For the past year Natalie Byrne’s mission has been to create “the most inclusive period book ever published”. The result, ‘Period.’ – featuring illustrations of people who bleed each month: from trans men to disabled women – includes everything you need to know about menstruation.
Inside, you’ll find practical tips about periods (such as how to insert a tampon properly), as well as general advice on dealing with the side effects, from cramps and PMS to acne and sore boobs.
“My work is always thinking about being LGBT+ inclusive and diverse,” the 26-year-old London-based illustrator tells HuffPost UK. “I’m Latina and always struggle to see myself represented, and I really do believe that if your work doesn’t represent people on the street or on your commute to work, it’s not right.”
The summer before last, Byrne posted a period-themed illustration on Instagram, and was surprised by how widely it resonated. As a result, she attended the Free Periods protest to end period poverty and was inspired to undertake some further research at her local library. She was immediately struck by the lack of readily-available resources for young people around periods – and knew straight away that it was something she wanted to change.
[Read More: 7 things you need to know about period poverty]
‘Period.’ is designed to be a book for everyone – “children and adults, mums and dads, womb-owners and ex womb-owners” – because Byrne believes everybody can benefit from learning more. To ensure the final tips in the book are sound, she navigated the minefield of conflicting information with the help with two gynaecologists. But she also includes anecdotes from people about their experience of periods, and what they’ve learned about their bodies.
This includes Byrne herself: over the years, the illustrator has found exercise is the best way to ease the impact of her own heavy periods. “I had an hour’s lunch break, I would just walk for half an hour one way, then half an hour back,” she explains. “That really helped me with cramps, headaches, bloated-ness and nausea.”
As well as facts and experiences, Byrne details the growing list of products women can buy to manage their periods including organic tampons, Mooncups and period-absorbing underwear, and weighs up the pros and cons of each.
While increasing choice is empowering for a lot of women and good for the environment, Byrne points out we haven’t nailed period management just yet. “There are issues of sustainability and while I think that’s important, being environmentally friendly is a luxury,” she says. ”You can’t give someone who doesn’t have running water a Mooncup, or if you share a bathroom, or if they’ve got limited facilities in foster care.”
The heartbreaking reality of period poverty is something Byrne learned more about while researching the book – one in 10 girls has been unable to afford sanitary wear, according to data from Plan International UK, while one in seven has struggled to afford the products they need.
To do her bit, 10 per cent of net profits from each book sold will go to Bloody Good Period, an organisation providing menstrual supplies to asylum seekers, refugees and those who can’t afford them.
Byrne would like to see better provision for periods, such as free sanitary products in schools and for those in society who need it most, but is skeptical about change happening. “There’s absolutely no understanding about periods from people who have the power,” she says. “It’s that classic case that the people who are in charge are going to be men.”
Byrne says ‘Period.’ has been received well by younger men in her life, even though she was initially quite hesitant to talk about the topic with male friends. But the more she chatted with them, the more she realised many men are interested and do want to help. “We can fall into the trap of thinking ‘these are women’s issues, I have to only talk about them with other women’ when actually, the people most supportive of this book have been my closest guy mates,” she adds.
To end stigma further, Byrne wants to see both schools and the media normalising periods by discussing them casually in day-to-day contexts. “The blood that we normalise in entertainment is always around danger,” she says. “So when you don’t know a lot about periods, like I didn’t, you see blood as terrifying.”
Overall, she hopes those who buy the book come away learning that there’s no such thing as “normal”: “Everyone’s experiences of periods are different and I love that as a message for everyone, even if you don’t have a period: every body is different, and that’s okay.”