Aisle’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret Legacy
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Aisle’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret Legacy

by Madeleine Shaw
Aisle’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret Legacy

Like many of us, I am eagerly anticipating the film version of Judy Blume’s classic novel Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret. In contemplation of this momentous event, I remembered a 2013 Pecha Kucha Night presentation where I shared how my deep affinity with Margaret inspired my subsequent feminist consciousness and menstrual activism.

For those new to the Margaret magic, it’s a funny, poignant story about an 11 year old girl’s journey from childhood to adolescence, as she navigates spiritual questioning, a new town, school and friend group, and the onset of puberty. I cannot overstate what a balm it was to 11 year-old me to read it: I literally felt like Judy Blume could see inside my yearning little heart and was wrapping her arms around me.

Like Margaret and her pals (they had a club called PTS, or the Pre-Teen Sensations, an idea emulated by me and my grade 6 pals), I couldn't wait to start my period and was totally enraptured by the idea of becoming a "woman". Bras, periods, sex, makeup - all of the traditional trappings of femininity fascinated me, and I read endless books and magazines about all of it. 

As I have recounted in several videos and interviews, the idea of becoming an adult woman was akin to someone telling me that I was going to become an astronaut or Prime Minister, as in Really, me?? I get to be THAT? Adult women just seemed so amazing: so funny, wise and glamorous. I can still remember the thrill of hearing their laughter during the dinner parties that my parents hosted, and the luxury of their fawning attention. As excited as I was at the prospect of joining their ranks, the transformation that was required to get there felt unfathomable, as my persistently flat chest and narrow hips attested.

I developed a fantasy that there would be some form of initiation that would happen when I reached menarche. I so longed to be welcomed into their fold and shown their ways. This idea was very much outside of anything culturally normative in my family, and so I did not even have the vocabulary to have been able to ask my parents to create such an experience, even if I had had the courage to do so. 

I was a late bloomer when it came to puberty, and was 13 and a half by the time my period started while on a summer family vacation. Summers always made me self-conscious about my persistently uncurvy body, and this holiday was no exception - was there something wrong with me? What was taking so long? To know that Margaret had experienced exactly this yearning and anxiety and successfully come out the other end was a source of endless relief!

When the fateful day finally arrived it was strangely sad and empty - there was nothing more to do or say other than put on one of my much-coveted stash of pads and let it happen. Word spread to my brother about my new menarchal state and he and a buddy of his couldn't resist needling me about it over a card game dispute. "Ooh, she's got her period, her peeeeeeriod!" I clocked him and fled in furious humiliation; hardly the magical fanfare I had so eagerly anticipated.

If this all sounds a bit depressing - well, it kind of was. The good news is that in many ways, my unfulfilled yearning for some form of recognition or celebration of my own first period led to creating Lunapads (rebranded as Aisle in 2020) as a way of elevating the experience of menstruation from something shameful to something worthy of care and respect. Who knew in those early days that my veneration for all things menstruation would lead me to create some of the earliest commercial reusable period products?

In the absence of a ritual, by being in a more mindful, gentle space with one’s body’s natural process, I was able to get closer to the feeling of honouring that my adolescent self had desired. To this day, I remain fascinated and inspired by the idea that our bodies are connected to the immense power of other natural cycles, including the tides, seasons and of course the lunar cycle. 

The Pecha Kucha talk was prophetic. Having shared my Margaret story and vision for “a place and time when we could gather our daughters and put flowers in their hair and welcome them to the grand feminine mystery” out loud for the first time, it soon took on a life of its own.

Within a few weeks I encountered an event producer who had been present during my talk, who asked if I was serious about making it happen. She said that she was inspired by the idea and offered to help. To this day, my number-one piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to share their idea with others in some way, shape or form. If it had not been for this meeting, I’m pretty sure that I would have doubted my ability to bring it to life.

I still remember weighing whether to take action on what I had imagined. A voice literally came inside my head, and I knew instantly that it was my disappointed inner girl who had so eagerly anticipated the magical initiation into the world of cyclical wisdom. “It’s not too late,” she whispered. To this day, there are few phrases that stir me more deeply. The idea that my ‘inner Margaret’ was calling to me across decades to help me heal and create for others what I was not able to have myself remains one of the most inspiring experiences of my life.

Just over a year later, we held the first “G Day” event (grab a tissue and check it out here), where we welcomed 250 adolescent girls (yes, trans girls and non-binary youth included) for a day of celebration - not specifically of menarche, but of the crucial passage from childhood to adolescence. It was a hit, and we ended up producing 13 events across Canada from 2014 to 2019, when our activities were curtailed to the point of closure with the advent of Covid.

All of which is to say: thank you, Judy Blume, for creating Margaret, and film writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig for bringing her to life on screen. Her legacy is longer and wider than you likely realize. And for anyone for whom this post has struck a chord, I invite you read about the best (and so far only) menarche ritual that I have ever had the good fortune to participate in.

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