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Guaranteed to Bleed: how fashion supports the menstrual health movement

It’s uncomfortable enough on an overnight flight in economy class and to add to the discomfort my fellow flyer next to me decided she deserved more elbow room than her seat allowed. It was a sleepless battle of defending my wingspan that I can’t confess in the end I know who won. What I can confess to though, is how uncomfortable I felt when one of the flight attendants asked me about my shirt.

“Guaranteed to Bleed. Bleed where?” 

I first learned of Natalie B Coleman’s fashion line ‘Sisters’ when she unveiled it at London Fashion week. With feminine fringes and strong storylines she chose to dedicate the ‘Sisters’ line to UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. I must admit one of my guilty pleasures is dipping into the world of fashion from time to time. It had a circadian rhythm that would spring up usually around September every year-when Vogue would release their biblical yearly issue. Fun fact, up until recently I had a full collection of 10 years of Vogue September issues before passing them on to a fellow fashionista when I let go of my NYC apartment.

After discovering Natalie B Coleman, while her Sisters collection would seem more my style, I actually ended up gravitating to the ‘Guaranteed To Bleed’ shirt, which Natalie dedicated to Plan International. 

I admit, it’s been uncomfortable even for myself to wear the shirt- and not because it’s made with uncomfortable materials but because it forces people to ask or have the conversation. The first time I wore the shirt was the Sheffield Doc Fest, and when I posed to take a photo in it a man yelled out,

“What’s guaranteed to bleed?”

I’m terrible at hiding my true feelings so he surely saw some hint of an eye roll at that moment when I was forced to yell back across the openness of Tudor Square,

“Women every 28 days.” 

And before I could worry how he would react he said next,

“...until they’re about 48.” 

I smiled and with the expanse of the public space and screenings starting every few minutes, I escaped further conversation. Now, on this plane for the next 6 hours and stuck in a queue for a toilet I felt the uncomfortable conversation beginning.

“Guaranteed to Bleed. Bleed where?”
“It’s in reference to a woman’s menstruation. I am doing a documentary on it.”
“Oh, wow. Is that the name of it? Women go through a lot, it’s a good thing you’re making that.”

And then the man behind me in the queue spoke up, and began telling me about a former partner he had who had difficult menstrual cycles and who he believed used them as a reason to act crazy every month. Regardless of how odd the conversation got I became more comfortable as time passed. 

By the end of it I was thankful, and not just because it was my turn for the toilet, but because we were able to even have the conversation in a public space. I’ve worn the shirt a few more times now, and each time I wear it while I don’t hope to start a conversation with every stranger I see, I do enjoy how much more comfortable it feels to wear as time goes by. Fashion becomes the statement, and the statement creates the change. 

Lauren Anders Brown is a self-shooting documentary filmmaker making a film on menstruation in 4-7 days, the average time of a woman's period. Learn more about the documentary #Womenstruate and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @LABCollaborate.

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