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Period Story Podcast, Episode 14: Molly Fenton, Love Your Period

On the latest episode of Period Story podcast, I was so pleased to speak to Molly Fenton, the 17 year old Welsh campaigner who started a movement to help people love periods, called aptly, the Love Your Period campaign.

Molly shares the story of her first period at just 8 years old in year 4. She said because she was so young, she didn’t really understand what was happening and wasn’t prepared.

Molly says that starting the Love Your Period campaign motivated her to better educate herself about periods and menstrual health. Listen to hear what Molly was surprised to learn is and isn’t normal.

Molly talks about the work she’s been in doing in schools in Cardiff to educate different year groups on menstrual health. Molly also shares how she been campaigning the Welsh government to improve menstrual health education in schools across Wales.

Inspired by the work of Amika George, who has been campaigning for free periods in England, we talked about how Molly started a campaign  asking menstrual product companies to remove the plastic in their products. Go to the link in my profile to sign the petition!

Molly talks about the change in her periods after she switched to plastic free products from brands like TOTM and Hey Girls. She says that her allergic reactions stopped and her period pain drastically reduced.

Molly says everyone should know that periods are normal and that no matter how much we try to ignore them, they are always going to be there, so the best thing that we can do is accept them and learn to love them. I completely agree!

Get in touch with Molly!

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MOLLY’S BIO

After coming across the work of Amika George, campaigning for free periods in England, Molly started talking to people around her about period poverty and stigma, something she’d never thought about before. People called the topics inappropriate and disgusting, and she felt that she couldn’t sit back and let this happen. At just 17 years old, Molly started a social media movement to aid everyone to help love periods called the Love Your Period campaign. Today, the campaign has over 5000 followers across social media pages and is nationally recognised.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPTION

Le’Nise: On today’s episode we have Molly Fenton. After coming across the work of Amika George, campaigning for free periods in England, Molly started talking to people around her about period poverty and stigma, something she’d never thought about before. People called the topics inappropriate and disgusting, and she felt that she couldn’t sit back and let this happen. At just 17 years old, Molly started a social media movement to aid everyone to help love periods called the Love Your Period campaign. Today, the campaign has over 5000 followers across social media pages and is nationally recognised. Welcome to the show.

Molly: Thank you very much.

Le’Nise: So, let’s start off with a question that I ask all of my guests. Tell me the story of your first period.

Molly: So, I was eight years old when I had my first period. So, I was in Year 4 when I was in primary school and it was my break time. So, I was out in the playground and something didn’t feel right. I felt I’d wet myself, which, you know, that’s not cool when you’re 8, you’re pass that. So, I went to the bathroom and when I wiped, I had blood and I didn’t quite understand. It was quite scary, but I wasn’t going to tell anyone about it because I have no clue what it was. And I was scared they were either going to send me home or to the hospital. So, I had to go about the rest of the day with this uncomfortable feeling. And I was very lucky because when I got home my mum was brilliant. And I was able to show her, and she explained to me what it was and that it was a period and showed me how to use a sanitary towel and I could get on with my day like that. So, it didn’t start great, but I was lucky that my mum was really good with me afterwards.

Le’Nise: You were eight years old. Wow. So that’s very young. I think that’s the youngest that any of my guests have started their period, we had someone who started at 9 in the last season. That’s very young. You’re 17 now? Knowing what you know now. Do you think you were ready? Was it overwhelming? You said you were scared and uncomfortable. Just talk me through what was going through your mind when you first discovered you had it.

Molly: Well, ultimately, I didn’t have a clue what it was. I haven’t actually come across periods before because it’s not something that’s ever bought up in school briefly, until the last year of primary school. So that’s 11-12 year olds and it hadn’t been touched upon. My mum hadn’t spoken to me about it because I was still at quite a young age for it to come about, really. And you know, all I had was this association of blood and death really or blood and something very, very wrong and something isn’t right with my body. So, it was really scary. And so, I definitely wasn’t ready, and I wasn’t prepared whatsoever. And that’s I think that’s why I like to do what I do, because I don’t want anyone to be in that position because it wasn’t nice. It was scary. And I could have definitely been a lot more prepared for my first periods. And I wish I was.

