want to make a big deal of it and that is also a valid position. You can be a reserved person, who also wants to talk about it, but in a discrete form. So when I asked them to take pictures of where they keep their menstrual products, some of them just showed me the shelves closed.
Bruna: Oh, they didn’t even open the shelves to really show you the products? That’s interesting.
Ale: Yes, and there were people who didn’t hide those products at all. It was close to their personal objects and personal things. I thought that was also interesting because they really consider those products to be part of their personal life. So I wanted to use the advantage of this situation and created bold packages, in case you have visitors, partners at your place, they can spot the packages, get curious about it and start a conversation about periods and their stereotypes.