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Do you still fear your vagina? Here’s how menstrual health affects your self-esteem.

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menstrual health

For quite a while, I would face utter disbelief when I would tell my girlfriends about how my dad was the one who educated me about menstruation, period cycles and sanitary napkins. I realised I was an exception— a rare flower born in a home with no gender disparity, where menstruation was considered a gift of womanhood and nothing less. I never understood their reaction, till I stepped out into the world and started weaving in words like ‘vagina’ and ‘menstruation’ into random conversations. Disgust, shock, repulsion, loathing are unfortunately pretty common responses to these words everywhere, especially in this country. Men (and women, too) expect us to talk in hushed voices, hide sanitary products in newspapers, and mock PMS or our highs and lows during our cycles.

Result: we as women are unwillingly and unknowingly taught to fear our vaginas. We are made to believe we are impure, that we have attitude issues and can’t tackle daily deeds as well as men can because they do not have ‘lady problems’. Yes, we have been pushed into shaming our own completely natural cycles. And over time, this has resulted in very, very low self-esteem related to ‘womanhood’.

Why do women have low self-esteem scientifically?

We hop on both sides of a hormonal see-saw throughout our cycles, making frequent highs and lows. Did you know that reduced levels of oestrogen can bring a dip in the release of serotonin (the happy hormone)? And for a regular cycle, oestrogen levels at their lowest for about 7-8 days in a month! Low oestrogen, meaning low serotonin, immediately leads to low self-esteem.

Another big chunk of biology that fluctuates our mood is testosterone. This hormone is directly connected with high self-confidence. And right before our periods, during the infamous PMS, testosterone levels drop considerably leaving us emotionally sensitive.

The worst part about these spurts of low self esteem is that they lead to other severe illnesses like depression, eating disorders related to stress or negative body image, anxiety and more.

On top of genuine, physical emotional triggers that tend to lower our self-esteem, social factors burden us into submission.

Why do women have low self-esteem socially?

All our biological differences are often considered weaknesses. Water retention, insomnia, cramps, and fatigue are pointed out as drawbacks in workplaces, schools, and even social events. I mean, there’s always been at least one instance in our lives even in parties where we were termed as a ‘spoilt sport’ if we refused to do something that’s uncomfortable to us, like dance, drink or jump in a pool!

Indians have even aided to low self-esteem with traditions that reduce women to impure, tainted or polluted beings while they are menstruating. Even today, small towners are restricted to dark rooms and made to sleep on the floor for those ‘treacherous four days’. Wouldn’t YOU loathe yourself and ask God ‘why me?’ when treated this way?

Another social obstacle has been open communication. Nobody likes this conversation even though something so natural and common needs to be talked about a lot more. When people are SO ashamed of talking about something openly, it instantly becomes wrong or immoral. Menstruation has been a taboo for too long and women have cowered into emotional walls for centuries due to this lack of communication.

How can we build up our self-esteem, even when our cycle refuses to let us?

Pamper yourself.

Or let someone close to you pamper you. Let’s face it ladies, we love being handed that cup of hot chocolate and tucked in cosy blankets every time Aunty Flo decides to visit. If you live alone like I do, make sure you give yourself enough time and attention. You truly deserve it— even biology says so.

Talk about it.

Whether its to clear up unnecessary taboos about PMS, or its simply an educative conversation about periods, get involved and be unashamedly loud. Periods are beautiful and powerful parts of being a woman, don’t let anyone get away with telling you otherwise.

Try breaking away from the social norms that don’t suit you.

It’s okay to take a walk or a nap when you need or a piece of cake. It’s fine if working harder makes you feel good instead of being cooped up somewhere. You can’t keep everyone happy, but you can live up to your own full potential. That will make you feel as strong and powerful as you actually are.

Share the love with fellow chummers.

It always helps when someone knows exactly how you feel and exactly what you want. Your girlfriends, soul-sisters and partners in social-combat will strengthen your esteem better than any family member, work-superior or social partner.

Know that it’s okay to feel low.

Your body is going through a lot of changes constantly, unlike men. Give yourself that space for errors and make room for some self-compassion. You and your body are both working very hard to prove yourself. It’s okay to step away from the task at hand and just feel everything you are feeling.

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