Le’Nise: When you had it, did you eventually start talking to your friends about what was going on with you?

Molly: Not at all. I’ve never spoken about my periods about my friends until I started this campaign at all. It’s never been a topic of conversation in my friendship group.

Le’Nise: Even as they started getting their periods?

Molly: Yes, which is surprising. And now I look back on it and now we speak about it. And I think, why didn’t we? But I guess that’s how the stigma must’ve affected us. So many of us feel that we should no matter how close we were, it was one thing that we just never spoke about.

Le’Nise: Getting it at 8 and then not really getting any education at school until you were 11-12 years old. You said your mum was really supportive and she helped you get menstrual towels and all of that. How else did you start to try to educate yourself?

Molly: I kind of let my mum tell me what to do. I could have come across this a bit better. I know my mum bought a book, one of those, your body is changing books. So, I spent a lot of time reading through that with my mum. I remember the book very well and it didn’t make a lot of sense to me. You know, there were these diagrams and pictures and all sorts. But it really it didn’t come across to me the way that it would have now. So, I don’t think it was really until I got to high school maybe, I was about 12, 13 that I really started trying to look into it. So of course, you start learning about it a little bit more in science lessons. But I’d say my education properly really didn’t start until I had to, which is when I started this campaign because people have to trust me, and they have to know they can trust me. I feel like I took a degree in menstrual health before I started this company. And I learned so much that I didn’t know that I should have known. Considering I have periods for almost 10 years, and I surprise myself with learning what’s normal, what isn’t, what I should be concerned about and what I shouldn’t. And all these different things that really everyone should know but we don’t ever get taught.

Le’Nise: What was surprising to you?

Molly: That we don’t actually lose that much blood, considering it looks like an awful lot and that your cycle doesn’t always have to be every month. If it comes a little bit earlier or less a bit late, it doesn’t mean something is drastically wrong. And I learnt also as well, which really did help, stomach cramps being a little bit more than just discomfort isn’t right. So I went to my doctor because my cramps would keep me off school and I thought this was normal, I couldn’t get out of bed, they were making me throw up and now I’ve got the right medication, I’m able to do my exams and things normally. Whereas before, I know so many of my GCSE exams were affected by my period because I thought it was normal and that every single person in the hall around me that was on their period had to deal with the same thing. And then I learnt through my research that really, I shouldn’t be experiencing the pain that I was. So that was the biggest shock that I had. But I’m glad I had it because I was able to get it under control and get the help that I needed with it.

Le’Nise: Why did you think the cramps were normal?

Molly: I don’t know. I’m guessing because I was still functioning, and I’ve had a period every month for so many years that I thought this is the way that my body works. And because I knew everyone’s period was unique. Then this is just how my body does it. And I assumed that it was the right way because I was still alive and still going despite, you know, now I look back and see that that totally wasn’t normal, and I shouldn’t have left it like that. But it was something that myself, my sister and my mum just thought was part of it for me.

Le’Nise: So, your sister and your mum also have period pain, period cramps?

Molly: My mum used to yeah, really badly. So, she put it down to, “Oh, yeah, that’s something I had”, and my sister does suffer really badly as well. She’s younger than me but we’ve managed to find natural ways that relieve them for her, but she has exactly the same symptoms as I had. So, she can’t get out of bed, makes her physically sick sometimes. It’s something that’s been in the family unfortunately.

Le’Nise: That’s really interesting that all three of you thought that it was normal and that, you know, you just accepted that that was your normal. I hear this a lot. I hear that period pain is normal, just part of having a period. And I really love the fact that you’ve educated yourself and you learned that it isn’t normal. So, what were the tools that you used to educate yourself about your period and about menstrual health?

Molly: So, I first started with my biology teacher. I approached my teacher in school who is good friends with my mum. So, I felt fine speaking to her, and I said, “Look, I’ve learnt all about period poverty. Looking at this online, I cannot sit still about it anymore. What can you tell me about it?” And so, she basically taught me about periods, which I felt like it was exactly what I needed to know when I was 11 years or well, younger for me. But when I was in year 6 and we were having that education as a class, that 15 minute whistle-stop talk. It would have been really useful to have that lesson. And I then took that on in a debating competition to speak about period poverty and through education and my research for that, I spoke to different organic pad companies, so, Hey Girls, Luck Store Organic and TOTM about how products affect periods as well. So that way I was able to learn about the obvious things like I didn’t think the products we use are absorbed into our bodies and I didn’t think that before. But now it’s such an obvious thing to think about.

