Friday, February 15, 2013

It's hard being a girl - at least it used to be

Earlier this week I was watching The Agony of Life on ABC1, a show where well-known and (to me) not well-known people talk about life, the universe and not quite everything. No, not this blog. I wish they did. More readers would be good.

But I digress. Back to the show. This week it was all about the teen years, with guests revealing, to a man and woman, they were NOT cool kids. I can relate to that!

One of the questions presenter Adam Zwar posed was "How did your parents tell you the facts of life?" Ah, The Talk! The answers were varied and often hilarious.

Unlike laconic comedian Judith Lucy, who was a late bloomer ("I didn't have breasts until I was nineteen. I woke up one morning and THEY'D ARRIVED!") I was an early starter.

I was ten when Mum sat me down with a book on Menstruation (aka The Talk). It looked very dated - 1950s or early 1960s.  It was supposed to be written in a friendly style but friendly styles in those days were very stilted. People were embarrassed to talk about the fact that once a month girls start bleeding like stuck pigs. It was full of diagrams, and dry paragraphs. I read it and decided I didn't want to get my periods; sadly I didn't have much choice in the matter and a few months later found blood in my knickers one morning.

Couldn't find an English language ad but this brings back bad memories.
Well, if that wasn't bad enough, sanitary napkins in those days were a far cry from today's. We're talking early 70s. These things were the size of surfboards. And stick-on pads were just about to come onto the market. However, that was a year in the future and the only option was to wear Modess panties, bloody huge underwear with a plastic gusset in the crotch, and elastic strips at each end of the gusset. The sanitary napkins - oh bugger that, call them pads - were stuck under the elastic to hold it in place. I swear these knickers creaked and squeaked when you moved. They didn't hold the pads in place very well either, I was always conscious of the stupid things moving up my back or creeping forward. I was embarrassed beyond belief. I cried every month.

I can't tell you how unspeakable these were.
The other option was the sanitary belt. The pads in those days had foldout strips at each end which you could shove into the little rings on the sanitary belt. The belt was adjustable/elastic. The idea was it would hold the pad in place. I tried it. And tried it. And tried it. It didn't.

Worst of all about wearing surfboards in your underwear was that if you wore jeans or trousers - and I was a tomboy, I LIVED in jeans! - the stupid things were just a bit visible. From behind it looked like you'd crapped your pants. From the front...well, you looked a bit like a boy. I had to be paid to wear a dress in those days. The idea of having to wear a dress or skirt for at least five days a month was abominable so I stayed in jeans and rocked the got-a-willy/crapped-my-pants look.

Then stick-on pads became available. I begged Mum to buy me some. Anything but those creaky, sweaty plastic knickers. These days stick-on pads are pretty good. They have 'wings' to stop leakage. The adhesive is great. They are much thinner than they used be; bless technology. The 1970s stick on pads were shockers. They were still surfboard sized, they still were visible in trousers, but the adhesive was hopeless. One little strip down the middle that didn't stay stuck for very long, so the pad started creeping around your underwear. This meant - oh yes - they leaked.

Sick of having bloodstains on my jeans I regretfully started sticking the would-be stick-ons to the plastic knickers as the adhesive stuck to the plastic quite well. I was one of those unlucky girls who had heavy periods, and heavy period pain to go with them. I envied girls who only bled lightly for three days. I had one week a month of misery.

Then there was the whole palaver of taking spare pads to school to change at lunchtime; they looked pretty obvious and I used to hide them in my brown paper bag with my sandwich and apple.

I wonder if pad technology would have been a lot better a lot earlier if more women had been involved in the development process. I'm guessing that in the 60s and 70s most of the scientists working on sanitary products were men. Being men they were probably embarrassed about the whole job, and certainly didn't talk about their work down at the local pub. They probably said they were working on kitty litter or something instead. Seriously, consider wings on modern pads. A woman had to think that one up, surely. And probably borne of leakage experience. A bloke wouldn't consider something so logical. If they could make pads in the 70s with long strips at either end, they could have made them with strips at the side. But they didn't.

I was so glad the day I discovered tampons.  But girls these days, with a wealth of ultra-thin, ultra-absorbent, wing-bearing pads to choose from - they don't know how lucky they are!