In honor of the coming-of-age genre revival with Judy Blumes Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, let’s look at a few other first-period stories from the teen genre that touched our hearts.
First periods are one of the most revered, feared, and life-affirming aspects of womanhood. However, due to stigma, we scarcely have seen moments where the media keeps it real and gets to the heart of this fundamental coming-of-age experience, for fear of the embarrassment that can come from a subject that is not often talked about. When we have seen periods being discussed, they are often met with a source of shame and a commentary along the lines of “Well this isn’t technically shameful as it is natural, but don’t talk about it anyway.” So in honor of the second coming of our coming-of-age queen, Judy Blume, let’s take a look at some instances where menarche was talked about in a way that empowers, validates, and lends empathy to young audiences, without talking down to them or telling them to hide a beautiful aspect of their anatomy.
Emma’s first period: Degrassi the Next Generation “Coming of Age”
12-year-old Emma is not so thrilled to be on the verge of womanhood, and after being harassed at the mall the day before, all she can really say positively about the subject is that the clothes are better. That is, until she wears a white mini-skirt to school, unaware that her first period will arrive moments later. While she has the normal “what the hell do I do now?” moment, she learns that womanhood can be a unifying learning experience. Mean-girl Paige even lends her a pad and reminds her that growing up can be a good thing, not just something to dread. Emma switches from her blood-stained skirt into far-too-big gym shorts, to the delight of her so-called friends, who ruthlessly tease her during a book report presentation. Emma’s go-getter and no-bullshit attitude guided by the wisdom of Paige allows her to stand up for herself, shutting mean boys down by announcing her period to the whole class and finishing by saying “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Very on-brand for Emma, a crusader for a good cause, she starts a petition to get a tampon machine installed in the school bathroom, which she even gets her crush, Sean, to sign! Who runs the world? Girls!
Margaret’s faith is restored: Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret
After moving to a new city, Margaret meets her precocious next-door neighbor, Nanci, who gives her a set of rules to abide by about growing up. First, it was wearing a bra, even when there was nothing to put in it yet. Then, it was liking boys, but you had to like the right ones like the handsome and charming Philip Leroy. Next, it was getting her first period and telling the others
all of the gory details. What Margaret wanted desperately was to grow up and find herself already, but she wasn’t seeing any major changes thus far. By the time 2 of her friends had gotten their periods before her, Margaret had lost all hope. All she could do was pray to God each night and ask for change, but when he never responded, she resolved to give up on religion altogether. When she finally learns from a much more developed girl that growing up isn’t all that and a bag of chips, she realizes that changes do and will come, but only when they are meant to. Finally, after learning valuable lessons about growing up and having faith that these things will happen, she gets her first period! What is empowering about Margaret’s awkward journey through puberty is that it is such a raw and universal experience, even for viewers much older and removed from their own childhood. It renews her faith in God, which is really beautiful because it is a pioneer in the genre for showing a period that can be celebrated
just as much as any other coming-of-age moment, and it gave an entirely new generation of young girls something to look forward to, but only when it’s the right time for them.
Meilin’s worst nightmare: Turning Red (2022)
Meilin’s first period is heavily symbolic in that her turning into a red panda demonstrates her inability to control emotional outbursts stemming from a cultural and traditional experience of keeping a brave face and repressing your emotions. But something changes during her first period, and we see her previously cold and strict mother turn soft as she barges in with a handful of feminine hygiene products and loads of emotional support. Although this time is only the beginning of Meilin’s struggles between her family and her desire to grow up and be independent, Meilin’s mother breaks a traditional silence and helps her daughter navigate this troubling time, opening the floodgates of emotional bonding between them.
Kristy’s Big Day: The Babysitters’ Club
Struggling with the major change in her growing family, Kristy can’t wait for her mother’s wedding to be over. But with the help of her true-blue group of friends, she is able to manage her first period with ease when it arrives at the worst time possible. As inexperienced with girl stuff as she is, she is able to cope with all of the changes she is going through and is able to reconcile with her mother in a heartwarming moment of compassion and shared empathy.
Jessi learns never to wear white shorts during adolescence – Big Mouth “Everybody Bleeds”
On a school field trip to the Statue of Liberty, Jessi quickly regrets her choice to wear white shorts when she unexpectedly gets her first period. Feeling estranged from her mother and without the support of other girls, Jessi resorts to the support from her Hormone Monstress, Connie. Her anger and indignation at her period hit deep for those of us who feel challenged in the growing-up process, as it can feel shameful, unfair, and isolating. But through Connie’s humor and wit, she is able to get through the worst day of her life and actually learn about her changing body and the trials of womanhood. In future episodes, we see her continued struggles with her growing body but she is able to manage her issues and even help other girls who are struggling all alone. I think we could all use friends like Connie and Jessi in our own lives!