You have all heard the classic female tale. Whether bleeding through your khaki uniform pants and your mom telling you, “You’re a woman now,” losing your virginity in the back of an old pick-up truck at summer camp, or becoming a mother after a seamless pregnancy and having your perfectly round-headed and healthy baby placed on your ready-to-breastfeed chest, you know these movie quality stories to be wildly uncommon. You instead, as resilient you are, guide yourself through the untold truth of femininity.
You throw away 100 tampons before knowing how to use one. You lose your virginity on a messy, confusing, and imperfect night and you experience birth in a deeply personal and courageous way that likely completely deviated from your best-laid birth plan. Yet, you, as a powerful and resourceful force of nature, figure it out. You talk to your friends, converse with the Google Search Bar, and overcome the unknown. Welcome to Self-Taught, where we discuss how women teach themselves about their bodies—because we’ve all been failed by school courses, perplexed by movie scenes, and embarrassed by conversations with parents and peers.
For far too long, flawed systems and unrealistic media have depicted the female body—the female experience—as too skinny, too fat, too messy or neat, disgusting or pristine, but rarely the truth that lies between every extreme. In Self-Taught, we’ll share stories of how women uncovered flaws in systems, products, and lore, and taught themselves that there is a better way—and they deserve better.
As a woman who works to highlight the strength of the women around her, whether through working for a female-founded company or creating her own docuseries, Generational Women, Alicia de Mello has used her platform to support sustainable and ethical practices. In doing so, these practices have also informed the way she manages her period. Her ongoing hormonal challenge that makes her periods irregular and often unpredictable has given Alicia the opportunity to be curious and discover more about her own body in ways that she otherwise might not have.
Were you ever given the “period talk?” If so, by who? How did it go? How did it make you feel? Given your circumstances, was it helpful?
I did get a period talk from my mom. My parents were separated; I got my first period at my dad’s house, so he had to tell my mom, which felt very awkward. My mom laid everything out in a matter-of-fact kind of way. She showed me a pad and a tampon and was very good at making the conversation digestible.
On your Instagram, you are very outspoken about your political beliefs. What changes would you like to see in order to give women a better and more protected menstrual cycle?
I don’t think that period products should be pink-taxed. They are a necessary thing in a woman’s life. The fact that it is an extra cost is insane because we cannot help menstruating. Periods are almost seen as a condition or something we have to deal with in private. We need to destigmatize being a woman.
Income equality also plays a huge role in that. There are people that cannot afford tampons and pads. That should not be an issue in 2020 in the United States, or anywhere for that matter.
Image courtesy of Alicia de Mello
You have been working for Cloud Hunter for over two years doing design and branding. Since working for a company that drives sustainability and ethics at the forefront of its mission, do you find that these values transition into the way you manage your period?
I am really lucky to work for Cloud Hunter, which is a women-run business. It is amazing to have a feminine take on the world. It is really important to create brands that are accessible and relatable. There needs to be an openness with products and what you are making without creating exclusivity. There needs to be a certain level of transparency.
I find it important for myself to use organic period products. When I started to realize how important sustainability and ethical practices were, I made the switch. I haven’t touched Tampax or anything like that in a few years.
Does the way you get dressed change when you are on your period?
I don’t wear white at all. I use period undies so I don’t leak anywhere. Even if I wear a tampon, I still leak so I find the underwear really helpful. Other than that, I prioritize dark and comfortable clothing.
On your Youtube channel, you created a series called “Generational Women” where you interview cross-generational women, each with their own story of resilience and determination. Can you talk to me about a woman in your life who has been instrumental in helping you recognize the strength of your own body and more specifically, your menstrual cycle?
That would definitely be my mom. She was very transparent and open with me about my period. The way we talk about it, even now that I am actually having issues with my menstrual cycle, she is the first one I’ll call. She makes me feel better and will talk me out of the hole I can dig myself into. I feel like moms know best─mine definitely does. She did a really good job at destigmatizing and normalizing periods for me and my sisters.
Image courtesy of Alicia de Mello
You don’t have a regular period due to your hormones. Can you talk to me about how the way you experience your period differs from the traditional education you received?
When I was younger, I thought I was the only one in the world who had my period. I did get my period younger than a lot of girls, so I think that aided in my discomfort. I definitely feel more comfortable with my period now. I don’t try and hide my tampon on the way to the bathroom anymore. I don’t want to have any shame.
I make too little progesterone and too much testosterone. I started getting a weird rash just before my cycle all over my face, back, neck, and chest. I went to doctor after doctor, but no one could figure out what it was. I got treated for a lot of things, and nothing felt like it was getting fixed. I finally found a doctor who could really analyze my hormone levels. I am on medication that helps with my rashes, but it isn’t helping me have a normal cycle. It can be really hard to find a balance.
I would definitely like a regular cycle because it would give me the peace of mind that my body is working properly. I still go to my hormone doctor every month to make sure we are on the right track. She doesn’t know why my period is so irregular, so I do a lot of testing. It’s quite frustrating sometimes, but I’m not so worried that I make myself stressed. I am doing everything I possibly can, I think.
What is one thing you wish your younger self knew about your period?
I wish I knew that it is OK to feel pain around your period and it is OK to communicate that pain to others. I used to try and hide that my menstrual cycle was so painful. I would get such bad cramps and would have to go home from school sometimes. I don’t want there to be a stigma around expressing that pain.