Major Period Moments in Media History
This timeline of periods in movies and TV covers multiple decades and genres of cinematic and advertising history. The below timeline is far from complete, but breaks down major period moments in media, focusing on how they depicted menstruation.
The first film to graphically show period blood was Carrie. Carrie has her first menstrual cycle in school, believing that she was dying. When she went to look for classmates for help, she was tormented. Spoiler alert (of a classic scene): Carrie ends up publicly humiliated at prom when her classmates dumped pig’s blood all over her. In response, she killed almost the entire student body. The film suggests that it was perhaps Carrie’s period and the mood swings she was experiencing that caused her anger. Arguably, this film marks the beginning of a long line of negative connotations assigned to periods throughout film history.
This is the year that the word “period” was first used in media history and represents a turning point in the depiction of periods, and how to navigate them. This was an advertisement that was publicly shown in 1985 by the American tampon-manufacturing company, Tampax. “Feeling cleaner is more comfortable. It can actually change the way you feel about your period,” Courtney Cox stated while sporting her spandex, supposedly on her period.
In a Roseanne episode referred to as “Nightmare on Oak Street,” Darlene is worried about playing sports while on her period. Luckily, both her parents are there to offer support and tell her that even when she’s menstruating she can still do “things that boys do.” This is both positive and negative, as Darlene receives support but only based on the comparison to what “boys” can do. Nevertheless, this presents a moment of modest evolution from the prior period moments.
The Cosby Show, 1990
In an episode of The Cosby Show, “The Infantry Has Landed,” Rudy has her first period. Although it turns out to be a mistake, Rudy confides in her friends over her mother. Eventually, when Rudy and her mother speak, she is given support and new knowledge regarding her menstrual cycle. This was a moment of education on menstrual cycles for many audience members.
In 1991, “Blossom Blossoms” aired, and Blossom got her first period. Unfortunately, because of her parents’ divorce, she was unable to speak to her mother about such a moment and felt that she could not get the proper information from her father. She began to wish that Clair Huxtable from The Cosby Show was her mother. This episode recognized the disadvantages a young person can have without a proper explanation of their period and how television can be a source of information.
My Girl, 1991
My Girl was a warming film about the growth of a young woman named Vada. In a scene, she experiences her first period and, due to the death of her mother, she feels she doesn’t have anyone to speak to and begins freaking out. Luckily, her father’s girlfriend eases Vada and explains to her that she isn’t dying. This presents another positive situation that actually educates the audience.
Beverly Hills: 90210, 1994
“Thicker Than Water” is an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 where Dylan McKay’s step-sister, Erica, gets her first period while he is teaching her how to surf. Dylan is unaware of what to do at this point so he takes her somewhere where he figures she’ll get the support she needs. Fortunately, she does, from another female character.
7th Heaven, 1996
The 7th Heaven episode titled “Anything You Want” is a positive yet potentially unrealistic moment in period media history. The character Lucy gets her period and her father begins to weep and congratulate her. Her father goes out to purchase her tampons and takes the family out for this “occasion.”
In an episode of Degrassi, “Coming of Age,” Emma gets her period and gets bloodstains on her white skirt. Due to her dilemma, she gets teased by classmates in which she retorts, “it’s perfectly natural.” Degrassi used this episode as an opportunity to normalize periods for young audiences.
In a scene in Superbad, Seth dances with a girl, and she “periods” on him. Supposedly, by this point, the media is progressing in depictions of periods but unfortunately, progression isn’t always linear.
The Runaways, 2010
In this film, following the all-woman band, Cherie Currie gets her period and quickly handles it by going to the nearest bathroom and fixing the problem with toilet paper, going on with her day. This is a positive period moment because the film portrays periods as a part of life, something that should not hinder you from living the way you want.
The Middle, 2011
In “Forced Family Fun: Part 1 And Part 2,” two episodes of The Middle, Sue gets her first period on a family camping trip. She is ecstatic about the event and believes that she has “matured” and doesn’t have to lie about it to her friends anymore.
In Amy Schumer’s romantic comedy, Trainwreck, she becomes frantically worried about her new boyfriend seeing her bloody tampon. The fact that she’s worried about the tampon is disconcerting, but overall, she ends up bringing light to the volume of period blood in a normalizing way.
Broad City, 2016
There are multiple cases of period humor in this series, but we will be focusing on one. “Getting There” was a revolutionary moment where Llana used her period to get past drug-sniffing dogs and a TSA official. The “period pants” that Llana decided to sport allowed her to smuggle marijuana onto a plane, all because of the disgust a TSA official felt after seeing the large bloodstain. The humor of the scene is in parodying how far people will go to avoid “taboo.”
Orange Is the New Black, 2017
In “Riot FOMO” in Orange Is The New Black, Gina uses her period blood to fake an injury in hopes of getting the attention of a guard. This is another example of someone using their menstrual cycle to their advantage; some may call this gross and some may call this innovative. Nonetheless, it displays periods as normal and healthy. Throughout the series, there are period experiences revealed by the different incarcerated people, including addressing the scarcity of menstrual products.
Big Mouth, 2017
“Everybody Bleeds.” What a title for this episode of Big Mouth where Jessi gets her first period. At first, it’s awkward, but then she gets support from her mother. And instead of the usual “, you’re a woman now” conversation, her mother speaks on the injustice of having a period and how people view it as such a negative thing. Even throughout this episode, Jessi’s male friends are of no help and make things weirder than they should have been.
Pad Man, 2018
“Period poverty” is real and it is a global problem. This film, based on a true story, documents a man’s journey to take the taboo out of periods and provide sanitary and healthy products to his wife and other women in India. In this film, we get a better look at the struggle of finding sanitary products in underdeveloped countries.
Period. End of Sentence, 2019
An empowering film about women in India fighting the injustice of period poverty and manufacturing sanitary products. This is another film that is focused on underdeveloped countries and their struggle with products that should be considered a necessity.
We’ve seen the good and the bad in this timeline. It displays that progress isn’t smooth but that we can learn from the past and adjust as needed. With time moving forward, we have yet to see what else the world has to say about periods. Hopefully, one day, the world will normalize periods and people won’t be afraid to ask questions and get the products they need to navigate their periods safely and confidently.