And more books, I’ve got Natalie Byrne’s Period book, which was possibly one of the best books I ever got. She gave it to me herself when I met her, which was really kind of her. And after reading it, it just simplified everything and it’s friendly for everyone. So, anyone that needs to learn about periods, it’s definitely the book to read. So, I kind of just accumulated knowledge from every corner that I could. And even today I’m still learning things. Every day I’ll ask a question that I won’t know the answer to. So, I’ll have to pass them on to someone but as I’m passing them on, I’ll be going, “Oh, can you tell me the answer too please,” so that next time I’m able to help that person? Because there are so many things we don’t know. And I feel like we all have to learn together, we all have to educate ourselves, but work as a team to do that. And I think that’s the way to start this education off properly.

Le’Nise: Do you say you get asked a lot of questions? Is it typically from other girls or do boys ask you questions as well?

Molly: Boys, girls, mothers, lots of people from the LGBTQ+ community who feel they can’t ask questions to anyone else and wants an anonymous space. We really have a broad range of people that message us on Instagram daily asking questions, which is lovely to see.

Le’Nise: And can you share the types of questions that you get asked?

Molly: Sometimes it’s little things that I laugh at and I think I actually feel really sorry because I would’ve asked the same question. So, I remember I’ve had some like, “why is my period clear?” That’s not a period, that’s discharge and it’s something like no and or “my period’s been going on for two months and it’s clear” and they thought it’s their periods. And of course, haven’t seen that that’s what it is. But that’s completely understandable because I didn’t have a clue what discharge was, I didn’t know the name up until about six months ago, if I’m perfectly honest with you. So we have a lot of things like that from younger people and we have a lot, unfortunately, of people going, I’ve been following your page for a while and I think I’ve just started my first period but I can’t tell my mum or my mum’s not around and I live with my dad and my brothers, I can’t tell them. Or people at break time and lunch time in school who even go to my school and they message me or go through their period and say, can you come to the toilets with products, please? I started my period. Can you come help me? I don’t know what to do.

So sometimes it’s really upsetting to see the questions or the things that people ask me to do. But unfortunately, the taboo around menstruation has kind is been implanted in everyone’s brains, so some of us have really got to go over the top to try and remove it. You know, sometimes we have some great questions that make me think, like I said, I’ve got to pass people on and they’re like, right, so if my period blood is this colour, what does this mean? And I’m like, oh, brilliant, I don’t know. So, I’ll like, start a group with someone else that I know so it’s the three of us and I’ll ask the question and I’ve been educated as well as the person that’s asked the question. So, we have once again, a really broad range of different scenarios to deal with every day.

Le’Nise: So, based on the questions that you’re getting asked and the experiences that you’ve been having, so friends in school, people in school messaging you and asking you to come to the loos with them. What do you think needs to change about menstrual health education in schools?

Molly: Firstly, we need to have it properly. Menstrual health education cannot be defined as five minutes with a random teacher that was unlucky and drew the short straw. It cannot work that way. We need proper menstrual education, whether that be through PSHE lessons, whether that be through talks or assemblies, which I’ll be doing in my school now, I’m going to be doing groups with all the year groups, with packs of what periods are and we’ve got leaflets explaining what discharge is, what a period is, the different changes, how to check their boobs, different things that they need to know. It really needs to be implemented into the curriculum because it’s not properly and it’s something I keep pushing with the Welsh government. And so many people are. And I think they’re coming around to listening. They definitely are. We’ve just got to keep pushing them because until it’s actually stuck in the curriculum, there’s not a lot we can do about it. And when it is when it’s got its place, then we can build on it and say, right, these are the points we need to cover and it’s really important that we do.

Le’Nise: Tell me more about your campaigning with the Welsh government. So, you’re based in Wales and for our listeners who aren’t in the UK, different countries in the UK have different education systems. So, there’s England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. So, tell me about what you’re doing in terms of campaigning with the Welsh government or to the Welsh government.

