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Online content portrays menstruating women as weak and helpless, according to a new study

Period shame is real

Chelsea Ritschel
in New York
Tuesday 20 February 2018 01:09 GMT

Periods can be annoying, but they do not leave women weak and helpless, despite what pictures on the internet may suggest.

But if you search images of women on their periods, chances are they will depict women as helpless, angry, and emotional.

According to a new study, this portrayal negatively depicts the menstrual cycle.

Commissioned by Pink Parcel, a period subscription service, new research found that online websites actually reinforce harmful perceptions of menstruation - to the point where two in five women cite negative online content as a key cause of period shame.

Carrying out the research as part of a campaign to challenge problematic social stigmas around periods, the research revealed that search engines, stock image sites, and educational health pages are all guilty of perpetuating the idea that periods make women helpless, emotional, and ugly.

But the findings are not surprising when considering pictures online of women on their period often show them crippled in pain - with a review of period-related content from over 100 websites finding 91 per cent of images depicting periods show women looking weak, upset, or vulnerable.

The online portrayal of periods is problematic
The online portrayal of periods is problematic

While cramps can be painful, the images used to portray periods are far from accurate - as women rarely spend their entire periods curled up in the fetal position clutching their stomachs.

And according to a survey of 2,000 women, 56 per cent believe these images are not representative of their own periods and 40 per cent blame the images for making them feel ashamed or embarrassed by their periods.

Alycia Haynes, a representative for Pink Parcel, said: “It is little surprise period shame is so prevalent when demeaning images are continually perpetuated by the media and society. Our research has proven that this consistent stream of dramatised, unrealistic images is leaving those who experience periods feeling ashamed, embarrassed and reluctant to talk about them.

Periods do not mean women are helpless or weak
Periods do not mean women are helpless or weak

“There’s a whole spectrum of ways to experience periods, and while cramps and pain can often be involved, a period does not make a person any less strong, powerful or beautiful. I’M ON is about bringing this to the surface, making people think differently about something natural, normal and that affects 50% of the population,” Haynes continued.

But with images continuing to dramatise periods to the point that women are ashamed to discuss the subjects - even among friends - the portrayal of periods as moments of weakness continues.

Women are often shown curled up clutching their stomach to portray periods
Women are often shown curled up clutching their stomach to portray periods

In order to fight back against these negative and shameful stereotypes, women must be transparent about their periods - and online sites must consider not all periods are equal.

While some time may be spent curled up with a tub of ice cream, the truth is that periods do not stop women from living their lives - and they are nothing to be embarrassed about.

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