Chelsea VonChaz, co-founder of #HappyPeriod, recently spoke about the “Anti-Black History of Birth Control” on an Instagram Live video with Ricki Lake, producer of the upcoming documentary, “The Business of Birth Control.” During the video, VonChaz shared her personal story which led to her passion for exploring “how racism and the healthcare system are failing Black women.” As a teenager, she said she visited her doctor because of heavy periods and severe cramping. Instead of investigating for possible underlying reasons for this, she says the doctor immediately recommended hormonal birth control.
“I’m not even having sex!” VonChaz said. “Why can’t you talk to me about my diet? Why can’t you talk to me about my lifestyle, and exercising, and what better foods can I eat?” That was the beginning of VonChaz’s journey of learning how women’s bodies are designed, and how “your period tells you everything that’s going on in your body.” Over time, VonChaz learned specifically about diet and lifestyle changes she could make to regulate her cycle and reduce pain and cramping, and also learned, “I don’t have to be on the pill to have a happy period.”
Fast forward several years, and an encounter with a homeless Black woman in Hollywood who was clearly menstruating as she walked across the street prompted VonChaz and her mother Cherryl Warner to co-found #HappyPeriod. The nonprofit originally started out with a goal of providing free menstrual products like tampons and pads to homeless women and women living in shelters. From there, their outreach expanded after they learned that many schools across the country had stopped providing menstrual products for middle school and high school students due to budget cuts.
When VonChaz realized that many school-aged girls knew little to nothing about how their own bodies worked and often blindly accepted hormonal contraception as the “solution” to everything from acne to heavy bleeding, she and her team began presenting a workshop along with their product donations. VonChaz commented on Instagram Live, “We created a period guide, which is a little booklet that all the students get when we do the workshops with them.”
The goal is to counter the belief that menstruation is a topic that shouldn’t be discussed openly. VonChaz said sometimes she encounters resistance when she asks schools to do a workshop specifically about menstruation as part of donating the menstrual products. The most common objection is, “We’re not sure if they [middle school or high school students] would be comfortable with that.” She typically responds, “Are they not comfortable with that? Or are you not comfortable with that? Are you the one who is uncomfortable with this?”
The idea behind the workshop is to let boys and girls know that menstruation is a normal and healthy process in the female body. “They’re not even teaching the kids about periods in schools,” VonChaz said, “and I feel like sex ed is bullsh** in America.”
She raises an excellent point. Menstruation (“having a period”) is an indicator of a normally functioning reproductive system, and a normally functioning reproductive system is necessary for childbearing. The disconnect between menstruation and sex education in America’s public school system is quite possibly a reflection of a deeper societal disconnect when it comes to the relationship between sex and childbearing. In a culture which heavily promotes contraception (which separates the idea of babies from sex), the naturally functioning female reproductive system is treated like a disease or a liability that must be shut down with either short-term or long-term birth control.
If we don’t value the intricate design of the female body, we cannot expect women to feel at home in their own skin. #HappyPeriod seems to understand this concept. Its newest project is to develop an entire curriculum “centered around self-efficacy and self-esteem in connection with periods.” More than any type of ad campaign or trending hashtag, this type of education can provide effective and authentic body-positive messaging to growing girls and young women.
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