Molly: So, with education, I’ve seen a lot of the ministers with Welsh government since I’ve started the campaign and local MPs and assembly members and things like that about various different things. But every time I’m there, I kind of bring in the comment, “oh, well, you know, we need to bring in the education about this.” I came along across a group and I know they’ve got a petition, I think it’s on change.org, I can’t remember the name exactly, who are trying to get it into the curriculum. And I know there was talks saying right, by 2022, menstruation education is going to be a thing. I love that menstruation education, it’s brilliant, brilliant words.

I’m still trying to work out with my team whether we can start a full-blown petitioning campaign on the side with it, because I think it needs to be done. What I’m doing it at the moment is I’m in the experimenting stage by doing it myself, my own school, like I said. So, we’ve been sent by Always, these packs and they’re be like a girl packs and they’ve got pads and tampons inside. And then like I said, they put the leaflets with all the information possibly need to know. So, we’re going to do these assemblies and I’m going to hand out this education, as I’ve done in primary schools across Cardiff. And we’re going to see how that goes. And if it goes well, I’m going to take the evidence and then say, right, this is how it works. This is the feedback I’ve had. These are my suggestions to say, well, I’ve basically done half the work for you now I need you to implement it. So, at the moment, I’m doing more of the practical side because of course, there are a lot of petitions, there are lots of campaigners. So I’m trying to go a different way about it to try and prove the point that it is needed and get the feedback on girls aged 11 to 18 saying that, yes, I think this needs to be implemented in within education and I need to be taught about this. So, yes, definitely at the practical stage at the moment and then hoping to really take it back to the Welsh government again then and present them with my findings.

Le’Nise: So, you’re doing that, and you also have your other campaign, which is about removing plastic from menstrual products. So, you’re very busy and you go to school, you’re 17, you’re doing your A-levels. So, tell me how you started looking into the plastic in menstrual products. So, tell me about that campaign.

Molly: So, when I was having my bad period cramps and before I went to the doctors, because of course if you book an appointment it takes about 6 weeks until you can get one. So, during that time I was trying to actively research myself what the issue could be. So, I spoke to lots of different people and I went back to people that I’d spoken to before and had a great phone call with the founder of Luck Store Organic, an organic cotton sanitary product company based in London, husband and wife, they’re really lovely. And they spoke to me, said, “Right, so what products do you use?” And I was like, “Oh well the cheapest ones I can find in the shop.” So, I got them out and she said, “Well, do they have ingredients on?” I said no, and she went, “So how do you know what’s in them?” And I said “I don’t know.” And so, she spoke to me, said, “Well, you know, try and look into what’s in there, maybe, because that’s causing.” So, I was always having the allergic reactions to products as well and they were really bad. And they would make me really uncomfortable and sore. And it was just a really uncomfortable time, possibly one of the worst places you could have an allergic reaction to something. And I was looking into the research and found that I couldn’t find these ingredients anyway, no matter how deeply I looked, all I found was that it may contain rayon and that was it. Couldn’t find anything else, so I went back to the woman and then spoke to Hey Girls UK as well. And back to Time of The Month, and then approached lots of different organic cotton companies globally. I even spoke to one from Australia and said, “So what is it about this organic cotton that makes it different?” Everyone was explaining, right, so we don’t have plastic in our products, and I was like, “What do you mean plastic?” And they said, “Well your pads are 90% plastic.” I was completely shocked. I didn’t know. One of the companies, like said, “Right, we’ll send you two of our boxes, try them out, tell us what you think.”

So, they sent them to me, and I tried them. My rash completely cleared up; my stomach cramps weren’t gone but they were very slightly better. And then, of course, looking into these products, I saw they had ingredients on the back, there wasn’t all this plastic in. They clearly saw what I was using and what was being absorbed into my body. So, as I used these products more and more, my allergic reaction completely cleared up and now I don’t have one at all. And alongside the medication I was on, I’ve been able to almost completely eradicate my period pain. So, I use the same with my sister who was also having allergic reactions and her rashes completely cleared up as well. And so then, of course, I recommended to other people and 100% I’ve had the same feedback from them, of course it won’t be the same for everyone, but from the people that I’ve recommended it to and have tried it for reusable period pads and pants or menstrual cups, have all said I’m not having the allergic reaction I’ve had before. So, I was thinking, why aren’t these companies telling us that they’re full of these chemicals or plastics if they are potentially harmful and clearly harmful to our body?

