There's nothing scarier than a fully-clothed lady with a little bit of period blood on her pants.
At least, that's what artist and poet Rupi Kaur learned when a photograph she took as part of "Period.," a project for her visual rhetoric course at the University of Waterloo, was removed from her Instagram account -- twice. The photo (embedded below) shows Kuar curled up in bed, dressed in a t-shirt and sweatpants. She also is menstruating, and a bit of blood has visibly leaked through her pants and onto the bed.
After her photo was initially removed on March 25, Kaur wrote powerful posts about the incident on Facebook and her Tumblr, which were shared over 11,000 times. "Their patriarchy is leaking. Their misogyny is leaking. We will not be censored," she wrote.
Instagram has since reinstated both of the photos, apologizing to Kaur in an email where they explained that the images were "accidentally removed" by a member of the Instagram team. (Instagram did not respond to HuffPost's requests for comment on the matter.) The fact that these images were ever flagged by users in the first place, however, speaks to a deep-seated cultural fear of women's periods -- the very issue Kaur's series addresses.
"I wondered why I scurry to hide my tampons and pads from the world and why I'm too ashamed to tell people I'm in pain because of my period at times I may not be able to do certain things like come in to work," Kaur told The Huffington Post, describing the initial inspiration for her photo project. "Why do I lie about it? As if it's a bad thing to have. This was just a small part of it. The issue is so much deeper. Some women can't visit their places of worship, or leave their homes or cook for their families while menstruating because they're considered dirty. We're laughed at in public if we have leaks. It goes on and on really."
It speaks volumes that the sight of period blood makes people uncomfortable in a world where we are consistently exposed to images that are actually explicitly sexual, violent and gory. We watch news reports about war and "Law & Order: SVU" marathons without batting an eye, but there has still only been one menstrual product advertisement, an Always print ad from summer 2011, that uses the color red to signify period blood. (When I think of tampon and maxi pad advertisements, ambiguous blue liquid and women frolicking around in white still come to mind.) When Apple's Health app came out in September, the company came under fire for omitting a woman's menstrual cycle from the many body-related things a user can track.
I grew up understanding in no uncertain terms that the most embarrassing moment you could have in your young life was to bleed through a pair of light-colored pants. And, of course, you must hide your tampon on the way to the bathroom, lest you expose any physical evidence that her body sheds its uterine lining once a month. The horror!
It's this enduring taboo that makes projects like Kaur's "Period." so important. We don't need to sit in an all-female circle praising our inner goddesses and pretending that every moment of having our periods is beautiful and magical -- the cramping sucks! sometimes it can be messy! -- but lessening the shame that surrounds menstruation is a worthy goal, and one that requires us to acknowledge that blood happens. Our bodies are sometimes weird and confusing, but they're also the only ones we've got, so we may as well love 'em.
Head over to Kaur's website to see the rest of her work.