I don’t talk about my period very much when I’m chatting with friends and family on mobile, mainly because I have an IUD that stopped my period about a year ago. But when I did talk about my period, I used to use a lot of code words because my then-boyfriend was squeamish about periods and said “gross” almost every time I brought up the fact that my uterus was bleeding. (That’s what period-shaming looks like, if you’re wondering.)
When I asked a few friends how they’ve been talking about their periods on mobile, I got a lot of creative responses. A couple use the shark emoji to represent the period euphemism “shark week.” Some use the red circle or the volcano emojis to represent their periods, while others use a few different sick-face emojis to show how their periods make them feel. And a couple of my friends threw out some GIFs that illustrate their period experiences, like Leslie Knope saying “everything hurts, and I’m dying” or the hallway flooding with blood in the movie The Shining.
But, soon, we can all do away with period code words and euphemisms because a period emoji is finally coming. Girls’ rights charity Plan International UK has been campaigning for a period emoji since 2017 in an effort to end period-shaming and stigma, and the results of their efforts is a glorious digitized drop of blood that we’ll all be able to use later this year.
Fighting Period Shame Through Emojis
Plan International UK ran a survey in the UK and found that period shame and stigma still affects menstruators daily and makes people who menstruate uncomfortable talking to friends and family about their periods. Because emojis are one of the fastest growing global languages, says Plan International UK, the organization believes having a period emoji might help people feel more comfortable talking about periods.
The organization’s campaign for the period emoji officially launched in May 2017, with nearly half of women in the UK ages 18 to 34 saying they’d use a period emoji if one became available, and that having a period emoji would make it easier for them to talk about their periods with friends and partners. The organization designed five period emoji options — a menstrual pad, a monthly calendar, smiling blood droplets, a uterus, and period pants — and held a public vote, according to The Guardian. The period pants won the popular vote, says The Guardian, but Unicode Consortium, the California-based organization that maintains and regulates emojis, rejected the design.
So Plan International UK went back to the drawing board (pun intended) and partnered with NHS Blood and Transplant to propose a new period emoji design: a red drop of blood, The Guardian reports. For NHS Blood and Transplant, the emoji represents blood donations, says The Guardian, but for Plan International UK, it represents menstruation. The new design was approved, and on Feb. 5, the Unicode Consortium announced the blood droplet would be among the 230 new emojis coming out in 2019.
A ‘Bloody’ Compromise
Don’t get me wrong; I’m crazy excited about a period emoji because it’s a huge step toward normalizing menstruation. But a compromise was clearly made, and that shows just how far we really need to go to end the stigma surrounding periods. “They think, ‘Oh bloody panties is [sic] an emoji is too much,’ but then they have a poop emoji,” Lamanda Ballard, founder and executive director for Flo Code, a non-profit based in Austin, Texas, that provides menstruation products to underserved communities, told The Guardian. “How is one thing worse than another? A period is completely natural.”
Lucy Russell, Head of Girls' Rights and Youth at Plan International UK, acknowledges that an emoji can only take us so far. “An emoji isn’t going to solve this, but it can help change the conversation. Ending the shame around periods begins with talking about it.”
Text Shame-Free Later This Year
Unicode says the new emojis should start showing up on phones around September or October 2019, though some platforms might release them earlier. Despite the compromise — and the fact that the drop of blood could mean more than just menstruation — I’m pretty stoked for a period emoji to hit my smartphone. I might not get my period anymore, but I have plenty of friends who do, and you better believe I’m using this emoji with them to openly talk about periods — completely shame free.
Photo by Yura Fresh on Unsplash