So, I was aiming towards the, you need to tell us the ingredients so we can make an informed decision because there are lots of campaigners, one amazing one in Cardiff is Ella [Daish] and she does the End Period Plastic campaign, which is huge now. And she’s really fighting for that. And she meets with the companies themselves, properly campaigning, and she’s an inspiration in this campaign, definitely in all the work that I do. So we’re looking at the, we want you to tell us the ingredients and we want it to be a legal requirement that these ingredients are on the packaging because we have every right to know what is in these products so we can make our own informed decisions about what we are using and work out what’s possibly making such an issue for our bodies. Because, you know, we use shampoo and conditioner and everything, they’ve all got the ingredients on. And sometimes if we’re looking for ingredients that we don’t want to use for our bodies or for our scalp, we don’t use them. So why shouldn’t it be the same for such an intimate area of our body?

Le’Nise: Amazing. What you’re doing is so amazing. And, you know, certainly I see it in my practice where as soon as the woman that I work with, they change the menstrual products that they’re using, whether they switch to organic tampons or they make a switch to a different type of menstrual pad, they see a change in their period, generally their period pain reduces and they see other benefits. So, the campaign is primarily about that menstrual product manufacturers need to show the ingredients in their products. So, transparency, which is super, super important. Have you spoken to any of these kind of big menstrual product manufacturers?

Molly: At the moment I’m aiming to get 10,000 signatures on my petition. Unfortunately, I became ill just after the summer holiday, so I had to kind of put it on pause. But now I’ve picked it back up again as I’ve finally gotten everything back on track with the campaign. And I’m really pushing now, on paper and online we’ve got over 2,000 and we got that really quickly in like a month. So, I’m going to push that again and get even more, which I know we will. And I’ve emailed and the best way to get through to these people sometimes is messaging them on social media because they reply easier. So, I’ve spoken Lil-lets and Always and I’ve said, “Why aren’t these ingredients on your packaging?” And the most interesting response I have was that of Bodyform UK who came back and said, “Hi, Molly,” and I did it off my personal account so they wouldn’t make an association with Love Your Period and said “Unfortunately, we do not have enough room on our products packaging to be able to list the ingredients.” And I was thinking, “how many ingredients do you have to not be able to fit them on that packaging?” So, it was crazy. So, I’ve done that much. And then when I’ve got the petition, I will be booking in meetings and all sorts, I’ll be going all the way. I’m not going to be dropping this one until it’ properly set in place.

Le’Nise: What’s really interesting is that you’d think that they would have started to respond to this because there are so many new companies coming up in this kind of menstrual health fem tech space. So, you’ve got the brands that you’ve mentioned, you’ve got the likes of OHNE, DAME, Daye, who are all really proudly talking about no plastic, organic cotton. You’ve got all the different menstrual cup companies, period underwear. So, you’d think that, you know, these companies would respond because they’re losing sales from people, switching from, you know, always using Tampax or Always or Bodyform to these other products. So, I think the work that you’re doing is absolutely amazing. How has all the campaigning that you’ve done, and all the educating that you’ve done, changed your relationship with your period?

