Michelle Powell was a bit nervous about putting it out there that she wanted to do a zine about menstruation.
But it seemed like a good time, with what she sees as a swell of debate around taboos and social issues. “People are really challenging these ideas about things,” she said.
Last week, she put the call out for submissions that explore people’s personal experiences of their menstrual cycles. (Powell stresses that she is open to stories from trans and non-binary people.)
It’s about “combating the social stigma, empowering women, and demystifying our bodies”, Powell says. “I was kind of looking for a mixed review I suppose. That sounds kind of funny – a mixed review of your periods.”
By that though, Powell says she means it would be great to hear how periods are positive signifiers that we’re not pregnant, or that we’re in good health.
“But I think it would [also] be good to hear stories from people who may actually be sick due to them, which is my issue, I get quite unwell with them,” she said.
Powell says she’s struggled with her periods since she was a teenager, suffering from severe symptoms – she collapses, she vomits. She’s been in and out of hospital, but nobody can quite figure out why.
“I was talking about my experience one night and a friend of mine came forward and said, ‘Oh my God, I have loads of insane symptoms too’,” she said.
It can be a relief to find and talk to others. And Powell hopes that by encouraging people to share their stories, it might help some people, somehow, somewhere.
“I’d never really met another woman or another person in my life who has had similar symptoms to me, or who I can take comfort in a shared experience with.”
“I felt if we were to make a zine, it might help people come forward and find comfort in having that shared experience with one another,” she said.
Birth of an Idea
Powell says she has a couple of friends who are super creative. Not long ago, they all made a podcast together about dating in the modern world and all the platforms out there for it.
When the podcast was done, she had an itch to do a new project, says Powell, who works as a restaurant manager. “I feel like maybe in my work life I don’t get to be as creative as I am,” she said.
“I’ve been talking about making a publication for a long time that would be a cultural and arts magazine, and I’ve been talking about it and talking about it,” she said.
A friend suggested she start off small, with one edition. So she’s doing that.
When she told friends she wanted to make a zine on a subject she feels strongly about, they did not guess menstruation; they guessed dogs. “Everybody knows I like dogs,” she says.
Although she was slightly wary about putting the idea out there, she says that on the whole the reaction has been positive – even guys have been asking her questions that they’ve always wanted to.
“You get the odd person who is like, ‘Why would you guys talk about that?’ And people doing that are part of the problem in my mind,” she said. We need to normalise talking about periods, she says.
“Your menstrual cycle is more than just bleeding,” Powell says. “I know, myself, the older I’ve gotten, I’m in full-blown depression in the lead-up to my period. Anything will make me cry. I think you are in a highly emotional state.”
Those who are interested in sharing their stories in the zine, Cailín Crua, can send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
She’s looking to set up a website. “We were making a joke that if there’s a holding site we can be, like, ‘The painters are in!’ Which would be another awful period joke,” she said.
The zine will probably be out in the new year, and the plan at the moment is to do a launch party where people can pick up a copy, and perhaps there’ll be performance pieces, and a way to donate to an appropriate charity, says Powell.