Every woman remembers the first time that they got their period and the whirlwind of questions that came with it. Thankfully, today’s pre-teens have more and more resources at their fingertips.
For 23 years Dr. Melissa Kanghas was the voice behind the Dolly Doctor in the sealed section of Dolly Magazine. Remember that time when 12 year olds weren’t walking around with iPhones and the Internet didn’t even exist? Woaaah! Curious teens would rip open the perforated pages to reveal a world of sticky questions and sexual queries that might have been too uncomfortable to ask in person.
Now we have another way to handle bleeding like a boss! The brains behind Dolly Doctor, Dr. Melissa Kanghas has teamed up with ABC’s Yumi Stynes to create the ultimate menstruation manual for pre-teens (9-12 years). Welcome to Your Period is a modern, funny, inclusive and big-sisterish guide to getting your period… and what to do once it comes.
Okay pardon us, we’re a little bit star-struck, but we managed to get a one-on-one with the Dolly Doctor! Here are some questions that you may have been wondering yourself:
Over the many years of receiving questions as the Dolly Doctor, did you find that the nature of the questions you received changed?
Yes and no. There was a sort of cosmic reassurance that adolescence didn’t change – readers’ questions suggested that it remained full of angst and introspection and terrifying awareness of metamorphosing bodies, as well as the joy of discovering new found romance, sexual awakenings (mostly in fantasy), and the importance of peers and parents. The great majority of questions were about puberty-related body changes and seeking reassurance that everything was normal. The most noticeable change over time related to more explicit questions about genitals – such as pubic hair removal (how, how and how) and the consequent alarm when one’s labia (vaginal lips) became noticeable. This was without doubt due to the rise of accessible pornography and the normalisation of pubic hair removal.
Were you ever alarmed by reader questions?
The most alarming questions were not because of a dramatic revelation or disclosure, but rather the realisation that the double standard remained alive and well – girls feeling pressured to look or be sexy, and to please boys. Many questions showed that girls knew how to experience (solitary) pleasure and enjoy new sensations that came from their adolescent bodies, but not necessarily believing that this was something they were entitled to. Most Dolly readers were too young to be sexually active, but even for these young ones, there were sad stories about being ostracised or having rumours spread about them by boys.
What made you decide to help write this book?
It was an incredible opportunity to put everything I’d ever answered for Dolly Doctor into one place, with diagrams and illustrations. It was also wonderful to work with Yumi whose sense of humour and commitment to women’s issues were present in equal measure throughout. I wanted to help demystify and destigmatise not only periods, but our comfort in talking about them.
How can parents help alleviate the stigma around periods?
It’s good to start with oneself – to be aware of our own feelings about periods, and about our children growing up. Periods and puberty are naturally associated with sexuality, and this can be uncomfortable for parents. Yet – periods are so natural, half the population has them. If parents can feel comfortable first that will help reduce the stigma or taboo.
Being a good listener – your pre-teen might be worrying about something you didn’t have any inkling of – have conversations with them where you’re curious, wanting to understand what’s on their mind rather than jumping to conclusions. Taking your child to the supermarket and showing them where the sanitary products are, buying them together openly and not making a fuss. Asking and talking about periods, sharing our own stories. Basically, feeling that periods can be part of any conversation.
Are there moments when girls are more likely to get their period for the first time? E.g Travel, school camp. Why is this?
Many people are surprised at what an anticlimax the first period is. Sometimes it’s just a brown streak and nothing more. It’s no more likely to happen away from home than anywhere else and it’s unlikely to be anything dramatic – but it’s often a girl’s worst fear. The book tackles this fear and also what to do if you are caught out.
Can you give me five quick tips on how girls can prepare for getting their period for the first time?
· Learn the signs of your body getting ready – the most obvious one is an increase in vaginal secretions over several months, sometimes a year or more
· Get a hold of some period products (eg pads, tampons) and take a couple out of their packaging – have a look at them, feel comfortable handling them
· Get your period pack ready and keep it in your school bag or handbag
· Talk! To your friends, your parent or carer
· Read up on periods and look for answers to any questions you might have
Welcome to Your Period by Yumi Stynes & Dr Melissa Kang is now available at all good book stores.
Hardie Grant Egmont