Molly: I found that I’ve learned an awful lot about my period, my whole body through the work that I’ve done, whether it be learning about periods themselves in the first place, learning about other people’s periods, finding about other people’s experiences. I feel also as well, the thing that’s really made a difference in my life is, I’ve learnt the proper ways to cope and manage with my periods. So, yes, I did have to have intervention when it came to the pain I was having because I couldn’t function normally with it. However, I was able to find ways that I almost have been able to work with my period instead of against it, which is something I would have laughed out about a year ago. And I remember it sometimes and it makes me laugh. And I think, how does that work? I don’t understand. But now I do understand, I’ve learnt the right way, So I increased the right food, so I make sure I’d stick spinach in every meal when I’m on my period and I eat dark chocolate in the evening and I find that really actually helps my energy levels and changing my products, using different oils and things and essential oils in order to keep me calm and mood swings and also with any discomfort I do get, I found that I managed to finally find a way that works for me after so long of trying to find something that helps through recommending and hearing so many different suggestions of how people cope with theirs. I finally found my personalised way to work with my period and now, whereas before it was a burden, I really kind of hated it more. I’ve now managed to love it. Hence the campaign, because now that I found the right way to work with it, it works, and it makes sense because it’s your body. It’s part of you. You need to work with your body. So, it makes sense that by working with it, things will become a lot easier. So, I think I have the campaign definitely to thank for that. I finally found a way to live life normally and be thankful for my periods and realise that it’s a gift.

Le’Nise: So, having said all of that, you know, working with your period, seeing it as a gift, seeing loving your period now. What would you say to someone similar to you who got her period early and knowing what you know now, what would you say to her about her period?

Molly: Keep going with it. Of course, you have to just keep trying all the different alternatives you can. Don’t give up on it. Don’t let your periods take a week of your life away from you. So many of us for so long go well, that’s it, I’ve started this week, I don’t care, I’m going to be self-destructive, I’m going to eat everything I want, I’m not going to do any work. I did that so long, my excuse for not studying was I’m on my period this week. I kid you not. I did not study for a week. And that was my excuse because the discomfort of sitting there for so long and you felt like you could feel you’re on your period and I just let the mood swings without doing anything and them really control my life almost. So really, you’ve just got to try and find the best way that you can to continue your life the best way that you can and to the best quality that you can whilst you’re on your period and realise that your body doesn’t hate you. It’s not doing this because it’s trying to punish you, it’s doing this because it’s giving you a gift. Isn’t it amazing that we have these periods and what they’re able to do? We were able to bring life into this world. How incredible is that? I took A level of biology and it’s my favourite, I’m a real science girl. The fact that the human body can do something like that, it completely fascinates me. So really do see it as a gift. Do see it is something you should be really lucky to have and stick with it because it will get easier, definitely.

Le’Nise: So, what’s next for you? So, you’re in the middle of your A-levels, do you have any thought about what’s next with the campaign and where you personally?

Molly: So, I’m hoping to get my A-levels and then I want to go off to university. And I think I want to do nursing. Something period related. For the campaign, I’m definitely going to look into this education now as I’m starting the practical stages with the Welsh government and fight more with this ingredients petition and really just building up on this stigma as well. So, on the social media pages, we have a Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and you know, we’re starting a Tik Tok account just because so many people use that. And you know, if it’s going to help people, then I’ve got some girls in my team who want to start that. We’re going to be starting a Snapchat account as well. We’re really trying to go through ways that people see as normal everyday life in order to talk about periods, if that makes sense. So, we’re trying to incorporate it into aspects of everyone’s lives. So social media at the moment is the way that we’re going. I’m leaving that to the rest of the team because I can work Instagram, but that’s about it. I’m not very good with anything else, which is quite funny considering I’m a teenager. But yes, so they’re doing all that. So really, it’s just our main focus will always be spreading the word and just getting as many people as possible to, even if it’s not love their periods, just accept their periods.

Le’Nise: Brilliant. I think you are amazing and what you’re doing is amazing. Where can people find out more about the campaign? And where can they sign the petition?

Molly: So, our Instagram page is @loveyourperiod. Both petitions are in the link in the bio and they can be signed from anyone all over the world. We have a Twitter page, @loveyourperiod1 and then our Facebook page is The Love Your Period Campaign. But whichever one you go on to, you’ll be able to branch out to any of the other pages from there.

Le’Nise: Brilliant. So, if listeners take one thing away from everything you’ve said, what would you want that to be?

Molly: Periods are 100% normal, and no matter how much we try to ignore them, they are always going to be there, so the best thing that we can do is accept them and learn to love them.

Le’Nise: Brilliant, wise words from a very wise lady. Thank you so much for coming on to the show, Molly. All of the details about the campaign will be in the show notes, including a link to the petition. I really encourage you to sign what Molly is doing and what her team are doing is so, so important.

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