When you are dealing with a monthly combo of fluctuating hormones, PMS symptoms and vaginal bleeding, trying to harness body positivity might feel like a struggle.
Instead of leaning into discussions about channelling confidence and sexiness during menstruation, you may be tempted to roll your eyes.
But why should anybody suffer when there are solutions that can help ease discomfort, elevate mood, and promote body positivity?
Let’s look at how to empower yourself during those testing days each month.
What we’ll be looking into:
- Menstrual bloating and how to treat it
- Why you might experience sore breasts during your period
- The impact of fluctuating hormones on skin and hair
- Dealing with body dysmorphia and your cycle
Body image during different phases of the menstrual cycle
Interestingly, there have been several studies looking into the link between menstruation and body dissatisfaction.
In their study, authors Teixeira et al. found that ‘perceived body size and body dissatisfaction were significantly different between menstrual cycle phases, with the largest perceived body size and highest body dissatisfaction occurring during the menstrual phase.”
So, what are the solutions to the issues that cause body positivity challenges?
This graph highlights the stages of oestrogen and progesterone during your ovulation period and what impacts it may have on your body and hormones.
Body Positivity Challenge #1 – I feel bloated!
One of the most common PMS side effects is bloating – the cause of much menstruation-related body misery.
The changing levels of sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone may cause your body to retain water and salt.
Feeling heavier or like your stomach is protruding can really knock your self-confidence.
How to tackle menstrual bloating
You may not feel like it, but try to dial down the salt, refined carbs and sugar in your diet, particularly just before and at the start of your period.
You could also include more diuretic foods in your diet, such as grapes, berries, onion, garlic, peppers, celery, and others.
Drink plenty of water, decaffeinated green tea and limit caffeine and alcohol to give your body the best chance of beating the bloat.
Body Positivity Challenge #2 – My boobs are so sore!
If it wasn’t bad enough that your stomach and pelvic area feel like they’ve been given a good kick-in during menstruation, breasts can become super painful too.
The Royal Women’s Hospital in Australia explains that aching breasts, aka cyclic mastalgia, become sore because of “an increase in the level of oestrogen before a period.”
“This causes milk ducts and glands to swell, trapping fluid in the breasts. Many women have tenderness or pain in the lead-up to a period, and sometimes right through .”
How to ease breast soreness
Sorry coffee lovers, but the caffeine isn’t helping those sore boobs, so put a limit on the lattes.
Take paracetamol or ibuprofen or rub painkilling gel on your breasts. Wear a properly fitted bra during the day and a soft bra to sleep in.
Consult your GP to make sure anything you take is compatible with your current medication or any pre-existing health conditions.
Body Positivity Challenge #3 – My skin is terrible!
Do you get spots and skin flare-ups just before or during your period? It’s very common.
Researchers Stoll et al. found that almost half of all women studied experienced pre-menstrual flares of their acne.
No surprises, it’s the hormones again – as oestrogen and progesterone drop during the premenstrual phase, testosterone levels spike.
As the levels of progesterone increase during the cycle, your skin produces sebum, a natural oil which clogs pores.
Clogged pores can lead to spotty skin, which in turn can cause distress and a drop in confidence.
How to tackle period acne
Treating period acne can be tricky because you have to find the right combination of solutions for your skin.
Over-the-counter products like tea tree oil, topical creams containing benzoyl peroxide and a solid skincare regime can help unclog pores and keep skin clean.
If the problems persist, The British Skin Foundation suggests that you can go to the doctor to get oral antibiotics, try contraceptive pills or discuss additional acne treatment.
Remember, you may need to persevere with treatments for a while before you see results, which can be frustrating but necessary.
Body Positivity Challenge #4 – My hair is greasy
Unfortunately, many of us have no control over our hair when the menstrual hormonal surge begins.
Just like with your facial skin, the sebaceous glands on your scalp are very sensitive to fluctuating progesterone and oestrogen levels.
When the sebum starts clogging those pores, your hair follicles get greasy – hence the barnet blues.
How to deal with greasy hair while on your period
Consultant dermatologist Dr Ophelia Veraitch suggests doing less, not more, could be the answer.
She writes: “Haircare-wise, I’d suggest not washing the hair more than two to three times a week.
It’s a bit like when you wash your face too much. The skin becomes tight and dry before retaliating by producing excessive amounts of oil to overcompensate.
It’s the same principle with hair. If you wash your hair too often [especially if you’re using strong shampoos], your scalp will just start producing more oil.”
Body Positivity Challenge #5 – I hate my body during my period
When your body is going through the pre-menstrual and early menstrual phases of your cycle, the changes can feel overwhelming.
When those thoughts and feelings become severe, they can present as body dysmorphia.
People living with body dysmorphia perceive minor flaws or defects in their appearance and can’t stop thinking about them, which takes a significant toll on their mental wellbeing.
Gynaecologist, Dr Charis Chambers, said: “Premenstrual body dysmorphia isn’t officially recognised as a diagnosis.”
“But if you already have slight tendencies toward body dysmorphia, those symptoms can very easily be exacerbated by monthly hormonal change.”
The dip in your oestrogen and progesterone levels can reduce the production of ‘happy hormones’, serotonin and dopamine, leading to low moods.
How to combat period-related body dysmorphia
As a shamefully under-researched area of female health, there are no hard and fast answers on this one.
Dr Chambers suggests counselling to give people “space to talk about their mood [which] is hugely validating and can really help.”
You can speak to your doctor about talking therapies and medical support for anxiety and depression symptoms.
It may also help to keep a mood diary so you can see if these symptoms are more prevalent during certain stages of your cycle to better understand problematic patterns.
Don’t beat yourself up!
Hopefully, you’ve got some ideas on how to tackle some of the body positivity issues that might show up at the same time as your period.
However, the most important piece of advice we can give you is to be good to yourself.
Eating nutritious food, staying well hydrated, exercising and sleeping well will all help to make you feel better in your body.
But if you have those days where you spend all day in your dressing gown on the couch, then so be it.
After all, it’s not easy being a woman, so don’t be hard on yourself.
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