It’s more than a pad, I promise.

by Olivia Joy

Last week, I was given an assignment to create a lighted structure that represents volume and mass, using some sort of translucent material. I hated the assignment, quite honestly; it seemed kitschy. Long and short of it: I’ve been feeling the urge lately, to respond to the apathetic, unknowledgeable way that the world responds to women and their, now, please don’t giggle, but their “time of the month” or the entire culture and all of the implications of women and menstruation and what that really means.

Needless to say, I was about to make a structure entirely of pads and wire, knowing that embarking on this so-called journey would imply awkward moments that shouldn’t even be awkward in the first place, a great deal of thought provoking emotion, and beyond anything else, I had hoped this would trigger responsive critique and conversation: that people would be uncomfortable, but it would leave them yearning for understanding.

Even at the stage of me buying five gigantic packages of heavy duty pads, I was left entirely convicted. I spent about a half an hour in the “oh-so-dreaded aisle” trying to decide which pads to buy based off of their packaging and which I wanted to utilize in my piece, I was left stunned as the store manager walked by the aisle every two minutes staring at me as though concern was stirring in him and he wanted to ask if I was finding everything okay, but couldn’t quite muster up the courage to walk down this aisle, let alone, perhaps talk to me about PADS, *gasp* not pads… Not to mention my frustration with the fact that the aisle was lined with displays of candy as though supplementing a woman’s natural body process with a bunch of sugar is going to solve her every problem and make her just a little less “psycho.” Trust me, it’s not random placement of a display. But anyways, after loading up my basket, I was tempted to use the Self Checkout to purchase these items, an unfortunate temptation as why on earth should I feel embarrassed to buy these items!? I proceed to a normal checkout line, challenging my very human nature. As I unloaded my basket, I promised myself I wouldn’t fall into the trap of being feeling pity or shame about the contents of my basket, but no two seconds later, there I go, there I went. I HATE the fact that I had to justify my purchases, and this comes from me, a woman comfortable with the human body and everything that comes along with it. What about that is fair? Hell, the same could be said about purchasing condoms. What’s shameful about safe sex?

So, today, on critique day, after staying up until about 5:00 in the morning finishing this piece, ensuring that all of the pads and their wrappers are in place and that the anatomical wire heart structure suspended within, just perfectly, I move the structure to the podium, where no later I began to explain the posture I encouraged my classmates to uphold when viewing this piece. “Many of you and other people who have seen this piece throughout its creation have commented about the humor of this piece…I would ask of you and encourage you to look past that humor aspect that so many of you see, simply so you can better understand the nature of this piece and can understand its connotation,” I said. The room went dead and I turned the light on. Yes, this is what I wanted, silence, a tone of contemplation and maybe uncomfort.

But one thing, the primary component of my piece did not appear: this anatomical heart that I had crafted in order to create a bridge to discuss the connection between the way that society likes to view a woman’s heart in terms of their menstrual cycle. Frustration, that’s what I felt. All I saw was this (image below). All I saw was a pink box, with the intentional roughness and rawness, but nothing to trigger that conversation. But just then, a classmate steps forward, peering in the spaces, he sees the heart, and gasps, the room still quiet. An emotional experience for me, as I begin to love what started happening, a mild curiosity that invited people to ask those further questions. I then began to discuss the heart behind this piece, and tell those stories (above). Just then, some quotes worth capturing:

“I’m almost scared of it. I don’t want to go near it.” –professor

“At first, I thought you were implying that connection between a woman’s period and them being a psycho, but now I “get” it. That’s why you telling your story is so important to this piece.” –male classmate

“I will never ever understand what you [women] go through, so thank you for sharing your experience through this piece.” –male classmate

“I like that I have to look for the heart on the inside. It reminds me how a woman’s heart is so hidden, and yet their periods are all that someone may draw conclusions from or may base their thoughts off of.” –female classmate

“This is so familiar. It makes me feel something even from just looking at the tears and the shred on the wrappers.” –female classmate

He’s scared to go close to it because it’s a raw piece and exhorts a tone of mourning and hurt.

His mind went immediately to the psycho lady on her period because that’s where most people’s go, but that is why we tell our stories, so they can understand.

He thanked me for being open and sharing because not enough people do.

She liked looking for the heart on the inside of the box and making that connection because we all desire the opportunity to relate to the art and the stories that surround us.

She felt something after just looking at the tears on the wrappers because she is a woman and this experience is so raw and real for each and every one of us.

See, initially, I was pissed that this awesome wire heart element was completely missing from my piece, but so quickly, my demeanor shifted after a moment or two. When my classmates and professor started making those connections, and prompted me to tell my story, the entire mood of the room became raw. People were real. And then they started to share their stories. And it was beautiful.

When the room fell to a silence several times, and was later followed by emotions being poured out, I knew it was a success. As an artist, that is my one desire, that my art would make people feel. And for them to yearn to understand an issue such as that of which I described previously, thank God.

After class, my male classmate came up to me, gently touched my arm, and proceeded to tell me: “That was great. Seriously, seriously great. Thank you for being open and sharing your story.” Words like that, that’s why I do what I do. It all becomes purposeful.