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.
While many women struggle to unleash their confidence, Serena Kerrigan has spent her twenties encouraging everyone around her to discover their own self-worth. In her time at Refinery29 as a producer, Serena has also built a personal brand where she creates content that encourages confidence and discredits toxic societal norms. In this week’s Self-Taught, we talked to Serena about how she uses her confidence to destigmatize the menstrual cycle and get in touch with her own body.
Can you tell me about your first period and what that experience looked like for you?
I will never forget this moment. I was in the bathroom, in my dad’s apartment. I looked down at my underwear and there was a very light, brownish-red stain towards the top. I immediately knew. I was so excited! I have always been a big fan of milestones and I loved that I had gotten my period! Is that weird? LOL.
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?
Hard to remember, but I’m pretty sure my mom and I discussed it. As an only child, I was introduced to “adult” topics from a very young age. I didn’t ever feel shame or embarrassment from those conversations. I honestly was excited to get it!
Image via Serena Kerrigan
At Refinery 29, you started a video series called Taboo, where you interview people about topics that are traditionally considered off-limits in common conversation. What menstrual taboos have you taught yourself to accept and even enjoy?
I remember in high school, right before going to the bathroom, I would hide a tampon in my hand. I remember at sleepaway camp, I wore light pink velour sweatpants and my entire ass was soaked in blood. I was mortified. During my freshman year of college, I bled all over a guy’s bed after having sex with him. I was so embarrassed, I bought him an entire new set of sheets. In retrospect, why was I so embarrassed?! It’s blood. Big deal.
It’s also strange because when I had initial discussions about periods with my parents, there was no shame built into the conversations.
It’s also strange because when I had initial discussions about periods with my parents, there was no shame built into the conversations. I think a lot of the shame and embarrassment originates from boys (not to make a mass overgeneralization) because the subject makes them uncomfortable. It’s ironic because I am currently using an IUD and I haven’t gotten my period in a couple of years, but I am very vocal about all taboo topics—because they shouldn’t be taboo. Periods should be celebrated! I mean, think about it: menstruation means your body is able to give birth. What a beautiful thing. Through Taboo, I learned that I am privileged to be able to afford tampons, pads, and Advil. I know that many women do not have the same access to feminine products. I also know that feminine products are taxed, whereas viagra is not. It’s totally unacceptable. Every woman should have access to these products, especially if it is deterring them from attending school or their job.
I learned that I am privileged to be able to afford tampons, pads, and Advil. I know that many women do not have the same access to feminine products.
How does your experience with learning about your period and your body influence the way you create content both for Refinery 29 and your personal brand? Bottom line, my brand is about loving yourself and not caring about what other people think. Women have been conditioned not to speak about their vaginas or bodily fluids. That is insane! Little boys shout “PENIS” like it’s no big thing, yet if we say anything about our vaginas, we are labeled as either promiscuous or crude. It’s bullshit. With my content, I talk about everything openly, because there is truly no shame—our bodies are our bodies!
Image via Serena Kerrigan
Can you tell me about how you came to be “The Queen of Confidence” and how giving yourself that title has changed the way you view and experience your period?
I just decided one day that this is what I want to represent. I want to own this niche because my journey to confidence is worth sharing and guess what? Everyone, from every gender, race, ethnicity, and social class needs confidence. Everyone needs to love themselves. So, it’s my mission to make sure that they get there. And how does that relate to periods? Well, people should feel confident speaking about whatever they are going through. Periods included.