Over the holidays I read Maisie Hill’s period power – a life-changing book about women and menstruating people’s menstrual health. In an effort to be more in control of my period, to save some money and to help the environment, it convinced me to try out one of the products revolutionising menstrual heath: period-proof underwear. Here’s my review of Modibodi‘s period proof underwear, together with some thoughts about the social stigma around periods and their effects and some worrying facts about popular period products.
Maisie Hill’s period power
Maisie Hill is a doula and women’s health expert quoted in the likes of The Guardian, Grazia UK etc. I felt her book calling me from my local bookshop, Pages of Hackney. I read it in just a few days, underlining things with an orange highlighter and marking pages to remember important bits.
Maisie’s book made me more conscious of how hormonal changes affect me during my period; about how I can hack my cycle to do the things I feel more comfortable with in each phase; it confirmed my reservations about the contraceptive pill, showing how it patches up issues like acne and period pain for them to come back with a vengeance later… aand it opened my mind to the terrible things we put near or inside our vulvas during our period.
Worrying Facts About Pads and Tampons
For years I’ve been suffering from cystitis. For years, after waxing, I’d have terrible rashes after using pads (luckily I’m lasered now, but still find pads mildly irritating). Now I know why, and I can’t believe I’ve never wondered about it.
Did you know that, apart from fragrance, tampons contain chlorine and dioxin, an endocrine disruptor the Environmental Protection Agency determined there’s no safe level of exposure to? And did you know that pads also contain fragrance, chemicals, plastics and non-organic cotton, one of the most genetically modified crops on the planet treated with pesticides and the like? Now remember that you put that stuff inside or near your vulva.
And then there’s the environmental impact. Unfortunately my house is tiny, and I can’t separate waste as much as I’d like. As a result, I don’t recycle as much as I would like to. However, I was horrified to read how many pads and tampons end up in landfill, putting extra pressure on the environment because they’re almost impossible to break down.
On top of that, pads and tampons are heavily taxed. While Scotland managed to remove VAT from period products (which half of the population needs to use), in the UK they can still be expensive. Considering I use about three packs of pads per period together with some tampons, that’s about £6 a month, and £72 a year that I would rather spend on pole dancing shoes.
Even more worryingly, not everyone has access to menstrual products – and this charge can weigh heavy on their monthly funds. Charity Plan UK, for instance, has reported that 1 in 10 girls aged 14-21 can’t afford period products, with 49 per cent of them missing school because of their period. Period products can be expensive, damaging and a threat to the environment – all because women’s health isn’t taken seriously enough and is looked at as something shameful.
Luckily, from this month onwards free period products will be available in schools and colleges in England, but the road to make periods ‘normal’ even in terms of shopping for your personal care is still long. According to the Mirror, in the UK, the standard VAT rate is currently 20 per cent, and this applies to most goods and services. Some things are charged at a reduced rate of 5 per cent – including sanitary protection products after Labour ruled for it in 2000 – but “there’s an argument to be had about why items like postage stamps and cycle helmets are exempt altogether – but tampons, which women require as an essential product, aren’t.”
This is because tampons and other sanitary products are currently classed as ‘luxury’, ‘non-essential’ products in the UK – ie items that are almost optional. Not sure whether to laugh or cry about this one – I certainly don’t feel ‘luxurious’ when I’m on my period.
Periods are normal. They are a bodily function like sweating, peeing or breathing. A lot of people have them. And yet, they’ve been dubbed as impure, dirty, gross for centuries. Women with periods have been blamed of being unstable, or even of making flowers wither.
Women themselves can be embarrassed of being seen buying period products – I know I have been – and tend to apologise for themselves and their periods. Even if they like or can benefit from period sex, they abstain from it, afraid to gross partners out (not everybody likes period sex, but orgasms help with cramps and low moods). Luckily, my partner now keeps telling me to stop apologising about my body, and it’s crazy that a man would be more comfortable with period sex than me, considering I’ve had periods since I was 11. But that’s what stigma does to you.
This shame, coupled up with women’s health not being taken seriously, and with our ignorance of women’s health and even of how our own genitalia work – urologist Helen O’Connell discovered the whole of the clitoris in 1998 because no one bothered before her! – has contributed to women not being in control of their period and their reproductive health.
Modibodi Period Proof Underwear Review
*Modibodi gifted me two pairs of their period-proof underwear for me to try out but as always, opinions are entirely my own*
I was completely new to period proof underwear but trying Modibodi convinced me to make the transition into slowly buying less and less pads. Modibodi’s period proof underwear comes in really cute packaging with explanations on how to use it and how wash it in the back.
Modibodi period proof panties come in different styles, shapes, sizes and colours. I received a pair of their Sensual Hi-Waist Bikini in light blue (£20), with light/moderate absorbency consistency and a pair of their Classic Bikini in orange (£18), with heavy/overnight absorbency.
Style-wise, I like how Modibodi are experimenting with different shapes and colours to make period proof underwear less boring. Not gonna lie, as someone who has embraced the naked life, I was hoping for skimpier designs but needs must, and when you’re on your period you need a lot of coverage.
Although heavy/overnight briefs can absorb three or four tampons’ worth (20ml) of blood, with some people saying you can wear them for up to eight hours, I found that, at least in the first couple of days of my period, I needed to change faster than that. So I decided to buy my own pairs of Modibodi and I would recommend that, if you decide to make the transition to period proof underwear, you buy more than a couple of pairs because you will then need to wash them, and they will need to dry. So having at least four pairs helps.
I went for the Seam Free Classic Brief in heavy/overnight absorbency (£35, above) and for the Classic Thong Super Light Absorbency (£15) for lighter days. I chose both in black, because although the new colours are very interesting, I feel like especially on heavier flow days I need to feel safe with darker briefs.
So how does Modibodi work? The top layer of their underwear wicks away moisture, fights bacteria and stops smells, so you stay dry and fresh. Then the middle layer safely absorbs fluid and locks it away. The bottom layer is an is extra waterproof protection, so you’re super secure.
I had this idea of period proof underwear as super uncomfortable, but when I wore it I actually felt very free and covered. Sometimes, out of sheer paranoia, I would wipe it but I never stained myself. The only thing I would say is, for now, I feel more comfortable about wearing it at home when I can get changed if I need to. I probably wouldn’t wear it on a full day at work, but considering I work from home most of the time, for now the transition has been great. I even managed to work out in them and to get my handspring on my bad side, so that must mean something!
To care for period proof underwear, simply rinse the panties until the blood runs dry or was them, cold, in a delicates bag in your washing machine. But don’t use fabric softener, as that reduces absorbency!
Period proof underwear sounds expensive at first, but considering how much it’ll save you every month – in my case, about £6 a month in pads – and how it helps the environment, it’s totally worth it. Modibodi also have a “give back” program where they help a variety of charities like domestic violence refuges – read more here.
In 2020, I well get my act together and make my periods healthier and more sustainable. Will you? And how do you deal with yours?