Writing and photographs by Emily von Euw
Every. Freaking. Month. Momma Nature visits my my house and is all like “Hey, I have something for you, darlin’! It’s kinda bloody and painful… but it’s totally natural and healthy!” Ugh. Fine. I will deal with it because it means everything is working in there [my body]. I will be sharing my own history of body image issues which resulted in me losing my period, and how I got it back — all while being vegan.
When I was younger (13-16), my period wasn’t an issue at all. I hardly even noticed it; no cramps, no back pain, super light flow, etc. When I became vegan at 16 years old, it stayed the same. Then I got into raw food when I was about 17 and – here comes the eating disorder phase of my life – I started getting really obsessive and strict about what I ate. I exercised for about an hour every day but thought I could survive on just a few pieces of fruit. I loved how it made me feel at first, but eventually I started becoming weak and getting constant head aches. I remember my mom being worried, my parents saying I had to eat more, going to school with just a sliced mango and strawberries for lunch and wishing I could eat what my friends were having. I became underweight and I stopped getting my period… for eight months. At the time, I was still in my “RAW FOOD IS THE ONLY HEALTHY DIET” mindset so I was happy to say goodbye to the uterus gunk and slight discomfort it’s shedding brought every 28 days. Of course, I look back now and wanna slap myself in the face. For girls and women, getting our monthly flow is a sign that our bodies are functioning normally. If your period stops – but not because you’re pregnant – it is a serious red alert that something is wrong; usually it means that you do not weigh enough and/or you are not consuming enough calories. At this point, I still wanted to lose weight; I didn’t think I was thin enough. Why? Because the bodies I wanted to look like were the photoshopped, perfectly toned ones in magazines and other forms of media. Read this post from Janurary 2012 where I try to hide my guilt about eating a sandwich. Yeah, it got bad.
Here it goes: the typical girl-with-self-esteem-issues-caused-by-society story. But that is exactly what it was. I didn’t stop and think for a second that every body is different, and they are ALL EQUALLY beautiful as long as they are healthy. It took me a long time to accept that my ideal and healthy body weight doesn’t look like all the women’s on TV. I have learned that when I eat the healthiest I can, and live the best I can: my body is a bit curvy! Even though I am eating clean 99% of the time and exercising pretty hard almost every day, I am not particularly lean, I ain’t got no thigh gap, and I have cellulite! SO WHAT. I love my body now, because it is the body that living well has given me. As long as you treat yourself right, you should love yourself no matter what you look like. Because at the end of the day the very specific body types we idolize are never intrinsically beautiful; they change with time and culture (a few hundred years ago, this was the epitome of beauty). Even now I sometimes wonder: what am I doing wrong? I eat all the right foods, I work out all the time… but I don’t look like her! Then I remember that I am not doing ANYTHING wrong; human bodies simply vary as much as our personalities. Why WOULD every one of us have the same body? No reason, because there’s this little thing called genetic variation. If every one of is lived the exact same lifestyle, we’d still all end up with different-looking bodies. It’s nature, babe. So live healthy, eat enough (of wholesome, plant foods), get sweaty sometimes, and embrace whatever body that lifestyle gives you, because it’s damn sexy. If this were the Renaissance or even the Marilyn Monroe days, the girls on magazine covers now would be trying to stuff their faces with cake to look like the bodies that were put on the pedestal at that time – curvy, busty women who had pasty cellulite on their asses. It would basically be the reverse of what is happening right now. At the end of the day: it’s still just people trying to change their natural bodies to look like something they’re not, because they think that whatever one type of body the media says is beautiful, is the ONLY one that is. Well that just ain’t true. Am I saying that skinny people will always be skinny and “heavier” people people will always be heavier? No.
I am saying that whatever body a healthy lifestyle provides you with is your ideal weight and shape.
Celebrate it. Work it. Love yo-self. This goes for all humans because you better believe that men have problems with body image that are just as damaging. These days when I think about what beauty and sexiness mean to me, I think about ability and not appearance. I am one of the strongest, fittest girls I know, and I am pretty confident I am stronger than my male partner (we both agree, by the way). I can push my body to do half-marathons, one legged squats, push ups, and whatever else I want – and that is one of the best feelings as well as a major motivation for me to love a healthy lifestyle so much. Being fit – however that may look on your body – is freedom. I’ve moved past caring about what I LOOK like, now I realize all that matters to me is what I can DO with this gorgeous body.
It took me a fair amount of time (most of a year) to realize that losing my period and feeling weak all the time was not sustainable or good for me. I wasn’t happy anymore. Gradually I began incorporating cooked foods like steamed broccoli and tofu back into my diet, WITHOUT feeling guilty about it. And eventually I was eating a normal, whole foods vegan diet again. I had gained back weight, had energy, and felt strong. This when my period returned. Unfortunately, it sucked. It came back more painful than it had ever been, with a heavier flow, cramps, and lots of back pain. I’d have trouble sleeping and I’d get headaches. I thought: “Dang, this must be what everyone else complains about!” I thought I was finally getting a regular period! Maybe not… It stayed pretty painful for about a year but I reflect on that now and realize that it was because that entire time I was in a very stressful relationship. Stress has a major effect on your hormones. When that relationship ended, so did the excessively painful periods. Now my period really IS normal; it lasts about 5-6 days, I can tell when it’s coming because my lower back gets sore, the first 2 days I have back pain and crazy emotions, but after that it’s smooth rolling, my flow is light and cramps are unusual. I guess you could say I have a healthy period, but it’s on the light side, and I like to think this is because I eat clean and vegan. Processed foods like sugar and white flour can really eff up your time o’ da month because they screw with your hormones. If you aren’t vegan already but your period sucks, I would definitely recommend trying to eat more whole foods and see how that changes things.
I actually see my period now as a time to celebrate my womanhood and primal, fertile self. Many ancient cultures and tribes saw the menstrual cycle as holy and sacred, and when women were bleeding at their time of month, they were given special huts to meditate and reflect in (WHERE THA HECK DID THAT TRADITION GO, I ASK). I love to research what is going on in my body during this time. It’s pretty darn amazing and I think all us ladies should be proud of what we go through 12 times every year. But that’s just the feminist in me speaking. If you went through the same lame sex education system I did, you probably have no clue what is goin’ down during your period. Also – another feminist outburst – school doesn’t teach us girl #$%& about our genitals, and the word “clitoris” in our society can be paralleled to “Voldemort” in the Harry Potter series: people are scared to say it. If you don’t know where or what your clit is, PLEASE find out. It’s gonna change everything.