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Modeling and Menstrual Leave
Lyric Menges (she/her)
|
7.15.2021

Before I submerged myself in the world of academia and periods, my previous career was in the fashion industry. As a model, I would work around 40-50 hours a week and travel constantly to work in different markets. On a particular afternoon in Los Angeles, California, I was booked to work an e-commerce job for bathing suits. To understand the next part of my story, it is imperative to understand that a model’s worth in the industry is fully determined by their body: the way they move in front of a camera, how well they keep their shape, if their measurements make the clothes look good, and if their face is unblemished and not puffy, then they will work. I woke up the morning of this job feeling bloated and exhausted, which is normal for me the first day or two of my period because my symptoms generally materialize in my lower back and abdomen. Sure enough, I had started my period and was due to set in a short two hours to spend the day changing in and out of bathing suits to be featured on a website for the spring-summer collection.

Normally with any other job, when you have a condition that prevents you from performing your tasks to the best of your ability, you call and request a day of absence or accommodations. With this principle in mind, I messaged the photographer and the stylist and informed them that I had started my period and I was bloated and not feeling well. This action resulted in my agent calling me shortly thereafter and ripping my head off for being “unprofessional” because talking about my period with clients was “disgusting” and “not acceptable”. If my face was bleeding, if my arms were bleeding, if I was bloodied and swollen anywhere else on my body, any job would most certainly be accommodating of this and understand why I was unable to perform my job to the best of my ability, but for some reason, this principle did not apply to me because I was menstruating. It was my job to display the swimwear to the best of my ability and frankly this was not possible whilst I was bloated and bleeding heavily.

This situation rendered me dumbfounded, ashamed, and full of questions that I should not have been positioned to ask. Did my professional capacity diminish because I was menstruating? Did my worth in my field of choice lessen because I am biologically wired to bleed once a month? Why was I being treated as a disgrace for my candor about a natural process? Why in the fashion industry, an industry that shamelessly promotes and exploits traditionally understood female qualities, was a traditionally understood female process deemed unacceptable and shameful?

These questions were never answered. It is a double standard for an industry to fetishize the human body for capitalism and then disrespect natural bodily processes. As I reflect on this situation I wonder if there is a case to be made for menstrual leave legislation in the United States. Europe and parts of Asia have vague policies surrounding menstrual leave, but these policies are embedded in an antiquated perception that menstruation is purely a female process, and this systematically further marginalizes transgender and intersex people who don’t have adequate representation. Moreover, would menstrual leave inadvertently suggest that menstruators were less capable of doing the same job as someone who doesn’t menstruate, or would this empower menstruators to demand accommodation? With so much stigma still surrounding the concept of menstruation and menstrual accommodation, we are still left to question our value to the workplace and ideologically conflicting solutions to a universal problem.

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